Should you let your kid struggle with money in college?

Should I let my kid struggle with money in college?

Should you let your kid struggle with money in college?

There are several ways to phrase this question.

  • Should I let my kid be poor in college?
  • Should I let my kid suffer in college?
  • Should I let my kid struggle with money in college?

College kids need to learn more than the content from college classes.  Young adults need to become independent adults, including knowing how to effectively manage money.

In the beginning stages of learning effective money management, there will be struggle, but that isn’t a bad thing.

The path to becoming a doctor or lawyer begins with a struggle. They spend years studying, borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars, and many don’t make it to the finish line.  Doctors and lawyers are 30 years old before the struggle pays off and they begin collecting high salaries.

After graduation, young adults are going to struggle with money, as they begin their careers.  Finances are under extra pressure, because they just don’t have any stuff yet.  It has been decades since I worried about a buying work clothes, a vacuum cleaner, a lawn mower, or saving for a house down payment.

I want my kids prepared for the struggle.

Our family personal finances are still full of struggle.

Mrs. JumpStart and I have worked consistently and earned steady incomes for over 20 years, but we still struggle.  We know the banks would approve loans for a bigger house, new cars, or the latest electronics.  It can be tough to resist the temptations, but we must save for college, and prepare for retirement.

It was cold this morning, and we sat on the couch under a pile of blankets, when it would have been easy to turn up the thermostat, and pay a slightly bigger gas bill next month.

Last weekend, we spent 45 minutes doing a poor job grooming our dog, when we could have just paid $60.

I’m not complaining about the struggle in our lifestyle.  We have become accustomed to it, and if gives us comfort looking toward our future.

The houses that peak my interest lately are actually smaller.  I like the warmth of a pile of blankets.  By the time I call for an appointment, drop the dog off, and pick her up, it takes over 45 minutes to have someone else groom the dog (Although, they do a better job.).

We’ve practiced this life style, and it has become second nature.  It no longer feels like a struggle, but just the way we choose to live.  It will pay off when I am 53 and eligible for retirement with a pension.

So, should I let my son struggle with money in college?

Mrs. JumpStart and I struggle with finances.  Why shouldn’t my son struggle?

The struggle will happen after college. Why not learn to cope now?

It’s not like I’m going to throw him into the deep end of the pool and run away.  I’m going to be there asking questions, giving my opinion, helping him plan, and helping him budget.  When there is a setback, we will be there.

Young adults go to college for an education, but students learn more than just content from classes.

While in college, students learn about:

  • Living with other people.
  • Health and exercise.
  • Food and nutrition.
  • Personal finance.

JumpStart Jack wants to graduate debt free and it will require a part time job, discipline, and some sacrifice. My post last week described our $18k pledge.  He will need to bridge the gap either through limiting spend or earning money.

Do I feel bad about him suffering next to some of his rich college buddies, who seem to have unlimited wallets?

Not really.  There will always be rich kids with cool toys.

Some of his rich college buddies aren’t rich at all.  Recent surveys estimate the average student graduates with $37,000 in student loan debt, and $4,000 in credit card debt.   According to this article, 36% of college graduates plan to move back home for at least a year after college graduation.

Will he be surrounded by kids spending money like there is no tomorrow?

Yes,  and tomorrow, some of those same “rich” kids will be 40 years old and complaining about their student loans.

Does the struggle make him really suffer?

If my son lost his wallet including all cash, credit cards, and debit card, would he be alive and kicking next month?

Jack would be alive, and nobody can convince me he would even suffer.  The dorm has heat, a comfortable bed, bathroom, internet, cable, and HBO (I don’t have HBO.)  Visit any college these days, and you’ll find awesome libraries, gyms, athletic fields, and student centers.  Jack can enter the dining hall 15 times per week, and the food isn’t as terrible as all the students claim. Everywhere he really needs to be, is less than a 5 minute walk away.

Many of today’s college kids expect luxury, and are becoming accustomed to lavish life styles.  Cars, daily lattes, late night snacks, beer/liquor/smokes, concerts, movies, spring break trips, and the new Modern Warfare video game are all luxuries.  All of Jack’s basic needs are met.

Things I’ve heard parents say:

  • He used his money to pay for the trip to Cancun.
  • He used his money to buy the car.
  • He spends all his money on video games.

A kid earns $1500 per year and spends $1200 on a plane ticket and hotel in Cancun.

A kids buys a car, while the parents pay insurance, gas, maintenance, and fees. 

All of their money is spent on 60$ games that will be worth 15$ in 6 months.

The student begins to believe is being taught that money earned is earmarked for wants and luxury.  How are they going to feel when they are expected to pay for health care, student loans, car insurance, water, or electricity after graduation?

How much spending money do they need in college?

My answer is none.

If Jack wants the luxuries, he can work more. There is a Moe’s, Coldstone Creamery, pizza place, tutoring center, and dining hall 250 yards from his dorm room.  Luxuries shouldn’t be paid for with school loans, and they should not affect my retirement.  If he wants luxuries, he can get a job and earn them.

My college days.

I remember feeling poor in college.  My limited spending money came from a summer construction job.  Instead of getting a job during the school year, I just got by with very little spend. 

Mrs. JumpStart’s grandmother would mail her an envelope with dollar bills she earned as a waitress at the Roanoker Restaurant.  We would head to the grocery store with 8 dollar bills and buy rice, frozen pot pies, pasta, sauce, bread, and peanut butter.  We didn’t have any money, but we still had a blast in college.

We saved a down payment, and bought a house a year after graduation.  It wasn’t much, but we began investing $200 per month, as soon as we were employed.  All of Mrs. JumpStart’s student loans were paid off in 3 years.  Looking back, I might do a few things differently, but we graduated prepared for the real world.


Posted in Paying for college..


  1. Wow, this post sums up pretty much the perfect mindset how to do college right. I totally agree with you and I hope I will be able to do the same when my daughters grew up and if they choose to go to college. My parents did the same. We have good schools here for free, so I think that paying for shelter, food and whatever is needed to study by the time should be enough. A car? Nope. Booze? Nope. If they want the luxuries do something for them. There are scholarships after all so study hard could be even a job opportunity. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I am a big proponent of letting them be poor in college. It teaches them a different perspective. I also worry that not having money concerns leads to less focus on grades and progress. I want them done in 4 years.

    • Great point. If my son starting working so much that his grades or completion of college suffered, adjustments would be necessary. Possibly loans would be required. Undergrad should be done in 4 years. JS Jack actually has a secret plan to graduate in 3 years. Maybe a future post?

  3. Feeling & being poor seems to be part of the college experience. There’s a reason the broke college student is a stereotype. They’re broke either because they don’t know how to manage their money, or they’re frugal to the point of having a broke appearance.

    The struggle of having little or no money prepares them for when (if) they do have money.

    • Being poor was part of my college experience. I remember a few rich kids who seemed to be living a different life style. I get a different vibe from social media and on college campuses these days. Even though I know it can’t be true, all the kids appear rich.

  4. “If he wants luxuries, he can get a job and earn them.” I love this. As parents we are responsible for necessities. If our kids want video games it’s okay if they have to work for them. It’s amazing how working hard for your money drives frugality.

  5. The struggle is the fun part. Its where the stories come from. When everything is given to you there is no story except “I pulled out my credit card and swiped it” and there’s no fun in that. Let him struggle and be creative on how to fund his wants and goals. Having it all is no fun at all.

  6. I work for a guy who easily clears $2m a year. Despite this, his kids think they’re the poorest family on the block. He has one son away at college currently and he has the kid on a very tight budget. I think I will do the same for my children when that time comes. They won’t suffer as much as I did when I was in school, but I think there is a ton of learning outside the classroom that goes on during ages 18-22 to prepare you for what lies beyond college.

  7. We are planning to pay a part of the expenses, but not the whole thing. We still haven’t decided how big a part we are going to pay for. Articles like these help us think more. Thanks!

  8. Being poor in college is as American as apple pie. There’s no better introduction to adulthood then “you’re broke, now unbroke yourself.” Although with student debt it is getting harder to unbroke oneself. Still, the kids born with silver spoons are missing a very important life lesson.

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