The day your child starts college will be one of the most bittersweet moments of your life. While you’ll be filled with pride and joy at seeing your child head out to start the next chapter in their life, you’ll also be filled with a pang of sadness that they’re no longer the tiny baby you bounced on your knee. For your child, there will also be a storm of mixed emotions, with their excitement at finally going off on their own clashing with the apprehension of how their life will change.
While there are many different items that your child will need to successfully navigate their college days, we know you want to help get them as ready as possible, so we’ve compiled the following four items that we feel your child should definitely have to give them the best start possible.
Their Own Vehicle
While it can be scary contemplating the idea of your child driving around on their own, without you being close by if something happens, the reality is that your child will need their own reliable form of transportation by the time they start their first semester. Not only are some college campuses spread out over a wide area, where it’s quicker to drive than to walk, some maintain satellite facilities for certain classes and programs, far outside of walking distances, that your child may have to attend. In addition, they’re young adults who have to start taking care of themselves now, so trips to the grocery store aren’t practical without their own vehicle.
This doesn’t mean you have to head for the Corvette plant and get your child the latest model. Used cars can be every bit as reliable, for far less money, as a brand new, high performance model. In fact, when helping your child select their first car, your best bet is to focus on a vehicle with high safety and miles-per-gallon ratings, and decent hauling space, rather than something to take to a car show. A final advantage of getting a vehicle before they head for college is that it’s a great way to start building credit, which your child will need as they advance in life.
Their Own Computer
As a parent, you may be concerned that your child is spending too much time on their phones and computers as it is, even before they head for college, where you can’t monitor their habits. Regardless of how you feel, though, this is an essential item that your child absolutely cannot do without when they go to college.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2015, 94% of children aged 3 to 18 had access to a computer, and 61% had access to the internet at home. This is reflected in college campuses as well, where practically all of your child’s academic course load will be both managed and completed digitally.
Fortunately, buying a computer is a very simple, quick process, even if you’re not a tech savvy person. Dozens of different retailers, from Best Buy, to Apple, to Microsoft, maintain store locations, with trained and proficient retail associates, who can help you find what you need at a price you can afford.
When considering what computer to get for your child, focus primarily on cost and storage capacity. This doesn’t have to be a top-of-the-line model with superb gaming or multimedia performance (unless their coursework requires it); what your child really needs is a computer that won’t break the bank, and with enough data storage to save all of their files for school. I’d also recommend that you purchase a laptop, instead of a desktop, since they are easily transportable between classes and when it’s time to move out of the dorm for the summer.
Many college students will tell you that insurance is something they understand in what it does, but not how it works. Up until this point you’ve probably managed most of the insurance for your child, letting them focus on school, but insurance is one of the most critical things to understand for college-aged adults. Regardless of whether you’re ready to shift the responsibility onto your child, or you want to continue helping them manage it, you need several different types of insurance before your child checks in for college orientation.
The two most critical types of insurance you’ll need are car insurance and medical insurance. While no one wants to imagine their child in an accident, the odds are that, sooner or later, your child will be involved in a wreck, even if they’re not at fault. A study by the Center for Disease Control revealed that, in 2013, while 15 to 19-year-old drivers make up only 7% of the U.S. population, they accounted for over 11% (around $10 billion) in injuries from motor vehicle accidents. If that day comes, you’ll need medical insurance so you can focus on helping your child recover, and you need car insurance to prevent a heavy build up of debt for you and your child.
You may also want to take out life insurance for yourself. The thought of dying doesn’t occur to most people during the years their children are in college, and that’s what can make it all the more dangerous: it can happen even if you’re in perfect health, and least expecting it. If something happens to you, having a good life insurance policy will help to ensure that your family has the funds they need to carry on without you until they can adjust. This especially true if your college student is already dealing with college loans or car payments. It will be crushing enough to lose you as a parent at such a young age; they don’t need to fear dealing with your debt as well.
Money, or Access to Money
College is expensive. There’s no way around it, and there are only so many options to reduce college expenses. More than at any other point in their life, your child will need access to a steady, reliable source of funds in order to pay for groceries, buy materials for class and to enjoy their off hours with the friends they’ll make. There are numerous options to easily access funding that you as the parent can research, and advise your child about, to ensure they have the funding they’ll need.
One of the easiest, and most commonly used methods, is a savings account you’ve established for your child. Many parents choose to open an account when their child is born, and put small increments aside at a time. Even if you put as little as $500 a year into an account, when you’re child turns 18, you’ll have saved up at least $9,000 your child can now use.
Another option for funds that you should definitely consider is a credit card. While many parents cringe at the thought of their child now having access to a lot of money, and all at once, the reality is that your child needs to start building credit, and learning to be responsible with their budget, so that they’re not starting off at a disadvantage when they graduate.
You need to have a conversation with your child to discuss things such as interests rates and APR, how they affect their finances, and advise them in finding a card with a limit that’s manageable without being excessive. With a credit card, you won’t have to worry about your child being strapped for cash in an emergency, they can begin building a solid credit history, and make further advances into being a responsible adult.
A final option to consider is a personal loan. While not the first option that many people consider when determining ways to make sure their child has money, the fact is that loans are a great way to get cash fairly easily, and with potentially lower interests rates and fees than you’ll get with a credit card.
In addition, loans can offer flexibility on payment plans and loan cycles, so that your child isn’t obligated to making high payments as frequently as with a credit card. Finally, if you or your child is in financial debt due to some understandable mistakes, that you need to pay off sooner than later, loans provide a method to consolidate debt with one agency, as opposed to paying multiple companies with multiple interest rates.
Send Them Off the Right Way
You’ll never fully be prepared for the day your child puts the last of their bags in the trunk and pulls out of the drive to head out for college, but it’s one you’ll cherish nevertheless. By ensuring that your child is equipped to get where they need to go, complete their coursework, protect themselves if things go wrong, and have the funding to take care of themselves, you’ll have provided them the best possible starting point to enjoy all that college has to offer them. Most of all, you’ll have done your most important job as a parent.