We hear a lot about the Bank of Mum and Dad, but what can we offer beyond the chequebook? With two of four children already at university and another making plans for September, Clinton Askew shares some wisdom.
You treat this place like a hotel!
Well, not anymore. For some, leaving home for the first time will be a wrench, while others can’t wait to get out. University accommodation is something of a deferred issue because the first year will be spent in halls. Only in the second year will the kids be moving out to a student flat or house, probably with people they’ve got to know in the first year. From their point of view it’s all about meeting the right people, but for parents, accommodation suddenly becomes about the private sector and the associated pressures to choose quickly and guarantee rent – not just for your own kids but for everyone in the house. It’s a good idea to read up early on what you’ll need to do, decisions and deposits are often made before the end of the first term.
Give them opportunities to earn money and to understand that when it’s gone, it’s gone – until they earn some more. Handouts won’t be the answer in adult life, so they shouldn’t be the answer now – it’s not a good precedent to set.
A big part of life at university will be about getting to grips with the idea of budgeting –money only goes so far and the shopping no longer appears by magic. Milk won’t replenish itself, bread goes off and washing piles up. It’s always going to be a shock, but we can start setting the groundwork for kids to take responsibility for themselves before they get to university age by teaching them how to budget and making sure they can do basic stuff around the house.
Knowing their own value
Alongside fostering responsibility in the kids, another valuable gift to instil in them is the importance of knowing their own worth. Not the Apprentice-style confidence, but the awareness of what they are good at and the confidence to use it (whilst also understanding what they could do better with a bit of effort).
The value of money (and hygiene)
University is about getting an education and that goes far beyond exams – it’s about preparing for life, knowing what they excel in and what they could work on. It’s also about learning to work with others
Let it go!
Something we’ll all have to deal with is empty nest syndrome. You’ve raised them, protected and encouraged them. It’s only natural that you want to try to continue doing it when they move onto the next phase of life. You can and you will, but you need to accept that the dynamic will change and that they’re becoming their own people. They’ll still need you – including your encouragement to stay the course – but you need to give them their own space too.
Understand the best ways to give a financial gift
What about paying off their student loan? If you’re in the position to command that kind of money it may be a helpful gesture you’ll want to consider, but be careful. Remember that the interest on student loans is comparatively low, repayments don’t start until they begin earning above a threshold and in some cases, depending on the salaries they earn, many may never need to be paid back.
If you’re able to gift a large amount of money, think about whether it might be put to better use as a house deposit, in a high-interest account or, thinking really far ahead, a pension fund. Read more about it here.
They’ve made the decision, now they need to make it work for them
Finally, what about the university itself? Settling on the place where they’ll spend the next three or four years of their life, maybe longer, will always be a bit of a gamble. It will mean moving to a new city and the start of a whole new phase of life.
Together, you can look at the university’s accolades, reputation and track record for the course and subject they’re studying. They can visit forums to check out the social side of things and of course you can look into living costs and safety. But a large part of it is unknown – it means committing to a course of action and then learning to navigate it.