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Paying for college and teaching responsibility can be done at the same time. Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at

Paying for college and teaching responsibility can be done at the same time.
Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at

Here are 10 different ways I’ve heard of parents teaching financial responsibility to their college aged kids.


1. Tell your teen they will pay for the first semester’s college expenses.  Tell them you’ll reimburse them if they earn a 3.0 or better GPA, which is how they can pay for the next semester.  Continue doing this until they’ve finished school.  DO NOT reimburse them if they fail to earn the agreed upon GPA because they’ll learn you aren’t serious.


2.  Tell your teen you’ll pay for 2 years of school, and they can pay for 2 years of school.  Your teenager might choose a less expensive college this way, while still getting a solid education.  Even if they choose to pay for community college and you pay for university, this is fine.


3.  Provide them an allowance per semester that covers whatever portion of expenses you’re willing to pay.  Do not pay bills for them.  Just let them figure it out.  If they budget well and there’s money leftover, let them keep it.


4.  Throughout high school and college, match them on every dollar they save towards college.  Tell them they’re responsible to pay for some percentage of college (ranging from 25% to 100%), and this will help get them started.  You’re really teaching them the value of saving this way.


5.  Agree to pay their living expenses throughout school.  Let them find out how to pay the difference through scholarships and work.


6.  Incentivize their education.  Certain majors do not help graduates get jobs.  An example of this is majoring in sociology or psychology.  Undergraduate degrees in these subjects do not lead directly to jobs.  Tell them you’ll pay a higher percentage of college if they choose to major in something that prepares them for the job market.  For example, pay 75% if they major in nursing, but only 50% if they major in cultural anthropology.  After all, the real world pays more for an undergraduate degree in nursing than cultural anthropology.  You’re just helping them be prepared.


7.  Commit to helping them through four years of school.  This way if they graduate early (which is feasible), they can get your help for their start in graduate school, should they elect to go.


8.  Have your child provide you a written budget at the beginning of every month while they’re in college.  Pay for the things on the budget that you see as reasonable and necessary.


9.  Tell your child you’re willing to pay for school at the cost of a 4 year degree at an in-state university.  If they choose something more expensive, they need to come up with the difference.  Suddenly they’ll think harder about whether an engineering degree from San Diego State University is really second-class to one earned at Notre Dame.


10.  Lay out some rules for responsible behavior.  As your child exhibits responsible choices, pay for more.  If they show less responsibility, pay for less.


For some of you, these ideas sound impossible.  You’ll think, ‘How can my child ever earn enough money?’  Truth: They absolutely can.  Another truth: There IS time to work part-time throughout college.  A Third Truth: Scholarships are not that hard to come by with good grades and a little effort.  I heard of one college kid who made it her job during her summer break to apply for scholarships.  She literally did this for 8 hours per day, 5 days per week.  She was awarded approximately $30,000 for her efforts…not bad for a summer job.


Your child needs to learn more than just academic information during college.  They need to be ready to go out into the world successfully.  Being a responsible adult is a huge part of this equation.


Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT