Heading off to college is an exciting life transition and a major growth opportunity.  For many young people, it’s their first chance to manage their own finances.  Parents and students who invest a little time, planning, and partnership up front will reap profound benefits for life.  Follow these four tips to ensure that you have a great financial launch!

Open a checking account
Often the university credit union or local counterpart is a trustworthy, low-cost option.  Download the bank’s mobile app to make easy deposits and to check account balances.  Set automatic alerts to provide low-balance notifications or other helpful information.  Parents will likely find it convenient to link their bank account to their child’s to provide monthly allowances, etc.

Build a budget
Discuss sources of money and allowances. Know what money is coming in and going out by tracking it.  Sign up for Mint.com. Draft a simple spending plan and follow it. Don’t overspend. Don’t forget to budget for an occasional indulgence (within reason!). Resist temptations and impulse purchases. Learn to differentiate between wants versus needs. Expect to iterate a few times on your budget as parents and students adaptively learn the reasonable costs of college life.

Get a credit card
Credit cards are for the convenience and security of not having to carry large sums of cash.  Credit cards are NOT for spending money you don’t already have. If you can’t pay off the entire credit card balance each month, you are OVERspending. Avoid on-campus promotions that covertly proffer high-interest-rate cards via enticements of free t-shirts, tumblers, or other trinkets. Again, the university credit union is often a safe space. It’s ideal to have a checking and credit card at the same bank to make payments and management easier. Set alerts (e.g., purchases > $100) to flag transactions above normal spending patterns and protect against fraud.

Start Saving and Investing NOW
I know it’s hard, but having the foresight and the discipline, as a college student, to save and invest will be LIFE CHANGING.  No one ever told us this and it is our greatest financial regret.  Committing to saving even a small amount each month will add up quickly over time and instill a good habit of saving.   Compounding growth is magical — save $20 per month starting at age 18, invest it to grow at 8% per year, and keep doing this for 40 years.  You will have contributed $9,600, but your account will have grown to $64,422 thanks to compounded growth.  This is your “army of dollar bills” working and growing for you.  To get started, open a Roth IRA at a low-cost provider (e.g., Vanguard or Fidelity) and invest your earned income in an S&P 500 index fund. Long-term success is predicated on time in the market, not timing the market.

The budgeting, spending, and savings habits that students form in the coming months and years in college will likely establish their money management persona for life.  By cultivating this money-centric parent-student learning partnership, you’re making an investment in your long-term security and happiness.