Should You Pay for Your Kid’s College Living Expenses?

A child born today that goes to college will pay over $200,000 in tuition and fees for the privilege. While most students will not pay “sticker price” due to scholarships and grants, you are still talking about a ton of cash. To generate $200,000 in 18 years of investment, you would need to save $4,370 every year until your child starts college. That’s $364 per month. And that’s just for one college bound child.

Photo by Peter Gene via Flickr

As you consider saving up money for tuition and fees, it is easy to forget about the other costs of college. Books, clothing, spending money, laundry costs, and fun money all factor into the equation. But as a parent should you be responsible for all of those living expenses?

The Case for Funding College Living Expenses

College is suppose to be about learning, growing as an individual, building relationships, acquiring life skills, and of course having some fun. Since most college students will not pay full price for admission to a school, parents should use the extra money to help their student maximize the collegiate experience. You can give your student money in a budgeted fashion so they don’t blow it all at once while still covering their day to day needs. Consider making a deal with them where they have to keep their grades above a certain GPA to stay on your “payroll”. You’ll teach them the power of incentives and consequences if they don’t live up to their end of the bargain.

The best reason to help your college student out is to ensure they do not graduate with student loan debt hanging around their necks. Student loans can devastate a student’s first few years in the workforce and limit their opportunities. Doing whatever you can to avoid that is a good move.

The Case Against Funding College Living Expenses

Life isn’t easy nor free, and that’s a tough lesson for anyone to learn. College is your student’s first experience of “the real world”, so that lesson should begin there. If you are financially able to pay for their college tuition, that should be more than enough support for them to make it. Requiring your child to get a job on-campus (or in the real world) to fund their spending money is a part of their personal growth.

While your student might have more study time if they didn’t have to work, the reality is they probably wouldn’t spend a lot of that extra time studying. Plus, they would miss out on another key lesson of life: how to manage a limited amount of time. When you are out in the workforce you have to work, maintain your home, maintain your health, cook dinner, and a whole host of other things. You don’t have people around to do all of that for you. So help your child learn time management sooner rather than later.

There are two additional reasons to not give all of the saved money to your kid:

  • You have other children headed to college. That extra money should be applied to their tuition as well.
  • You need to continue to save for retirement. If you saved some of the money outside of a 529 account, you should be able to get it back for your retirement needs. While your child’s college experience is important, you can’t borrow money for retirement. You can borrow money for college.

About the Author

By , on Sep 19, 2011
Kevin Mulligan
Kevin Mulligan is a debt reduction champion with a passion for teaching people how to budget and stay out of debt. He's building a personal finance freelance writing career and has written for, Discover Bank, and many others.

Leave Your Comment (7 Comments)

  1. Paul says:

    We have college funds set up for both children with the understanding that they will contribute half towards their tuition. We will most likely help out with the tuition but don’t tell them that! They will have to contribute part of their college expenses and that is the point.

  2. Jenna says:

    My parents didn’t pay for mine (I became a RA) but do pay for my brother’s. Since his college was WAY cheaper than mine and the cost of living off campus for him is considerably cheaper than him living on campus. If you don’t want to pay for your kid’s room and board, encourage them to become a RA or get a part time job.

  3. Jeff says:

    My daughter is a senior in college this year and I have given a bunch of consideration over the years as to her living arrangements. We were in a pretty good position to pay for her college – gift from a wealthy Aunt.

    However, my wife and I wanted to be good stewards of the money so we said the we would only pay for on campus housing. Well after the first year, there was nothing else for her to do than get her own apartment. Our solution was to not give her any more money for housing. Anything else that she needed to have her own apartment needed to come from a part-time job. So far, everything works very smoothly.

    One funny thing however. When she asked if she should sign a 2 year cable agreement, I said “no because she would not be living there for 2 years”. She than asked – “where will I be living then?” My answer – anywhere that you want where you pay for it. Dose of reality – love it!

  4. @impulsesave says:

    Coming from a large family, we have a sort of “it’s all in one big pot” mentality. We all work as hard as we can (after-school and summer jobs, work study, etc.) and live as frugally as possible. It would literally be impossible to live any other way, and we have more incentive to be fiscally responsible: the well-being of our siblings.

  5. Kris says:

    On the one hand I think kids need to focus on school work while in college. On the other hand I think that learning how to manage money while on your own is a very valuable life lesson. With my son who is currently in college he is already highly motivated by money so he hasn’t asked for any spending money, got his own job, and seems to be managing the work/school balance quiet well. We’ll see…

  6. Elle says:

    I had to pay my way for college, but if I stayed local my housing expenses were greatly reduced. I don’t think children should get a completely free ride for college.

    My husband and I plan on saving for a solid state university for our daughter. If she wants to go to a more expensive school, that’s her choice, but she’ll have to foot the difference.

  7. krantcents says:

    When my kids were in college, I put them on a budget and they worked part time. Their wages were their spending money or fund the things my budget did not allow.

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