Before They Head To University, Teach Your Kids About Budgets

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When I headed off to university (longer ago than I care to admit), my dad and I made a deal where he would cover 90 per cent of the cost of tuition and room and board, provided I maintained a 3.0 GPA, didn't move in with any boys, and we sat down before every semester and talked about my career goals and financial plans after university. That last part I hated when I was 18, but I think was something that set me up for success, and I'd recommend anyone that is paying for their child's tuition (or even if you aren't) to do.

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His idea was pretty simple: He wanted me to be working toward a degree in something that was going to get me a job when I graduated where I would make enough money to have a life that I wanted/expected. I'd had a job since I was 16, so I had a decent idea of how long it takes to earn money. I didn't have a really solid concept of things such as rent, power bills and insurance… all things I was responsible for around the time I walked across the stage to accept that diploma.

Step 1: Find Someone in My Desired Career

Each year I had to find someone who was currently employed in the career I wanted and talk to them about what they did to get where they are today. Like most university students, my dreams for the future changed a few times while I was in school, and so did these mentors of sorts that I had to find along the way.

Each year I had one though, which was super useful in learning things about my desired field. For instance, during my "Theatre Teacher" years I learned that most primary schools in my home state (where I wanted to teach) don't have full-time theatre teachers, so I'd be looking at a part-time job at best, and that job would be hard to find. With others, I learned I'd probably need some graduate school before I'd really be able to enter the workforce.

Step 2: Find Three Job Openings I Would Be Qualified For With My Degree

This one was tough, but definitely gave me a taste of what I was going to be up against four years later. I learned that some jobs were going to require me to relocate, often to places I wouldn't want to live. Others included job descriptions that weren't exactly what I was interested in. When you're 18 and have never really looked for a "real job" it can be eye-opening to see what jobs are actually out there, and what sort of experience employers were looking for when it came to hiring for those jobs.

Step 3: Make a Budget Based on a Starting Salary

My dad had absolutely no desire to keep supporting me after I graduated, and thanks to this step he didn't have to. Each year I would have to come up with a monthly and yearly budget based on the starting salary at a job I could get right out of school.

The budget was one of those things my dad and I talked about a lot. For instance, I didn't realise health insurance was so expensive, or that I would need to budget so much for things such as electricity or internet. Sure, I knew those things all had a price tag attached to them, but they were never bills I was responsible for. It was exceptionally useful to write all that down and to understand how much I'd need to make to live in an apartment where I wanted to and live the lifestyle I wanted to. And to actually look for those apartments and realise my starting salary wasn't going to buy me a house like the one I grew up in.

Every year around this time we would sit down and talk through everything. It was a huge hassle in my teens, but something I still look back on as something that contributed greatly to my success at life in general. I got to spend some quality time with my dad, talk about my plans for the year, and get his advice on what I could do better.

As it turns out, I ended up getting a job right out of university that was never one of the things my dad and I talked about over the years. However, I was considerably better prepared to take on that job and the world, and knew exactly what I was getting into, thanks to our yearly chats.


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