More on Spending Money
Question: "We need guidance on how much spending money to give our daughter... ...basically, the spending money we give her is for groceries and entertainment."
Answer: The first thing I would suggest is to read my article on college spending money. Not all of it is applicable to your situation, but I think it gives you a good start.
Since this is an inexact science, I would suggest you meet (even if only by telephone) and talk about what's going to happen. I think you should start with a figure that is a little less than what you actually think she'll need (no matter what, she'll use whatever you give her, so you'll want to start low and go up if necessary).
Now is a very good time to help her learn about money and where she spends it (hopefullly, she'll value the information and apply it to her future, when it's her money she's spending). You should have her keep track of every bit of money she spends on ANYTHING for a month. Have her keep every receipt in a shoebox and then go through those expenses with you - I'd actually get together for this. It will be educational for the both of you, as she sees what she really spends on coffee or pizza or college sportswear, or whatever, and as you see what kinds of decisions she makes with money and how she prioritizes her spending. There should be plenty of teachable moments in this discussion
I will say that I believe strongly that students should be responsible for a portion of their college expenses (even if you can afford to pay for everything), but if she hasn't already earned any money for that, starting now is unrealistic. Spending money and/or entertainment expenses are an excellent place to start this, as it gives the student incentive to earn a lot - since their hard work will determine their level of available funds.
Either way, I'd separate out the groceries from the entertainment. If I understand correctly, she will be purchasing groceries from which she will be making some of her meals - I don't think she'll be able to survive on 50 meals plus $195 for the whole semester... So I'd look into a reloadable card at WalMart or whatever local (at college) grocery store you can find. You'll still be paying it, but there will be some discussion of what are and are not appropriate expenses. And as long as you handle it correctly, she'll have some consideration for what she spends there - some grocery stores sell beer and all kinds of other things that aren't 'groceries'.
I'd also make it clear you don't plan to pay for all of her entertainment expenses. So she HAS to be judicious with her money. Maybe she could use a debit card for this expense... Something to keep you aware and ultimately in control of what she spends, but she still has the ability to spend it in a variety of ways and places... Entertainment is such a wide-open term... some might purchase birthday gifts for friends, others host sit-down dinners or a group, others buy a round of beers at the bar, and still others are big tippers or have a serious Latte habit... And some students feel it's there right to go on Spring Break trips on their parents' buck...
I still am hesitant to even guess at a figure, since I don't quite have a handle on how much food she'll actually have to buy. But maybe start with $50 a week to start with, and see how far that goes and what she spends it on - that's still $800 in a semester!
I would also not feel the need to make her happy with whatever figure you come up with. You want it to be enough to get by, but not too much (and not enough to allow her to develop either dependence on your money or poor spending habits). If she doesn't think it's enough money, then she can get a job, take out a loan, work over Christmas, or work harder and longer next summer.
I hope I've helped you at least a little, and would love to hear any feedback you have for me as you implement whatever you decide to do. Best of luck!
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