Surprising, practical budgeting tools for college kids

As millions of young people start the long, expensive process to embark on, or continue, their college journey, many parents are shaking their head about their child's personal finance skills, or lack thereof. If your child has issues managing their (or your) personal finances, now is the time to start considering your options.

The average college grad is $35,200 in debt, with $3,000 of that coming from credit cards, according to a 2013 Fidelity survey of college graduates. In that same survey, 39 percent said they would have changed their behavior to get into less debt if they could go back. By helping your children learn financial management skills before they leave for college, you are setting them up for fewer regrets.

One tool you might not have thought of is a gift card for the places they shop the most. Instead of giving them cash or a credit card that may be abused, try using retail gift cards.

"Gift cards, from grocery chains, book stores, big box stores and restaurants, give students the funds they need at their fingertips, and ensures they're spending the money on what parents intended it for," says RGCA President and Executive Director Rebekka Rea. "On top of that, parents have peace of mind that their child isn't getting into financial trouble with fees, interest charges, overdraft or penalties."

Another major perk of gift cards for your college student is that many can be reloaded so parents can easily replenish the funds if needed. You can also find special offers or loyalty programs that are tied to gift cards such as discounts on gas when purchased in conjunction with a partnered grocery store. For more information on retail gift cards, please visit

In addition to specific financial tools like gift cards, there are a number of positive habits you can help your co-ed pick up that can play a helpful role in teaching financial responsibility. These include:

1) Setting a budget: It might sound simple, but this is one of the most valuable habits your child can pick up. Teach him the value in setting, and sticking to, a budget.{}

2) Start saving: Nothing is more gratifying than watching saved money grow. Teach your child how to reach that rewarding experience.{}

3) Be forgiving: Everyone makes mistakes, so be sure to continue to encourage your child to gain financial independence, even when he runs out of money, loses a credit card, or calls you to wire money. One day, you'll be glad you did.

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