Financially supporting students doesn't have to cost anything

College girl on a laptop

Good financial health is a lifelong pursuit, with ups and downs, setbacks and successes. Like your physical health, luck plays a part, and we’re all bound to be a little negligent from time to time.

Where physical and financial health differ most significantly is in our perception of what it means to help someone in poor health. When a loved one is in poor physical health, we get creative in our care. We provide everything from empathy to chicken soup to rides to the doctor’s office. We recognize our limitations in the face of someone else’s sickness and work around them.

But when it comes to poor financial health, we tend to assume the only solution is money. So if there’s no money available, or if the idea of throwing money at someone else’s problem is a non-starter, we give up, confident in the idea that there was nothing we could do. And of course, that’s simply not true.

Today’s student are in poor financial health

It’s never been exactly easy to be a college student, but today’s students have it especially tough. Most live paycheck to paycheck, struggling to balance classroom responsibilities with the increasingly steep cost of tuition, room, and board. The majority of students worry that their financial house of cards is on the verge of collapsing, threatening their education, career, and future prospects.

In the broader picture, our students need access to affordable education and better paying jobs. But as an individual – a parent, a relative, a friend – that’s a tall order. That still doesn’t mean that your ability to support the student in your life is limited to writing checks or wiring funds.

Prepare them

Generally speaking, active people with good diets and limited bad habits have fewer health concerns than folks who don’t exercise, who eat poorly, and who smoke. Positive habits aren’t a guarantee that you’ll never face a physical setback, but they certainly increase your odds. In other words, good health usually begets more good health.

The same is true for financial health. Good financial health requires good advice and good habits. It takes exercise. If you want to financially support your child, begin by building their fundamentals.

Those fundamentals won’t always be enough, especially in the face of unexpected, major setbacks. But they should help prevent some of the self-inflicted financial wounds that young people are prone to cause.

Listen to them

Why is it so much easier to talk about our weird rashes than it is to talk about our debts? We rarely stigmatize physical ailments, but let ourselves feel shamed over financial ones. That’s a big reason why minor financial setbacks so often turn into catastrophes – we weren’t willing to seek help and support when the problem was most manageable.

The last thing a struggling student needs is guilt and grief over a bad money decision. Sometimes the greatest support you can provide is empathy and understanding, completely free of judgment. Chances are good you made the same mistakes in the past. Talk about those experiences. Let it be known that mistakes happen and there’s no shame in that.

Direct them

While it would be great to always have the funds necessary to bail your loved ones out of every calamity, it’s probably not happening. When real trouble comes, though, you can still be a resource. Educate yourself. Understand what’s out there. Point them toward financial counseling. Help them set-up a side income. Teach them how to save. Make sure they have information necessary to make informed decisions about their student loans.

Don’t just give advice – give good advice. That may take a little work and a bit of research, but it won’t cost much, if anything.

Tagged in Debt strategies, Money and relationships, Budget tips

Thomas Nitzsche is Manager of Media and Brand at MMI.

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.
  • The National Council of Higher Education Resources (NCHER) is the nation’s oldest and largest higher education finance trade association. NCHER’s membership includes state, nonprofit, and for-profit higher education service organizations, including lenders, servicers, guaranty agencies, collection agencies, financial literacy providers, and schools, interested and involved in increasing college access and success. It assists its members in shaping policies governing federal and private student loan and state grant programs on behalf of students, parents, borrowers, and families.

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  • The National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.