Dear Mrs. Riches:
My kid has been in college just under three weeks and he's already broke. Our deal was that he'd save up money from his summer job to pay for miscellaneous spending, as well as getting a part-time job on campus this year; I'd kick in for the big expenses like books, clothes, the meal plan, tuition, medical expenses, etc. Now he says that his classes are too hard for him to work. "If I work, my grades will go down." And the summer money he was supposed to be saving up? "It was only, like, $500 by the end of the summer. Besides, college is expensive." (By the way, if he saved up everything he made, it should have been around $2,000.)
Part of me wants to send a check. Maybe I was being unreasonable in assuming he could work while in college? Part of me wants to say, "I lived up to my end of the bargain. Now you live up to yours," and see what happens. What gives?
Dear Divided Dad:
The only thing I'd be divided about is whether to call or email the bad news: "Son, I'm not going to bail you out -- for your own good." He probably won't see it this way, but failing to rescue him from his own irresponsibility offers a huge learning opportunity. And isn't that why you're sending him to college in the first place?
The world -- including future bosses, utility companies, and credit card giants -- won't give a fig about his excuses. Rather than teaching him that he can spend without care and you'll eventually pick up the tab, saying "no" means he must acquire a new (and much more grown-up) worldview. He must work. He must budget. He must clean up his own messes.
Practicing tough love can be hard on parents, of course. But consider that your son's basic needs are already being met: You have paid for his housing, clothes, and meal plan, in addition to tuition. He needs to not only appreciate your help, but begin working toward assuming financial responsibility for himself by the end of college.
What about the protests that his grades will suffer? Probably a clever bit of manipulation. Most folks I know who worked part time in college (myself included) actually got better at time management when they had fuller schedules. Learning to juggle multiple responsibilities is another critical life skill that it will serve him well to learn now.
Should he attempt, however, to prove his point by letting his grades plummet, you may want to gently remind him that you're not in the business of subsidizing failing ventures. (Translation: "Keep up your grades or, like, pay your own darned tuition, son.")
After all, $500 spread over three weeks is $166.66 a week. If you multiply that by the 52 weeks in a year, you get $8,666 (in other words, a nearly $9,000-per-year spending habit). Out of that, he's expecting you to pay $8,166. And for what, exactly? It would be very interesting to know! Put it to yourself this way: Which will benefit you and him the most in the long run? Thousands of dollars down the tubes for pizza and beer (or "whatever") or all that money in a retirement account for you?
Ditch the beer gut. Take the IRA. Teach your son a valuable lesson.