Prepare Your Troop to Leave the Coop

by Marianne Giullian

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There are several important things to consider when sending children to college. Preparing them for college doesn't take as much money as you might think. They already have most of what they need. There are other preparations we fail to consider that may be more important in the long run than providing material things. In addition to material things, your child needs to learn skills necessary to live independently. You can help them learn these skills before they leave. It is better for them to learn and make mistakes while they are still under your roof than suffer more severe consequences of bad choices after they leave.

Helping your child prepare for living on his/her own at college can cost whatever you want to spend. Our oldest child started college last year. Before she went, I looked for lists of what to bring. I thought I would have to buy her lots of new things, but I was pleasantly surprised when I realized she already had most of what she needed. She already had clothes that she liked and wore and wanted to take. I bought her a few pairs of pants, but it was not because she needed them. She took extra medicine we had in the house and a few other first aid items. She already had a trash can and took all of her make up and hair accessories. We bought extra bottles of shampoo and soap to last through the semester. We also sent her with some stamps, envelopes, and paper. We were going to buy a computer, but found that she had access to a nice computer. There isn't room for a lot of things in the typical dorm room. Our daughter now has a good job at school and could buy a computer, but she has decided against it for now since she has access to high speed computers at school. Our daughter doesn't have a car and doesn't need one. She can walk everywhere she needs to go. Having a car is certainly a convenience, but most undergraduate students don't need a car at college. Usually, someone they know will have a car, and they will have access when they really need to get somewhere. Remember, it doesn't have to cost a fortune when they leave for college because they already have most of what they need.

Does your child know how to cook? It is good for them to know the basics of oven and stove use. Teach them how to follow basic cooking instructions (like on a box of macaroni and cheese). Teach them fundamental guidelines like putting salt in the water when they cook pasta, rice and vegetables. Teach them how to prepare basic but flexible foods (like white sauce/milk gravy). Help them learn to cook some simple meals and a couple of their favorite meals. Help them understand there is a difference between baking soda and baking powder and between bleached flour, self-rising flour and bread flour. Open a cookbook and have them choose a meal to prepare, determine what to buy at the store, have them purchase the ingredients, follow the recipes, and make the meal. Teach them ideas on using food before it spoils. Whatever they can learn before college will make things easier for them when they are on their own.

Can they shop effectively? Do they know how much to buy and how to shop sales? Have them help you with shopping before they go to college. Have them try store brands and national brands to see if they can tell a difference. Help them figure out how much they can save by using store brands. If they want to eat out, have them call around to see if the restaurants have specials on certain days. Have them do comparison shopping between stores and realize that by going to a less expensive store, they can save 20 percent or more.

Can they stay within a budget? Do they know how to live within their income? Our daughter asked us to send her a copy of the budget form we use so she could determine expenses and be more aware of how her money is being spent. They need to learn basic money management skills. Do they know how to use a checkbook? Do they know how to balance it? Do they understand the consequences of bouncing a check? We open checking accounts for our kids when they are sixteen. That way, they can learn the skills while they are still under our roof. Do they really understand ATM fees and know to record withdrawals in their checkbook? Can they read between the lines when they receive offers for credit cards and other contracts and understand what the fine print means?

Do they know how to do laundry? They need to learn simple things such as separating laundry into whites and colors. They need to learn to read care labels to see what water temperatures are appropriate for different types of clothing. They need to learn how to use a washer and dryer and remember to clean the lint screen of the dryer after each load. They need to learn how much laundry soap to use, the importance of stain removers and bleach, and how to use them. They need to know how to iron their own clothes.

Many young people go off to college and get themselves into extraordinary amounts of debt. Children need to learn that mom and dad are not going to bail them out whenever they get themselves into trouble. It would be wise to make sure they have the skills to survive on their own and to be aware of the traps out there that can snare them if they are not careful. By preparing our children both with the proper material things and necessary skills, our troop can be prepared to leave the coop.

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