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Advice on how to prep for back to school season

August 16th 2017 by Barb Vincent

Sending your child off to university or college will be an emotional event, likely for both of you. You will likely be both ecstatic at the fun times ahead or teary at the end of an era. There are a few things I found helpful to ease the burden when my daughter took off last year and now already preparing for her 2nd year off campus experience in September. The fun and expense never ends! My first tip below is for the reader who still has some time before the big year arrives.

  1. Capitalize on RESPs. If you still have time, you can contribute up until the calendar year your child turns 17. Be sure to maximize on your RESP contribution in the amount the government will match. $2,500 is the amount of annual grant-eligible contribution room accrued each year starting in 2007 or the year the child was born (whichever is later). The contribution room continues accruing up to and including the year when the child turns 17 years old. This amount is based on the calendar year and not the birth date. There are not many “freebies” in life and definitely not many “tax breaks” that are legitimately too good too pass up on, but RESPs are one of them. Don’t worry if you aren’t sure what direction your child will take following high school. Talking with one of our financial planners will help guide you through the process.
  2. Try to see the dorm room before move-in day. Have your child take pictures and a couple of measurements of the dorm room that they will be staying in. Consider the size of things like storage bins, laundry hampers, a fan or a lamp? Knowing the lay of the land is key to maximizing the use of the small space
  3. Do your research. Once your child has been accepted into the school of their choice, take a bit of time to orient yourself with the city/town they will be living in. Drop-off day will be so much more relaxed if you know where you are going, a good spot for lunch and a hotel nearby if you are travelling a far distance to get there. Setting up the new residence room will likely require a trip to Canadian Tire, Walmart and a local grocery store, so having them programmed into your GPS will make for a stress-free afternoon.
  4. Pay attention to information about student support services. Majority of 18-19-year old’s will not be focused on this type of information. Most post-secondary institutions offer a vast array of services that come along with the price of tuition including learning centres and tutoring, career and job services as well as health centres (both mental and physical) just to name a few.
  5. Learn how to access the school’s website to pay tuition and know when tuition is due. Billing and payment policies vary widely, but you can count on the fact that they will impose late fees if tuition isn’t paid on time. Also, the student website is where your child will likely spend most of their class and course time, so it’s helpful to understand the site prior to their first day of class.  Note: There is generally the option to pay tuition in installments if lump sum payments don’t work best for you.
  6. Be realistic about your budget. Some post-secondary costs are fixed. Things like tuition, residence, books and meal plans are likely similar from one institution to another and one year to the next. Read the fine print to make sure you aren’t paying for a premium residence and/or a meal plan that your child will not use.  The variable costs are a little less obvious. Socializing, pharmacy items, late night pizza and the cost of unexpected emergencies can be overwhelming. Take this opportunity to teach some budgeting techniques to your child. A little freedom can go a long way. That being said, “teachable” moments often take a few tries, so perhaps helping them out financially by spreading funds     over the year opposed to in one lump sum at the start of the semester may be better suited for your child and their spending habits.
  7. Lastly, emergencies do come up.  Things happen, so it’s great to be prepared. An emergency trip home, no money left for food or lost textbooks before an exam can happen. A Member Savings MasterCard with a $500 limit is a great way to relieve stress for both you and your child and a great way for them to start building their own credit!