BYU students navigate financial independence

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Learning how to be financially independent can be a difficult and rewarding part of the college experience. (Haley Mosher)

Noelia Root’s parents made it clear she would be kicked out of the family nest once she started attending BYU.

“Since I was like in kindergarten, they said, ‘Get a job. Save your money because you’re paying for your college,’” Root said.

College students who are cut off from their parents’ funds and must pay for their tuition are immediately faced with the difficulties of financial independence. They must quickly learn to pay for housing and other necessities by themselves. For others, the weaning process is more gradual. Becoming financially independent can be an intimidating process in any situation.

Students often experience financial independence from their parents for the first time as they enter college. According to a research report conducted by the Bank of America and USA TODAY, for many, becoming an adult is not a matter of age but of financial independence.

Laura M. Padilla-Walker, a BYU professor from the School of Family Life, researches parent-student joint funds. 

“When parents and college-aged children are jointly contributing financially, the outcomes seem to be the most favorable in terms of academic outcomes and relationship quality and risk behaviors,” she said. 

Interdependence may also have adverse effects. Padilla-Walker said parents can use economic interdependence as leverage to have a say in decision-making.

“Once you’re financially independent, it feels more like the choices are your own,” Root said. “I don’t have to go through my parents every time. I make my own decisions and then they’re just there to support me afterwards.”

According to research by ABODO, 49.5% of students pay for less than 50% of their college experience, and 24.4% of students cover all of their own expenses. Students turn to various means to support themselves in order to contribute to college funds.

Most students look to savings and part-time jobs during the school year or summer to support themselves. In Utah, 65.7% of students work while attending college. Minnesota and Alaska are the only two states that have a higher student employment rate. At BYU, 19,000 students hold on-campus jobs.

Over 52% of students receive financial aid at BYU. (Haley Mosher)

Students also use financial assistance to fund schooling. Of students on campus, 52% receive some type of financial assistance. According to ABODO, of those students, 52% receive loans, and 48% receive a grant or scholarship.

The Financial Fitness Center on campus provides financial counseling to students with questions or concerns.

Paul Conrad is a professor of family finance, a financial coach and the manager of the BYU Financial Fitness Center. He provided insight on how to navigate the waters of emerging financial independence, first explaining the importance of setting goals.

“The purpose of financial planning is to achieve goals,” Conrad said. “If I can get (students) to set the goal then they’ll work at it a lot harder.”

Goals help students keep themselves in check and give a greater incentive for being financially stable. Students tend to work harder in order to fulfill self-expectations, Conrad explained.

He also advised students to understand their own financial situation.

“I have been maybe a little bit surprised that many students have not sat down ever and written out, ‘Here’s what my expenses are,’” Conrad said.

Budgeting for food, housing and other necessities is easier when there’s an understanding of how much income is received and what amount of savings can be spent, he explained. 

Conrad said the best way for a student to stay out of debt is by finding a means to pay for tuition. If a scholarship, grant or parents can pay tuition costs, a part-time job or summer savings can be used to pay for other expenses, he explained.

BYU offers a service called Scholarship Universe that matches students to hundreds of scholarships they qualify for.

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