Succeeding in College with High-Functioning Autism

“My daughter with autism (mild form) is doing pretty well at college managing her courses and her part-time job. However, she is not managing her finances well. For a while she only had to pay for her car payment and insurance. Now, she has also accumulated some credit cards and short-term loans. While she lives away at school, her mail and bills come here, so I’ve been checking her mail. She has not been paying her bills on time, so I’ve had to make some payments for her. She knows that I am holding her accountable to reimburse me. How can I help her develop an organized budget system, while at the same time not offending her and turning her away from us?”

Student budgeting has specific challenges. Typically, the student receives money in large chunks, either from loans, education savings plans, or summer job savings, and then she needs to make it last for several months. If your daughter is managing her money for the first time, it can be tempting to spend big early on, and then struggle to pay the bills later. For the most part, students will be stuck paying back loans after graduating, so getting a solid grasp on budget and perhaps even learning how to refinance student loans can set the stage for a successful financial future after college.

Budgeting for college students is essential to avoid that end-of-semester crunch. However, even mentioning the word “budget” will most likely make your daughter groan. But having a financial plan will save her from realizing that it's January, she’s out of money, and her next loan doesn't arrive until March!

Tips to help young adults with high-functioning autism and Asperger's create – and stick to – a budget:
  1. Encourage your daughter to start her college student budget in the fall, when she’s saved her summer earnings and received her student loans.  
  2. Help her identify all her sources of income (e.g., scholarships, money from you, savings from jobs, etc), and when she expects to receive the funds. That's her income.  
  3. Next, help her make a list of all fixed costs (e.g., tuition, phone, rent, utilities, etc.) and when they’ll come due (if she banks online, she can ask her bank to send her payment reminders for when things are due). 
  4. Next, help your daughter estimate her regular discretionary expenses (e.g., food, laundry, entertainment, etc.) as well as infrequent expenses (e.g., trips home, books, course materials, etc.). Add a little extra for unexpected or emergency expenses (e.g., a computer crash).
  5. Are her expenses higher than her income? If so, take another look at ways to save. She may want to consider living with roommates, taking public transit, switching to a low-cost cell phone plan with plenty of texting, and so on.
  6. Remind your daughter to write down her expenses for the first few weeks and compare it to her college student budget. Is she eating out more than she planned? Does she have to buy new textbooks instead of used? If so, help her adjust her budget.

==> Here's an example of a budget worksheet for college students...

Another way you can help your daughter from a distance is to find a good computer bookkeeping program. These programs make budgeting and bill paying quick and easy. Use the program yourself and recommend it to her. This will help the encounter seem more like a genuine product review rather than a parent-to-child demand. Encourage her to share this new information with any friends who may be struggling with their finances.

Budgeting is a common problem for college students everywhere. Sometimes the freedom is just overwhelming. Once your daughter has come up with a solution for her financial struggles, make sure she budgets for the money she owes on those late bills you paid.

Going away to college creates feelings of new found independence. It is normal for your daughter to pull away a bit as she finds her own way. Balancing this independence with the need for parental guidance may be difficult for all of you. While you are willing to help in any way for the time being, you should expect her to take full control of her financial situation at some point, just as she has taken control of the other areas of her life. Paying her late bills for her will keep her credit score in good shape, but she will not learn to manage her money this way.

==> Launching Adult Children With Aspergers: How To Promote Self-Reliance

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