How do you teach students about managing money? Put them in charge of yoursThat's what Samantha Gunderson's mom did.
And, yes, all the bills got paid
Samantha Gunderson, above left,
learned about budgeting by managing
her mom's checkbook.
Samantha Gunderson was about 16 when she and her mom had “the talk.”
It was high time, Cindi Gunderson thought, that her daughter got a hands-on lesson in money management.
“My mom gave me her checkbook and every month I had to open all the bills and go through and figure out our expenses,” says Samantha, now a freshman at WWU.
Many parents would probably rather discuss just about anything other than their personal finances with their children. But Cindi Gunderson, a school bus driver in Bothell, felt that teaching her daughter about balancing her checkbook needed more than a simple math lesson.
“It’s a hard thing to share, but it’s important to learn from their parents, so they don’t make the same mistakes."
“Bills are a rather personal thing,” Cindi says. “It’s a hard thing to share with your kids. But it’s important for them to learn from their parents, so they don’t make some of the same mistakes that parents make.”
So for six months, Cindi walked Samantha through mortgage payments, car insurance, bills for water, power and cell phones, and planning for annual expenses like house insurance and vacations. She also took her daughter on family shopping trips “so she could see how much a gallon of milk cost.”
Luckily, the family faced no surprise expenses while Samantha was in charge – Samantha’s father’s auto repair shop did well. The family rarely uses credit cards, so Samantha didn’t have to juggle those payments, but she still had to be careful.
Samantha, above, is now works in
Student Accounts office.
Photo by Jon Bergman/WWU
“I don’t remember a time when it was a stretch,” she says, “but there was definitely a time where our income was, almost to the exact penny, what we needed.”
After Samantha divvied up the family’s money each month, all her mom had to do was sign the checks.
Samantha now works as a student employee in WWU’s Student Accounts office, where supervisor June Fraser Thistle was impressed with how Cindi and Cliff Gunderson gave their daughter such an “awesome” introduction to financial life skills.
She wishes more families did the same.
“We want to shelter them and protect them,” Fraser Thistle says. “But if they don’t know how much money is being made in the household and what the expenses are, how are they to learn budgeting skills when they’re out on their own?”
Budgeting is particularly important for students whose main income is a quarterly financial aid disbursement, Fraser Thistle says. It’s like getting one paycheck every three-and-a-half months.
“How many of us could manage that?” she says. “And we’re asking an 18-year-old to do that?”
Samantha says she is more careful about what she spends after managing her family’s finances. She is even making regular payments toward her student loans to reduce her debt load after graduation, when she hopes to become a teacher.
“After college, I’ll have rent, car payments, insurance, gas, money to buy food …” she says. “I’d rather not have $40,000 worth of debt right out of school.”