The new year is a time to reflect on our habits over the past year and address those we most wish to change. While many people pledge to shed a few pounds or save money, college students and their parents may have particular resolutions to make.
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Here are some of our top New Year's resolutions for students and parents, specifically related to finances.
Many parents of college students still have their children home on break when the new year rolls around. Still, they will soon be heading back to school, and the January 1 is a perfect time to make some resolutions for the college year.
1. Complete the FAFSA: I bet few people look forward to filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Therefore, it's something that's easy to put off—or not do at all.
But completing the FAFSA can only benefit your family financially. The best case scenario is that your student will find himself or herself eligible for grants, scholarships, or work study.
And even if your family is not eligible for this kind of federal aid, the FAFSA can help you take stock of your current financial situation, and it's really not that much of a bear to complete. Do it along with your child and it becomes a learning process as well.
2. Prioritize communication: College is a chance to redefine your relationship with your child as he or she is becoming an adult. An open communication process is your best bet during this time.
It's especially important to communicate about expectations: what you expect of your student and what he or she can expect from you, especially as it relates to financial support.
I was shocked by how long my five-week winter break seemed during my freshman year of college. It gave me a lot of time to look back on the past semester and how I had progressed with my grades, activities, and relationships with friends.
I also used winter break to look back over the year's finances and come up with some ways to improve in the new year. Here are some of my resolutions.
1. Use my meal plan to its fullest: Meal plans are prepaid, so it is in your best interest to use them wisely. Next semester, avoid eating out or off-campus as much as possible.
Those frequent purchases can add up, and often seem silly when looking over the past semester. It's much easier to justify a textbook purchase than a trip to a fast food restaurant.
2. Track my finances: Do you ever avoid looking at bank statements because you're afraid of what you'll see? I think this is the No. 1 way to overspend, and can spell disaster for college students who aren't used to monitoring their own expenses. I am certainly guilty of this.
While it may benefit you to avoid your bank balance for the short term, you'll be unhappy when you realize how those card transactions add up. Pledge this year to keep track of finances in one way or another, whether that means checking in every month, week, or day.
3. Find at least one new form of financial aid: The search for scholarships and financial aid is usually in full swing during the senior year of high school, but there are plenty of options available for current college students as well. I've found these to be less competitive than the more traditional incoming freshman scholarships, so they may be easier to attain.
A little extra cash could also be a great New Year's gift to you and your parents—so start searching!
Originally published at USNews.com on January 2nd, 2013