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Smart finances for smart students: Seven ways Cal Parents can encourage financial wellness

By Abigail Hines | Student Affairs Communications

For students, college is a portal to independence. For parents, that independence can be less apparent when faced with urgent text messages or calls for help mid-semester. Maybe it’s late-night pizza runs, new credit card payments, or all that bubble tea — your student needs support. So how do you balance student responsibility for financial wellness with your own desire to help?

At UC Berkeley, we understand managing money at college can be extremely stressful for students — and their supporters. That’s why the university provides numerous free resources to help your student develop financial wellness. The following are some actions your students can take on their path to independence. Your encouragement may be all they need to begin!

1) Set up regular check-ins about financial aid.
If your student receives financial aid, be sure to establish regular check-ins with your student. Make it a priority to discuss upcoming bills that may be due and deadlines that need to be met to ensure your student continues to receive aid. Check to make sure your student has visited CalCentral to see their financial aid records and has completed the necessary tasks to access their loans, if they plan to take out student loans. If your family chooses to access Parent PLUS loans, there may be steps for you to complete outside of your student’s CalCentral tasks.

In CalCentral, your student can choose to delegate access for you to be able to view their financial aid and billing information. Get more tips on financial aid, scholarships, and how to support your student’s financial literacy by reviewing the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office’s helpful parent guide.

2) Select a bank and open a personal account.
If they have not already, encourage your student to take ownership of their finances by opening a personal bank account. Make sure your student can access their bank account online and know who to call if they have questions or misplace their card. Once your student arrives on campus, they may find it easier to manage their money with the support of a local bank. If your student’s choice of bank has no local branch, caution them about non-network ATM fees.

As the official bank of UC Berkeley, Bank of the West offers sixteen ATMs on or around campus in addition to the on-campus staff who work with UC Berkeley students. Your student is not obligated to choose Bank of the West, but the UC Berkeley Student Checking account includes exclusive special offers for them, including no monthly service charges and other perks.

Once your student has opened an account, they may find it helpful to set up direct deposit. This ensures your student can receive financial aid refunds and paychecks from campus jobs as quickly as possible and save the trip to Cal Student Central for a physical check.

3) Establish a budget and determine spending needs.
Preventive care is not only for physical wellness. Being aware of (and planning for) anticipated costs makes a world of a difference for college students. Demystifying weekly and monthly needs often provides the initiative students need to take ownership of their finances.

Help by encouraging your student to set spending guidelines and track their expenses. This may include learning to identify “wants” from “needs,” making meal plans and weekly food budgets, or adjusting spending habits. The Financial Aid and Scholarships Office provides tools to help your student with this like creating a spending plan and estimating your refund or balance due. If “making a budget” is still an amorphous concept for your student, direct them to one of UC Berkeley’s student resources below for help.

Student volunteer sitting at table speaking to a new student

Student volunteers help orient new UC Berkeley students their first week on campus. (UC Berkeley photo by Student Affairs Communications)

4) Connect with UC Berkeley’s student-to-student financial counseling program.
Starting a budget from scratch is daunting, but can be fun with a friend. A great campus resource is Bears for Financial Success, an independent peer-to-peer financial wellness program that is part of the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office.

Peer mentors can help your student navigate their personal finances, answer basic money management questions, and help create a personal spending plan in a comfortable setting.

5) Take advantage of the iGrad online personal finance tool, free for Berkeley students.
Personalized tools and reports, financial wellness dashboard, interactive games that promote finance literacy — iGrad is the free, easy-to-use personal finance tool provided by Bears for Financial Success. When your student creates an account, they start with a financial checkup, receive recommended how-to tutorials, and access tools to help stay on track with their budget.

The online portal empowers students by making financial planning fun and accessible. Additional features of iGrad promote financial health in other ways, including a quiz to understand personal spending habits, resources for finding scholarships, and tips and tricks for managing personal finance.

6) Seek out work-study options.
UC Berkeley has the largest work-study program in the UC system, with students earning $7 million annually from nearly 5,000 work-study positions. Eligible students can earn part of their college costs, which allows them to decline or reduce loan amounts and graduate with more choices.

Work-study jobs are a great option for both financial wellness and career preparation. In addition to extra income, students learn how to write dynamic cover letters and resumes, find major-related work, and gain valuable experience alongside working professionals.

7) Explore one of UC Berkeley’s support programs.
UC Berkeley is committed to supporting student needs in all areas of financial wellness, including meeting nutritional needs. Students in need can visit the UC Berkeley Food Pantry, part of a campus-wide effort to fight food insecurity, and many can qualify for state supplemental nutrition assistance through Cal Fresh @ Berkeley.

University Health Services provides consultation, nutritional counseling, and resources in multiple areas of student wellness that can impact their finances. Articles like Eating on a Budget/College Edition and Eating Healthy on a Budget suggest additional ways for students to save money while eating healthy.

There’s no better time to encourage your student to take ownership of their financial wellness and independence than right now. Open the conversation with your student today.


Cal Dad carrying move-in items

Families and parents provide much-appreciated help for their UC Berkeley students during Move-In. (UC Berkeley photo by Student Affairs Communications)

Large family group

Family with student and a black dog

Proud families are spotted everywhere on campus during Move-In. (UC Berkeley photo by Student Affairs Communications)



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