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College Bound, Part I Thumbnail

College Bound, Part I

The Gender Expense Gap and 3 Other Tips for Sending Your Freshman to College

As many of you know, my wife and I are the parents of twins—a boy and a girl—and they are both headed off to college this year. My wife and I are equal parts excited for their next chapter and terrified of having an empty nest in one fell swoop.

Emotions aside, getting them ready to go has been a full-time job, especially post-pandemic. Supplies are limited, which makes tracking down their “needs” and “wants” a little trickier. Plus, there is the issue of traveling by plane. How will we make sure each of them has what they need when we get there? We’ve been pretty lucky in a lot of respects, which I will expand on below, but there is certainly more strategic planning involved than we anticipated. In all honesty, if I had known, I would have started planning for these things much, much sooner.

Now, they tell you—and by “they,” I mean me: “College is expensive.” I don’t care what your net worth, an extra $50,000+ a year in expenses is nothing to scoff at. But, in all my infinite college planning wisdom, there are some things you simply don’t learn until you’re the one doing the planning…and the paying!

Outfitting the kids for their freshman year has been a lot of fun, but there are some things I think other parents could benefit from hearing not just from a money perspective, but a personal perspective. In the first of this two-part series, “College Bound,” I’m going to share with you what my wife and I have learned so that you (and your wallet) might be better prepared for what’s to come.

1) Prepare for the Gender Expense Gap

If you have teenagers of both genders, you can probably predict what I am going say. There's an undeniable discrepancy that exists between how much has been spent on my daughter’s send-off than my son’s. My son is content with a razor, some shaving cream, and a bar of soap. Some sheets for his bed, a fridge for his food, and whatever else we told him he should probably bring. He finally agreed to get a fresh haircut after much convincing.

My daughter on the other hand—you may want to sit down for this, it could be a while—her list could scrawl out a path from here to Thailand. Fresh haircut, nails, eyebrows, new wardrobe, new shoes, room decor, bags to match each of her moods, 5 blankets instead of one, pillows for sleeping, pillows for decoration, pillows for her pillows. I mean, the list is extensive. And this is not to mention her toiletries, which are not just greater in volume than my son’s, but more difficult to obtain. My son’s entire list can probably be found at target, my daughter needs an executive assistant just to coordinate the delivery of each of her facial products.

Look, of course I am exaggerating a bit, my daughter is actually quite practical and is likely no more high maintenance than your average teenage girl. I just want you to be aware, it costs more to send a girl to college than a boy. Be prepared.

2) Pre-Order Supplies for Local Pickup

The pandemic also changed the way we purchase goods and services, and it appears that curbside service and online pick-up orders are here to stay. This is actually great for parents in our situation. We don’t have to wait until we get to Florida and go hunting for the items our daughter will need for her dorm room. We can pick them out online, pay for them, and then take our rental mini-van (more on that in a minute) to pick them up. The downside: stores only hold items for so long. This is typically a few days at most. So, you can’t order in July for September.

Lucky for us, our daughter’s roommate-to-be lives about an hour from the campus and has allowed us to ship many items to her house. We’ll retrieve them when we get in town and this should save us a ton of running around. But, if you aren’t so lucky, do your best to research the stores in the area of the college and reserve the goods online as soon as you can. Keep in mind, all the other kids in town are going to be looking for the same items as your kids, so supply could be even lower than it already is.

Oh, and one more thing: supplies will cost more this year, as well. Why? Supply chain issues. With fewer goods to go around and raising rates on importing, you can expect to pay more for most back-to-school items.

3) Secure a Rental Car

Rental car companies, struggling to cut losses during the pandemic, sold off masses of inventory. Well, travel has surged this summer and booking a rental car is tough to say the least. Begin looking as soon as you can! If you find what you need on your dates, book it! You can always cancel it later if you find a better deal.

Also, measure. Yes, I am “that guy” who researched whether a mini-van or a Suburban had more cubic feet. You see, once we get to Florida to drop off my daughter, we’ll be picking up her shipped items from her roommate’s house and making trips to Bed, Bath & Beyond and Target to get things in order. We’re going to need as much room as we can get.

Luckily, her school, like many others, did have the option of pre-ordering a fridge on campus that will be set up in her room when she arrives. We definitely opted for this as it saves us some time finding one, energy transporting one, and space in the rental mini-van.

4) 3 Major Legal Documents You Need on Hand

We never stop worrying about our children’s health and well-being. But, as parents, we forget our eighteen-year-olds are legally adults. This means that hospitals, doctors, college staff, and landlords have no right to discuss our children’s medical statuses or financial problems with us. In order to be able to help your child from near or afar, you will want to have these three legal documents drafted and kept in your cell phone at all times in case of emergency.

If you do one thing after you read this article, do this: get a state-specific HIPAA form, a Medical Power of Attorney, and a Durable Power of Attorney set up with your college-age child so that you can legally discuss and guide any issues that may arise. The HIPAA form authorizes medical care providers to release and share a student’s general medical information to their designated individual. A medical power of attorney, also known as a health-care proxy, gives parents permission to make medical decisions if their student is physically unable to do so. Once your child turns eighteen, their finances also become private.  A durable power of attorney grants you access to your child’s bank accounts or credit cards in the event of a crisis. Aside from a crisis, though, these permissions can also be helpful should your child study or travel abroad, as well.

Once all the forms are prepared and signed, scan and save them so that they are readily available online and on a mobile device. Personally, I keep these three documents for each child in a folder on my phone so they can be pulled up at any time. My babies will always be my babies, and if they need my help, I want to be able to provide it. Having these documents available could be potentially life-changing.

5) Your Child’s One-Way Ticket

Spoiler alert: this one’s a tear-jerker. In case it hasn’t dawned on you yet, like it really hadn’t for my wife and I until we were making travel arrangements, your child won’t need a round-trip ticket home. Kleenex anyone? Just as I was about to click “purchase” on my laptop to buy three round trip tickets for my wife, my daughter, and I, it dawned on me: there is one package we’re taking to Florida that we won’t be bringing back. We’ll be leaving the most precious package of them all there to experience her first round of adulthood.

So many emotions came flooding in. I realized that both my children would be starting a beautiful next chapter of their own, one that didn’t involve falling asleep under my roof each night and waking up to wish each other a good day each morning. Each time they come home from college to visit, they’ll be a little older and a little wiser, a little more adult.

Suddenly, there were so many things I wanted to tell and teach each of them. Tiny, insignificant things felt of gargantuan importance at the time like how to hold your liquor so you don’t make a fool of yourself at a party. And more important things came to mind like avoiding walking home alone at night on campus.

My wife and I held each other a little closer that night. For eighteen years, we hadn’t known a life without our twins. What was to come next was anybody’s best guess. But for now, we know, if our kids are this excited and confident to go away to school, we must have done something right.