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The Form Four results are out and the next stop for most students is university or other colleges.
For some parents, excitement may be high; their children are moving to another stage in life. But the excitement may be short-lived when the reality of college living, its costs, and their children’s demands hit home.
Some say college life forms the best years of a person’s life. And so it might be if the excitement, flashy lifestyles, binge drinking, and the “fun” can be deemed to make a good life.
But while students have the good life with the impulsive spending and high living, their parents are not. They are miserable.
According to a report by Consumer Insight, college students are the most capable and influential consumers, balancing the rising cost of education with a hardy work ethic, spending a fair portion of their considerable discretionary income on high-end technology, and holding considerable sway over the purchasing decisions of their peers.
Deep in debt
According to Clement Maina, a Nairobi-based financial adviser, not all college students are aware of their spending habits and most of them find out that they are deep in debt when it is too late.
“Spending money is a habit that most students develop the moment they join college. And this has to do with peer pressure and perceived social status in the college community,” he says.
While not gambling, chatting via the Internet and living “dangerously”, most college students buy the most expensive mobile phones, shoes, and clothes, sport the latest music systems and flat screen television sets, all financed by their parents and guardians, says Mr Antony Kago Waithiru, a Third Year Bachelor of Education student at Laikipia University College.
“Most campus students display a ‘clearing and forwarding’ attitude to all the monies they touch, including the Higher Education Loans Board grant,” he says, adding that some college and university students are addicted to pool games and gambling, which are costly.
They buy expensive electronic goods like laptops, mobile phones and DVD players with their Helb stipend at the beginning of the semester and live broke for the rest of the term, he adds. “This is the time that some also change from their normal diet and start buying chicken at the messes,” he says.
And the campus dating game is another money hog: “I have seen many students living the lie of affluence and often entertaining girls and boys at expensive retreats on the allowance their parents send them,” he says.
“Young men will try to impress young women and vice versa. Purchasing such items as radio or a big TV set is the lifestyle in most institutions of higher learning,” Mr Maina adds.
Some students also often rent rooms privately outside the college instead of going for the cheaper ones in campus. Indeed, a popular joke that the Helb stipend should be reduced to a “manageable level” before somebody can settle down for serious study, speaks volumes about our youths’ financial sense or lack of it.
Unknown to such students or perhaps due to their choice to be ignorant, their insatiable money demands often leave their parents or guardians in debt for the duration they are in school. Lifelong savings are jeopardised and no major investments can be undertaken because of their unpredictable money demands.
Ms Abigail Baya, a Second Year student at Moi University, Eldoret, says she used to spend money on mobile phone credit carelessly. She often called her friends who were nearby for every small thing at campus. “Calling somebody who is in the same hostel or library with you is the cool thing to do. But when I added up the shillings, I ditched the habit and now walk to look for the people I need,” she says.
She singles out surfing on the Internet as a major drain on college students’ cash. “Whereas research through the Internet is encouraged at college, few students ever pause to add up the figures and see what they spend in a week or month on it,” she says. And all these expenses are often passed on to parents, she adds.
Her way out is to surf only what she needs and to carry any downloads in PDF or Word Document formats to work offline later.
Ms Lillian Wangari, a parent, laments about her daughter’s lack of foresight in her financial demands. There is always something with a substantial financial implication that crops up midway through the semester.
“If it is not cash to buy food, shoes and clothes, I am asked to foot the bills for new hairdos and beauty products,” she says. And often, these requests come at the most inopportune time — between the 15th and 20th days of the month.
Ms Wangari is stressed that she has to keep about Sh5,000 always so that she can transfer it to her daughter quickly through the mobile phone to enable her to cope with her erratic spending habits.
Students always invent a new need for money, like the popular line of hiked examinations and hostel fees, to keep up with their lavish lifestyles and dating sprees, Mr Kago says.
But not all students are irresponsible spendthrifts, a Third Year business management student in a public university points out. He says some college youths ask for financial bailout as cash injections for thriving campus businesses.
“A campus entrepreneur will not ask for money to shore up his or her unofficial photocopiers, CD burning bureaus, or shops, but will hide it under some acceptable guise, hence the many examination fees,” he says.
While admitting that some college youths are spendthrifts and irresponsible, the student who doesn’t want to be named, says some admirable business acumen and money sense abounds in college.
“Some chaps I know are in the process of getting patents for new information technology processes and products, courtesy of their little investments. Others run full-fledged businesses in campus and towns like barber shops and boutiques and pay for all their expenses, besides giving financial support to their kin,” he adds.
Mr Maina says parents should educate their children how to handle finances while in college. “Students need to be taught how to spend money by their parents. They need to be taught the importance of budgeting and personal financial planning.”
The financial adviser adds that students’ spending habits can be tamed if they are willing to take a hard look at their financial picture and make the necessary changes.
“Students should learn to budget or take a snapshot of the money they have. They should find out how much they have and how much they spend. If the money they get is less than what they spend, it is time for them to trim their budgets.
There is no need to buy that costly flat screen TV or an expensive handset when you can hardly afford three meals a day,” he adds.
By KARANGA KARIUKI firstname.lastname@example.org
Additional information by Paul Letiwa
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