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Students Stephanie Sykora (left) and Kendra Cox both attend the University of Victoria.

Brian Thompson for The Globe and Mail/brian thompson The Globe and Mail

Darlene Cox counts herself lucky that her 21-year-old daughter Kendra, a fourth-year university student, is sensible with money. But the Squamish, B.C., mother can recall a few times early on in Kendra's student days when she had to learn about finance the hard way.

"She bought some clothes that were totally unnecessary and regretted it later because she ran out of money for food," Ms. Cox says. "I stepped in, but it wasn't thousands of dollars or anything. That doesn't happen now."

Ms. Cox now takes a hands-off attitude with Kendra, who is completing her honours BA in French at the University of Victoria, leaving her to manage her own budget.

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"Kendra has her student loan, her working money, and she looks after it herself. I would set [her financial system]up for her at the start and say 'this is what you need for this and that' and just let her do it. If she runs out she will explain why it happened, and then I can help her."

She and Kendra have established a budget of about $1,500 a month (for textbooks, living expenses and rent).

But Ms. Cox's approach has evolved from the time when her daughter first left home for school.

"I was totally involved. What she did and what she spent. If she had enough money. She was in residence, so that was easy to take care of."

Ms. Cox still has a joint bank account with her daughter. "It's in her name, but it means that I can give her money through the account and she can get at it right away. Basically, she'll just phone and say the rent's due and she's short $100 [and]I'll say, 'Oh, okay.' "

Mother and daughter also shared a credit card until recently, when Kendra finally got her own.

"I told her she should get her own so she could understand how it works, and she has the $800 limit that they give to students, but the interest rate is very high," Ms. Cox said.

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"She's always been good for finances, right from the start. She's had student loans, and we've helped her out a bit. I give her extra money if she runs out: $100 here, $50 there, help her with her food."

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In contrast, Adriane Polo, the mother of Kendra's friend Stephanie Sykora, 20, said she didn't offer much financial advice to her kids.

"Heck no! I've got two credit cards, a car loan and mortgage payments," Ms. Polo said. "You can point out that if you spend it on things you shouldn't, there's a problem. But Stephanie knows that."

Ms. Polo buys Stephanie the occasional groceries here and there, but at UVic there is a special financial burden.

"The third year is when the shock actually comes in because there is no residence available," she says. "Now she is on her own, she has to find her own place, find three people to live with, and get furniture. You have to come home and say you're taking the microwave from here. Everybody pitches in."

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Budgeting can be critical when it comes to student loans.

Ms. Polo, also based in Squamish, said all three of her children attended university - her eldest has just completed her program - and since she could not fully support them financially, loans were inevitable.

While Stephanie, who is returning to UVic to start her fourth year in earth sciences, estimates she owes about $15,000 in provincial and federal student loans, her elder sister finished her degree owing more than twice that amount.

Money remains tight at the Coxes' home, too. Kendra plans to stretch out her final year of courses over the next two years in order to work part time. It hasn't helped that her student loans were cut back the last two years, a situation that started after her father retired. Last year she was offered $100, but that was raised to $3,000 after an appeal.

"I can't afford to not work and go to school at the same time," Kendra says. "Usually I make a bit in the summer when I can, which helps in the first semester, and it's just the second semester that I need help."

One other way Ms. Cox has helped her daughter is to pay for her to take yoga classes through the year. "I think it is really important. It helps her with stress and she loves it."

Ms. Cox believes parents who throw money at their student offspring do them a disservice.

"They end up with the OAC degree - Out At Christmas," she says. "They'll have dropped out because they don't have really good grades. They partied September, October, November, December.

"If parents are just looking after them all the time, [the students]aren't really learning any responsibilities."

Special to The Globe and Mail

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