Relationships Have Major Influence on College Students’ Financial Habits

Thrown into a new setting, college students quickly learn how to balance their social and academic life. But time management isn’t the only skill they develop — college students are forced to efficiently manage their money so they can live comfortably on their own. However, a study uncovers that a college student’s significant other can influence their financial habits, even more so than their parents.

Researchers at the universities of Arizona, Minnesota, Alabama, and Wisconsin discovered romantic influence strongly enforces money management skills and is stronger than the other principal way to learn money management — by observing parents’ actions.

Published in the Journal of Family Relations, researchers explored the different effects that parents and romantic partners have on the way a college student will spend, save, and budget their money.

Researchers examined college students in committed relationships and discovered that students’ financial behaviors were influenced by the responsible financial behaviors of both their parents and their romantic partners. The students modeled their own behaviors after both parties.

Yet, romantic partners had more authority than Mom and Dad when it came to students’ attitudes about finances.

The study suggests financial education programs that target young adults  focus solely on individuals without considering the people in their lives who may be most influential.

Lead study author and former University of Arizona faculty member Dr. Joyce Serido argues that “There is such a push to help young adults improve their financial decision-making capabilities…How about offering education for couples or for parents and their kids, involving more couples and families in discussions about finances?” (Serido).

The researchers pulled data from the Arizona Pathways to Life Success for University Students study, abbreviated as APLUS, which began to collect data from first-year University of Arizona students in 2008 and has continued to collect data throughout their adult lives.

Researchers focused specifically on students who reported being in a committed relationship during their fourth year of college.
Students were asked to report their perceptions of how often their parents and romantic partners engage in money management behaviors, which included but was not limited to tracking monthly expenses, spending money within budget, paying credit card balances, and saving for the future.

They were then asked to report their own attitudes towards their parents’ and partners’ behaviors, while researchers also inquired how often they engaged in similar financial activities in the previous six months.

When researchers uncovered that parents’ financial behaviors significantly influenced their children, it came as no surprise — especially in a time when  young adults rely on the financial support and guidance from their parents.

However, the fact that students’ romantic partners strongly influence their money management habits did come as a surprise.

“This is likely due to the fact that coupled-up college students are spending more time with their significant others than with their parents,” said study co-author Dr. Melissa Curran.

Curran and Serido said college students are in something of a “melding stage,” in which parents and new social influences, such as romantic partners, have a combined effect on students’ money habits.

“From birth across the lifespan we’re very reliant on our parents in terms of finances,” Curran said. “It’s interesting to look at romantic partners at a time in people’s lives when many are starting to develop committed romantic partnerships for the first time. We predict that as these students continue to age, the influence from family origin will fall further away, although not diminish altogether, and romantic partners’ influence will become even stronger,” (Serido).

As students get older, their parents become less of a financial influence on them. Students welcome new influences into their lives, such as friends and romantic partners, who they spend more time with.

Although the students in the APLUS study were all in early committed relationships when surveyed, future data collection from the same cohort will help researchers understand more about how financial influences, decision-making processes and behaviors evolve as young adults grow older, settle down, and potentially start families of their own.

Future research will evaluate the way in which young adults between the ages of 26 and 29 make financial decisions and who they turn to for advice on money matters.

If you would like more information about how financial habits can impact your relationship, or if you seek couples counseling, set up an appointment with Jennifer de Fransisco. You can call her at (949)251-8797 or set up an appointment online.

Source: University of Arizona

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