Life Skills for College Students: How to Organize Paperwork

As the days move closer to our daughter’s move-in day, I start to get a little worried that we haven’t taught her all the life skills she’ll need when she’s off to college. She can cook. She knows how to sort laundry. She seems to have a pulse on basic money management. So what are we missing?

One area that can be overlooked by parents preparing their students to launch is a basic understanding of organizational skills, specifically organizing and filing paperwork. In spite of our growing paperless options, paperwork does still exist. Credit card receipts, tax paperwork, insurance documents, and financial aid forms can still come in print. Your student will need a simple system to help house and manage these documents.

Paperwork, Receipts, and Organization…Oh, My!
Organizing paperwork may seem like a no-brainer to those of us who’ve been doing it for years, but it is one of those things that our children may not automatically think about. Consider it another teachable moment, just a little further up the line from how to ride a bike and to not eat glue—another step toward “adulting.”

Start by teaching your child how to keep basic records and set up a simple filing system. I’m not suggesting you stuff a four-drawer filing cabinet in the trunk of your car on move-in day. Instead I recommend purchasing a simple accordion file, available at any office supply store. This inexpensive file folder takes up very little space and can travel home with your student if she needs to share some paperwork with you.

file folder 1
Here’s one in basic black, but they come in a variety of colors, sizes and styles. 

This folder is where your student will file important paperwork such as credit card and ATM receipts, bank statements, card statements, university documents, tax information, and miscellaneous communication pieces.

First Things First
Once you purchase the accordion file, the very first thing your student should do is photocopy the front and back of each of her credit and debit cards and file them under “Credit Cards.” That way, if her wallet is ever stolen, she has the account and phone numbers needed to call and cancel the cards immediately. It is wise for you to keep a second copy in a safe place at home as well.

In addition, good bookkeeping also comes in handy at tax time. Unless you’re an accountant, tax paperwork can be confusing for any adult. Don’t assume your student understands the process or the paperwork. Yes, another teachable moment. Be sure to explain to your child which records are required for tax purposes.

What to File
What kinds of paperwork should your student be saving? This list includes, but is certainly not limited to:file folder 3

  • Tax returns and W-2s
  • Credit card receipts and statements
  • Anything related to financial aid
  • Bank statements
  • Pay stubs (if applicable)
  • Insurance policies
  • Warranties and receipts for purchases such as computers and books
  • Medical information (allergies, medications, conditions)
  • Copy of medical insurance card
  • Emergency contacts (parents, guardians)

Tuck it Away
Another reason this small filing folder comes in handy is that it can be tucked away in the back of a closet or drawer. With all of this personal information in one place, it is not the thing your student should leave laying around the dorm room floor. But its location is something that could be shared with a trusted roommate or friend, to be accessed only in case of an emergency.

Need More Support as You Prepare to Launch?
Don’t let the packing process overwhelm you or your student! Pick up a copy of Out to Sea: A Parents’ Survival Guide to the Freshman Voyage today for more practical ideas on preparing for the launch, including lists on what to pack and NOT to pack and best practices for move-in day.


The Best Laid Plans: Grad Party Advice

Anyone who knows me knows I love to throw a party! I get excited over details and food and games and decorations. Pass the crepe paper streamers, please. My theory is that a good party can turn into a great party if you start with a fun theme. Piñata, anyone? You can imagine how thrilled I was when our youngest daughter gave me the go-ahead to start planning her graduation party—one with a theme, of course.sandwich board sign

This girl has dreams of exploring and experiencing life outside of her Midwest upbringing. She wants to go places! The theme for her party was obvious to me, a Dr. Seuss fanatic.

Oh, the places you’ll go.guest book

Once I got her okay for my brilliant theme choice, the hunt for treasures began. I picked up the book of the same name, which would double as her guest book. For months, I’d scour clearance racks for cute cupcake liners, maps and serving pieces. I borrowed globes from family and friends.

Her wish was to host a Sunday brunch in our backyard. We’re lucky to have a yard that’s perfect for a party. It’s large and green (thanks to my dear husband and his affinity for lawn care) and flat enough for a big tent next to the patio. We rented a tent, tables and chairs well in advance. We booked a waffle caterer (yes, there are waffle specialists out there) and ordered invitations. We planned and made lists for a make-your-own-fancy-coffee bar, which apparently is all the rage these days. We bought sprinkles and whipped cream, because everybody knows coffee tastes better with whipped cream and sprinkles.

cereal treats
My friends came over to help make  Pinterest-worthy party favors.

We figured out logistics like how to hook up enough electric power for ten waffle irons in the weeks leading up to the party. I planted flowers and my husband groomed the yard. We hung a tree swing and gathered yard games such as Bocce ball, croquet, giant checkers and badminton.

This was going to be the backyard bash of all backyard bashes! We envisioned our older guests sipping coffee and relaxing under the shade of the tent while the younger set ate waffles and played yard Scrabble. The day would be perfect. We were ready.

You know the saying about the best laid plans…

tent on ground
On the morning of the party, a front moved through and flattened out the tent. It also left most of our city without power for several hours.

Fortunately, ours only flickered. We had to move the party inside. Our yard party became a garage party. The rain pelted us and the wind gusts grew stronger as we attempted to pitch a second tent on the driveway to extend our garage space. We almost had the side panels on when another gust sent it airborne, lifting the six anchor blocks off the ground. Tent #2 was a no go.

But as you know, the party must go on! We spread tablecloths and hung photos and turned our garage into grad party central.

beverage bar


Waffle irons

panoramic of waffle bar

In spite of the weather, we had non-stop guests for three-and-a-half hours straight.

garage visiting

It was heartwarming to greet the village of folks who have loved her, taught her and supported her throughout her life. Her second-grade teacher came to celebrate, as did her high school track coach. Her babysitters came and so did the children our daughter now babysits for. Family and friends old and new came to eat waffles and share stories. Some came for hot coffee as they didn’t have power at home!

garage talk 2

While it may not have been the sunny, backyard soiree we’d envisioned, it was a lovely party—because of the people who came…

…and those who helped make it possible.

What a remarkable day! Sending a great big thank you to everybody who came through the rain, hail and wind to celebrate (and eat waffles) with us.

family pic at grad party

P.S. For those of you with high school seniors, I’d highly recommend a theme AND a back-up plan for your child’s grad party. If you need any other guidance, you know where to find me!   #outtosea

Heading out of my comfort zone…again!

As I go out and speak on preparing to successfully launch our children, many people ask if I have any videos to share online. Up until now, I’ve had to say “no.” But thanks to a little thing called iMovie that came with my laptop, I can now say “yes.”

Folks, this has stretched me! It is waaaay out of my comfort zone. Funny thing is I have no problem taking a microphone and walking up on a stage to talk to large groups of people. But talking into my computer is another story!

It’s stretched me in other ways, too. Let’s face it…I’m not exactly a genius when it comes to technology. One of my goals for 2017 is to become a bit more tech savvy. With Karen graduating and leaving for college this fall, I’m losing my in-house tech support person. So I decided to teach myself how to create and edit videos on iMovie. Please note I didn’t say “master” iMovie. Trust me, you’ll note plenty of beginner’s errors!Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 9.57.19 AM

Today, I’m sharing links to my first three attempts. They may be homemade, but they are heartfelt and filled with honest advice for parents preparing to launch. I’d be ever so grateful if you’d share the YouTube links with your friends so we can get the word out to parents that there is a survival guide FOR PARENTS as they face the freshman year.

Preparing to Launch Your College Student: The 3 BEs of Packing for College  If you’re preparing to send your student off to college for the first time, the process can be daunting. From the emotional to the practical, there are a lot of details to consider! This video offers do-ahead tips for packing for the dorm. Before you run out and invest a small fortune in futons and refrigerators, let me give you the inside scoop on college dorm packing—gleaned from the experiences of many parents who’ve gone before you.

5 Tips for Smooth Sailing on College Move In Day   Parents of freshmen, this one’s for you! Let this experienced mom share some best practices and practical tips to help your child’s move in day to college run smoothly.

Sneakers or Wheels:  Should you send your student off to college with a car?   As you prepare to launch your college student, one question that needs to be answered is whether to send him or her off with a car. In this video, we’ll walk through transportation options and alternatives for college students. I’ll offer insight and specific items to consider to help you make the best decision for your student and your family.


Bringing home the GOLD!

When I clicked open my email, one subject line immediately caught my eye. It said YOU ARE A FINALIST!

Those four words meant I was heading to St. Paul for the 27th Annual Midwest Book awards. I’d be joining other hard-working, passionate, word-loving authors to celebrate independent book publishing and vie for some bling.

The celebration was last weekend and I’m thrilled to tell you that Out to Sea earned a GOLD seal of excellence for the Family/Parenting category. Yes, we won!

Midwest Book Awards Gala 2017 – Photo by Nancy Chakrin Photography

Notice I didn’t say I won. WE won. The WE I’m talking about is the amazing team of people who made this book possible. A few of them are in the above photo with me. Angie is my incredible (and very patient) editor. I call her “the queen.” She even has a tiara! Lily is publisher extraordinaire of Beaver’s Pond Press. And Kevin is the awesomely talented graphic artist who designed the cover image for Out to Sea. I’m honored to be in such fabulous company!

Of course there are many more people who are a part of the WE group. Too many to mention by name, in fact. But you know who you are. You’ve shared your stories, you’ve helped read and edit, you’ve answered my hundreds (thousands?!) of layout and publishing and distribution questions, you’ve assisted with marketing, you’ve offered kind words of support. YOU are the WE that makes this award so very sweet.

Thank you ALL for joining me on this journey. 




How to prevent “summer melt” for your high school graduate? Give ’em a nudge!

Many of you know I’m currently a mom of a high school senior. My “baby” will graduate in two weeks and head off to college in the fall. A few months ago, our high school sent out a notice about a program called Summer Nudging. It is sponsored by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education designed to help college-bound students stay on track through weekly text reminders about important college to-do’s and deadlines. These “nudges” focus on items such as financial aid, placement exams, transcripts, orientation and class registration, housing and transportation.Untitled design-3I was intrigued. As a mom, I often have to “nudge” my children to remind them of a commitment or deadline. How nice would it be to have someone else keep them (and us) on track for these critical components of the high school-to-college transition?

I recently reached out to Kat Klima, Summer Nudging program manager, to ask if she’d be willing to share a little more about what Summer Nudging is and how it works. She graciously agreed to answer a few questions about this free resource for students and their parents. Read on to meet Kat and learn more about Summer Nudging!

KR: Hi Kat! Can you tell us a little about the phenomenon of summer melt and how it inspired the Summer Nudging program?

KK: Certainly. It all begins with a statistic. Every year, 1 in 5 college bound students fail to matriculate in the fall. This phenomenon is known as “summer melt.” Dr. Benjamin Castleman and Dr. Lindsay C. Page were graduate students at Harvard studying this and more importantly, ways to combat it. They found that a text message campaign substantially increased rates of matriculation. Their abstract found its way into my former colleague, Jen Fox’s, email and she started a pilot program here in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2013. We have been doing it every summer since.

KR: How exactly does it help students stay on track? What kind of messages to students receive?

KK: It helps students stay on track using the behavioral science of “nudging.” The foundational research for this technique comes from Richard H. Thaler’s acclaimed book, Nudge. It’s a gentle reminder for students that is delivered right to their phone, which more often than not, is right in their hands. Students are sent messages regarding housing, choosing a college and the financial aid process.

KR: How many students are currently participating in this program?

KK: Currently, we are just under 700 students. Last year, we have close 1,600 participate. We also are partnering with Metropolitan State University, Bemidji State University and Minneapolis and Technical College. These partnerships signify that I have written specific messages for each institution once the student in question has confirmed their enrollment into the college. Students who are not attending one of the aforementioned schools, will receive a more generic message.

KR: This season of life can be stressful for parents, too. Can parents sign up for nudges?

KK: Yes, absolutely! I’ve written messages specifically for parents and counselors that coincide with the messages students receive. It’s like they’re getting double-nudged!

KR: I know you’re responsible for Summer Nudging in Minnesota. I’m curious, is it available in any other states?

KK: I know for sure that Massachuttes, West Virginia, and Wisconsin are actively nudging their students in efforts to reduce summer melt. Many of the private colleges around the nation have their own nudging techniques as well.Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 3.08.52 PM

KR: I mentioned earlier that this is a FREE resource. Are there any hidden costs or charges for students or parents who sign up?

KK: Great question—standard messaging rates apply to receive our messages. However, there is no cost to sign up!

KR: How exactly do students and parent sigh up for Summer Nudging?

KK: Please text ‘College’ to 651-243-9980 and you will start to receive messages. They are typically sent out on Tuesdays around 3:30 p.m.

Click HERE to learn more about Summer Nudging.

A Lesson in Ink

Young people today are sprucing up body parts with ink and adding holes to their heads (and elsewhere), all in the name of individuality and expression. Please understand—I have no issue with tattoos per se. In fact, I find many of them very beautiful, and I love the stories they tell (unless the story includes a fifth of Jack Daniel’s and a dare).
Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 5.04.37 PM

That being said, I don’t have a tattoo and have no plans to get inked in the near future. Call me old school. Actually, call me needle-phobic. For whatever reason, I have never had the urge to get one, not even back in the dark ages—when I was a new adult myself.

I recall a graphic arts class during my sophomore year of college. One of my professors was a middle-aged Birkenstocks-with-socks kind of a gal who possessed some very strong opinions. This out-of-the-box thinker was determined to push her nontraditional views on our fresh, pliable, young minds.

One day, she informed the class that it was our personal duty to express ourselves through body art (aka tattoos). After offering the class an intimate viewing of some of her own personal masterpieces, she delivered a rousing lecture on the subject and challenged us to create designs for our own future ink jobs.

She apparently saw the concern written all over my face and called me out, asking if I had anything to share with the group.

With trepidation, I spoke up, the uneasy words trickling from my mouth. “Um, Professor, I was just thinking, um, that what seems like a good idea at nineteen might not seem like a great idea when you’re old, um, like fifty.” Feeling the need to clarify, I continued. “You know, what starts out as a rosebud here”—I pointed at my boob—“might grow into a long-stemmed rose over time.”

Needless to say, I didn’t do so well in that class.

Let’s fast-forward a quarter century or so. One mother-daughter pair I know went out and got matching tattoos to commemorate the daughter’s high school graduation. Female bonding via ink. A lifetime memento of the class of 2014.

Instead of questioning her daughter’s wishes, this mom chose to fully embrace them and head to the tattoo parlor too. She has no regrets. Her theory was, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

Then there was our firstborn’s eighteenth year. A year of freedom—when many of her peers were sneaking off to tattoo parlors. Her dad, a tattoo-free conservative, was no more thrilled than I about a lifetime reminder of our daughter’s senior year imprinted on her ankle or boob or back—or anywhere else, for that matter. She hadn’t even mentioned tattoos, but with many of her friends getting inked, we wanted to be proactive. There are many different ways to raise children to be healthy, well-adjusted young adults (with or without body art). This was one battle we, as her parents, chose to fight.

While I tend to think with emotion, my darling hubby thinks like the businessman he is. So after a little research and some lively discussion between the two of us, we opted to take a businesslike approach in addressing potential body ink. We sat down to have a serious conversation with our still-tattoo-free daughter, armed with a stack of bills and a college fee statement.

We buttered her up by reiterating our parental pride in her accomplishments and acceptance into the college of her dreams. We affirmed our commitment to help her finance her education. Then we made it abundantly clear that as long as she was operating on our payroll, she simply could not afford a tattoo.

Call us control freaks. Call us old-fashioned. Call us parents. But it was true: We were bankrolling tuition, books, room and board. We were helping her with car payments, gas, and insurance. We were subsidizing her cell phone. Yes, she had a part-time job that paid pretty well. And yes, she did contribute. But her job did not a afford her the luxury of ink.

Our opinion was that once she earns her degree, lands her first full-time job, and pays her own bills, then she can make the adult decision to purchase some permanent body art. (I only hope it’s not a rosebud.)

Accustomed to her solid debating skills, we braced ourselves for her rebuttal. Imagine our shock when she said, “Okay. I get it. I didn’t really want one anyway. What seems like a good idea now might not seem like a good idea when I’m old. You know, like forty.”


This is an excerpt from Out to Sea: A Parents’ Survival Guide to the Freshman Voyage, a resource for parents as they prepare to launch their children.
**image used with permission from Sorry Mom tattoo products