Managing Money in College

College Costs: Beyond College Tuition, Room, and Board

Be prepared for those extra college expenses

For most students, setting foot on campus next fall will come with a hefty price tag—and not just because of the rising costs of college tuition, room and board. Cliff Robb, associate professor at the Kansas State Institute of Financial Planning, says the daily expenses of college life can become a major factor in a student’s spending.   

“These costs are becoming even more significant as traditional college costs balloon,” Robb says.

Here are a few commonly overlooked college expenses and some tips on how to minimize them.

1. Transportation

The average cost of owning and maintaining a car in the US is $9,122 per year1—and that doesn’t include the expense of parking on or near campus. Most schools offer excellent student transportation, so it’s worth thinking carefully about whether your student actually needs a car on campus.

Also plan for those college expenses like traveling home for holidays and vacations. Ticket prices tend to soar around peak holidays, especially Thanksgiving. Booking tickets several months in advance can produce considerable savings.

2. Dorm furnishings

Buying brand new furniture and appliances for dorm rooms is often an unnecessary college expense. Instead, buy used items and split the costs of the microwave and mini-fridge with roommates. Many students tend to cast off these items yearly anyway as their housing situations change.

3. Electronics

A good computer is likely integral to a student’s coursework. But is that television or entertainment system necessary? Prioritize the essential gadgets and skip—or buy secondhand for —the rest. Purchasing a tablet computer like an iPad® or Samsung Galaxy however, may help cut college costs on expensive textbooks as electronic versions become increasingly available.

4. Social life

Concerts, football games and spring break trips can be tempting. Greek life, which often comes with annual dues, obligatory charitable expenses and social functions requiring formal wear, also has its price. Opting for free on-campus events, season tickets and modest local vacations can cut college costs. Renting gowns and tuxedos for formal events can keep students feeling fashionable without breaking the bank.

The ultimate saving tip: Educate students about their spending

Little expenditures add up. Coffee with friends, late night pizzas and spontaneous trips to the movies or the mall can become problematic, especially for students with their first credit card. “If you have that credit line, you’re more liable to say yes to things than you would be if you were paying in cash,” Robb says.

One solution is education. Robb recommends students take a personal finance course or at the very least review credit card statements to see just how much they spend. Armed with this information, students can manage their college expenses responsibly—a lesson that will serve them well long after graduation.


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