The total cost of college is rising across the country. If you’re concerned with how to help your child, you’re not alone. When thinking about college costs, especially for students living on campus, you have to look at the big picture.
College costs are more than just tuition. Other expenses such as room and board, books, transportation and other fees can account for up to 40 percent of the bill. With a little planning, these expenses may be better managed to save money.
The average college student spends up to $1,200 on textbooks each year, according to a 2014 report from the US Public Interest Research Group. This cost can be prohibitive for a lot of people; 65 percent of students have decided not to buy a book because it was too expensive. 94 percent of those worried that not having the book would hurt their performance in the class. This is not a strategy for success. The college bookstore is convenient, but markups are prevalent; look for better deals elsewhere.
You can find many used books and rental textbooks online. Since many textbooks are re-published each year, it’s important to make sure you’re buying the correct version. Also, encourage your student to see if the book is available in the college library, this provides free access. College textbooks can teach a valuable lesson about frugality; a little legwork can save hundreds of dollars a semester.
Transportation and travel:
Whether your student goes to college down the street from home or moves to the opposite side of the country, they have to get to school somehow. Save money on plane tickets by setting price alerts for your desired dates so that you can get the best deals. Plan ahead for holidays like Thanksgiving and winter break – you’ll save money by buying tickets in advance rather than scrambling at the last minute like many other people. In regards to daily transport, do some research many cities have student discounts for the subway or buses. Planning ahead here, especially with plane tickets, can save you a lot of money.
Every college has its own system for meal plans. Some have à la carte plans and some operate under a system of ‘all you can eat’ once you swipe into the dining hall. It’s important to note that what you think your student will need for food might be different than the reality when they get to college. Buying the biggest meal plan ends up being a waste of money if the student ends up eating off campus a lot of the time. Be flexible and willing to switch plans in the second semester if need be. It’s smart to buy snacks in bulk at a big box store like Costco rather than the local convenience store, these can be stored in dorm rooms. Remind students to visit the grocery store for fresh food; a yogurt might cost $3 at the campus convenience store but $1.50 at the local grocery store.
Social & entertainment:
College isn’t just four years of academics; it’s important to have fun along the way. Consider the following cost saving measures that can be perfect during college: take advantage of student discounts, buy a bulk package of sports tickets rather than purchasing them individually, and budget for nights out. Students can watch movies on Netflix rather than going to the theater, explore free programming at school, and above all, keep an eye on how much they spend. One big tip is to take cash rather than cards for a night out. You can’t spend money you don’t have, so set a cash amount you’re willing to spend and then bring only that amount. Social spending tends to be impulsive, so it’s important to keep it in check.
Electronics & furniture:
It’s easy to get caught up in the ‘must have it all’ frenzy that becomes the norm in college shopping. A lot of this is spurred on by media and retail perceptions of what students need for school, to sell more products. Ask older friends who are already in college what you need – will you actually need a vacuum for the dorm or could you borrow one from a friend once a week? Is that flat screen television a necessary buy? You could save a lot of money by watching shows on the computer instead. The sharing economy is growing; a university campus is an ideal place for peer-to-peer sharing. Rideshare services like Uber are a great example of this, but the same concept plays out on a college campus with bike sharing programs. Often colleges have places where students can borrow things like cooking supplies and cleaning appliances. If it’s an option, you can try to wait to buy anything major until a week or two into the semester, when you have a better idea of what you’ll actually need.
As you can see, college costs are more than what it takes to attend class; there are many expenses that can initially fly under the radar. It would be smart to work out a system with your student about who is going to pay for these things. Have a conversation about expectations so that you are all on the same page. Clear communication will lessen anxiety around money as everyone will know what to expect.