Moving away to college can feel like a big deal – because it is! But a big deal doesn’t have to mean big spending. Here are some common away-to-college costs to prepare for, including a few ideas on how to save money.
Room and board: Many college students choose a boarding package through the university that includes dining hall meals and a dorm room. It’s an excellent way for students to meet friends and settle into the college experience. If the cost of dormitory living feels high, see if the school has a lower-value meal plan option, with fewer meals per week. Odds are that students will skip more than a few meals anyway, whether they’re going out elsewhere with friends or just feel like making a bowl of oatmeal in their room instead.
Dorm décor: Dorm rooms are equipped with necessities like a bed, desk, chair and wardrobe, but students will no doubt want other items to personalize the space and make it comfortable and livable: from posters and a rug, to a mini fridge or pot of lucky bamboo. Bedding is a must: check what size you need, as many dorm beds are twin XL. Social media marketplaces are always a good bet for discount or free dorm items, especially in a college town where students are frequently coming and going. See what’s available online before heading to the store, where it’s easy to get carried away and bust through your budget!
Transportation: Budget for what students need to get from bed to class, whether that’s a bicycle, a car, or just a good pair of walking shoes. Unfortunately bike theft is often a problem around college campuses, so do budget for a good bike lock. Also keep in mind that most university students get free bus rides, so a car might not be necessary – and can greatly reduce costs for the year. Finally, there’s the cost of transportation to come back home for the holidays. Ride-sharing can be a good way to keep costs low here, as many students will be returning home around the same time.
Books: The cost of college textbooks can be significant. Shop secondhand whenever possible – many colleges have a used bookstore near campus or online group dedicated to this purpose. Another great resource is so obvious you might forget about it: the library! Along with utilizing the library on campus, also get a card for the local library for additional study resources, not to mention free rentals on audiobooks and video streaming, in case students need some free entertainment during their study breaks.
Extracurriculars: College is mostly about studying – but it’s also about having fun, meeting different types of people, and discovering more about your interests and passions! Luckily, many extracurriculars on campus are totally free, such as movie nights, special interest clubs, language exchanges and so on. A student ID card usually grants access to a fitness center, too. A good policy for new students is to budget a certain amount of money per semester for extracurriculars – around $100 is usually right, depending on the student’s interests. Later, when activities are set and expenses are more certain, this figure can be reevaluated.
Unexpected costs: When it comes to budgeting for college a good rule of thumb is: expect the unexpected. College often represents a new city, new home, new friends and a new mode of life. Budget for unforeseen costs and don’t touch this rainy-day fund until it’s truly needed. This is a good opportunity for college students themselves to get involved in budgeting. They can help to track expenses and balance their budget every month, while being alert to unexpected costs and re-doing the budget as needed to better plan for these financial needs in the future.