When it comes to college, many people often overlook or underestimate the costs above and beyond tuition. Housing, food, student fees, sporting event tickets, textbooks, and even gas— these miscellaneous expenses build up over time.
A 2016 study found that 43 percent of students don’t track their spending, while 58 percent said they aren’t saving money each month.
Once your child is in college, setting a budget becomes a critical component of the college-funding process. It will also help prepare your child for the real world.
Whether your child is expected to work to help pay off their expenses, or you’re providing a certain amount of cost-of-living cash every month, your child needs to realize that money doesn’t fall from trees.
Tracking daily spending will not only prevent cash hemorrhaging but also instill a sense of accountability in your college student.
Every student is likely to have a set of fixed and variable expenses each month. Fixed expenses are things like housing, textbooks, utilities, and transportation. Variable expenses are things like groceries, eating out, medical insurance, and entertainment. Categorizing these types of expenses is very important.
Have your college student download a budgeting app, track expenses in a spreadsheet, or just simply jot down their expenses on a piece of paper. It will make a world of difference.
It’s quite common for college students to go out most weekends and ignore their dwindling bank account. If your child takes steps to track their expenses and sees a tangible reminder that they are spending over a hundred dollars a weekend on alcohol and late-night food, they will probably start to be a little more frugal.
Below, I have provided several tips that will help with reducing the various “other” expenses of college.
Saving on Textbooks
Buy used textbooks or rent them. Purchasing one brand new textbook can cost hundreds of dollars.
Imagine this: you spend a hundred or more dollars on a new textbook just for your kid to use it for a semester and never open it again. By the time your college student hits their sophomore year, they may realize they didn’t really use half the textbooks they bought.
Make sure you absolutely, positively need the book for the class. Some students will wait to buy books until a week or two into the semester. This way they will ensure they actually will be using them and will be sticking with the class.
Going on Amazon or a price aggregate site like Student Rate and purchasing used textbooks will keep your wallet full.
Some students even agree to share textbooks with friends or roommates.
Lastly, selling old textbooks is an underrated way to get some money back. Instead of trading them into the bookstore for a paltry amount, try selling them on book sites in August or January of each year.
Eating on the Cheap
Teach your college student to be savvy at the grocery store. Look for coupons in advance and capitalize on sales. I know I sound like your grandma, but those premium purchases add up.
Also—and this is quickly becoming a life lesson tutorial—ensure your student always makes a list and avoids going to the store hungry. This will prevent the very common situation where the only things purchased are beer, snacks, expensive frozen dinners, and a couple of candy bars for good measure at checkout.
Have a set amount of money to be spent, and emphasize getting actual cheap, substantive meals first. Then you can get all the extraneous stuff if there’s room for it.
When your student moves off-campus, they may want to get off the meal plan. Most people think this is the right move; it MAY be the right move. It is completely dependent on the situation. Is your child willing and able to cook their own food on a thin budget? Will they be responsible with grocery purchases?
Not having a meal plan can be a lot cheaper if, and that’s a big if, your child is responsible at the store and knows how to make big, cheap meals.
Let your college student stay on your insurance. This one might be obvious to some, but it is possibly the most important. Children are allowed to stay on their parent’s insurance plans until they are 26. This is crucial; insurance is costly. I would think twice about kicking your child off your insurance to make a point, especially if they are in college.
The Power of the Student ID
Take advantage of student discounts. The student ID is a wondrous gift. Tech companies, auto insurance companies, movie theaters, museums, restaurants, sporting events, concerts, ski resorts, you name it—many businesses offer heavy discounts for students.
Your college student needs to be an advocate and actively seek out these discounts. Most people don’t know it, but having a student ID is extremely valuable, especially when you go to school in the cities.
These are certainly not the only ways to save some money, but I believe they provide some decent guidelines for you and your child to navigate the non-tuition expenses of college.
At the very least, these financial tips will help get your college student ready for the real world.