College student holding books and papers with a backpack on her shoulder

The Cost of College Life

College student holding books and papers with a backpack on her shoulder

The college life is upon you and you're excited to attend. Tuition is covered and paid for, and your dorm or apartment is waiting for you. Going to college will incur a lot of expenses that you may have not fully planned for. We have some helpful tips to consider when planning for the day-to-day costs of the college experience.

One of the many mysteries of going to college is what being there will actually cost. Yes, you know there’s tuition. But how much will you or, if you're a parent of someone going to college, your child need to make it through the first semester? The first year?

Here’s what to plan for first: the start-up costs of being a college student.

Starting Out

Start-up costs include a variety of things, but a great place to start is school supplies—consider the following:

  • Laptop or tablet
  • Textbooks
  • Class, studio, and lab fees
  • General school supplies like a backpack and notebooks

Consider these items to purchase if you're moving into an apartment or dorm for the first time:

  • Bedding and towels
  • Furniture such as a desk, bed, dresser, couch, or dining room table
  • Dishes, cutlery, pots, and pans
  • Small appliances like a microwave or toaster
  • Groceries

You may already have some things to use, which will save you money. To help make the initial cost a little easier, it's wise to focus on the essentials first and then build up to the "nice to have" items as you go. That way you'll have enough to get started without breaking the bank.

Also, some colleges share roommate contact information before school starts. It's smart to get in contact with your roommate and figure out how you can share expenses, and avoid duplicating efforts. Maybe they already have a microwave, so you won't need to purchase one. But in the case that you do buy an extra microwave, always save your receipts to ensure that you can easily return items you won't need.

Click here to read how this tool works, and for disclaimers.

Everyday Costs

You may be amazed at how fast cash can disappear if you’ve never lived on your own before. The amount of things that you'll suddenly be responsible for can be overwhelming. Making a budget will help you spend money mindfully. Consider starting to budget by splitting your funds between: needs, wants, and savings.

A need includes the everyday or vital things that you need to survive like food, utilities, toiletries, and laundry.

Your wants can be other things that can make your college life fun but can be cut in a pinch. Things like concert tickets, going out to eat with friends, and other entertainment options.

Finally, your savings. It's smart to dedicate part of your budget to saving towards an emergency fund and long-term savings every month.

Being aware of what you're doing with your money can encourage you to save and help you get what you want out of the money you have available.

Click here to read how this tool works, and for disclaimers.

Click here to read how this tool works, and for disclaimers.

Unavoidable Costs

Some costs are fixed by the contracts you sign—like your phone agreement or rent. It works in your favor that these costs are a fixed amount every month, so you can plan for them. But these unavoidable costs will need to be paid monthly to avoid losing your phone service or worse, leaving you with no place to stay. Be aware and budget for this in your needs category.

There are ways to help reduce fixed costs. For example, joining a family phone plan may be cheaper than having your own plan. If you live off campus, sharing rent with a roommate can also help with reducing living costs. Another solid way to reduce costs is to get serious about sustainability. Refilling a water bottle is cheaper than buying bottled water from a vending machine. Buying and cooking your own food can be cheaper than ordering takeout and waste less food. Buying used textbooks over new ones at the campus bookstore saves paper and cash.

Being a college student often requires working on a tight budget, but thoughtful budgeting choices can make it much easier to cover your expenses and enjoy this unforgettable experience.

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