Preparing for College Expenses

Preparing for College Expenses

Eileen St. Pierre, The Everyday Financial Planner

It may seem a little early, but “Back to School” sales will soon start.  Many states offer sales tax holidays – usually in early August – to help families out.  Some states are more generous than others.  For example, some states exempt computers from sales tax.  Families can take advantage of this by delaying purchases until these holidays.  

Living in a college town, we locals know when to stay away from Walmart.  Students and their parents swarm the place before school starts.  While the students are excited about the prospect of college and living on their own, the parents are wondering how they are going to pay for all this.

Create a Realistic Budget

Create a realistic budget and stick to it.  It’s important for both students and their parents to fully understand the entire cost of attending college.  Some of the large expenses include tuition, books, housing and a meal plan.

  • Look into the different tuition payment plans the college offers.
  • Find out if your student is required to choose a meal plan.  Some meal plans may not include three meals per day, seven days a week, so factor in extra costs.
  • Often overlooked are additional course costs such as lab and technology fees, and depending on the selected major, equipment fees.
  • Housing costs can vary widely depending on whether your student lives in a traditional dorm, apartment-style campus housing, or off campus in an apartment or house. Housing costs can be reduced if your student has roommates to help share the monthly rent.

Overlooked Expenses

It’s easy to overlook other expenses. Living expenses can add quite a chunk to the cost of attending college.  Ask your student the following questions:

Is a vehicle necessary?

  • If so, keep in mind the cost of a parking permit, gas, vehicle maintenance and insurance.
  • Some students may be able to get by without a vehicle if there is adequate public transportation. Other students may opt for a bicycle.

Will you need a computer or are there adequate computer labs available?

  • Cheaper alternatives like a tablet, iPad, or notebook may be sufficient. 

What room furnishings are needed? 

  • Your student will also need an alarm clock and other electronics.
  • A refrigerator is a must in the dorms, but check to see if it will be provided. 
  • Off campus living may require an apartment full of furniture if the unit doesn’t come furnished.
  • Even if furnishings are available, consider the cost of sheets, towels, a bedspread, along with toiletries and laundry supplies. While individually these items may not be too expensive, they can add up to quite a sum.

Additional monthly expenses can include cell phone bills, renter’s insurance and even health and dental insurance coverage.

  • Full-time college students can remain on their parents’ health insurance policy until age 26.
  • Also consider utilities such as internet and landline phone, cable, water, electricity, gas and trash. Depending upon where the student is living, these services may be included in their housing payments or they could be additional expenses.
  • Students should have an emergency savings fund to help cover unexpected expenses such as vehicle repair. 

Share the Burden

Make sure your student fully understands what expenses he or she is expected to pay and what you’re willing and able to cover, and stick to that plan.  If your student has never prepared a budget, make this a teachable moment.  Here are some useful budget templates:

Remember, a budget doesn’t do any good unless you go back and see if you stuck to it.  Ask your student about it during trips back home.  It may not be the first thing he/she wants to do when getting home, but perhaps you can offer free laundry service in exchange. 

Visit my College Planning page for more information.