You're prepared to pay for the big-ticket items, including tuition, room and board, and fees. But have you factored every expense into your college budget?
As you're finalizing your college funding plan, make sure you've accounted for these seven items.
You probably already knew you were going to have to buy textbooks. However, if you're like a lot of college students, you may be unprepared for the sticker shock of a $300 textbook.
The good news is that not all of your books are going to cost that much. In fact, some may only set you back five dollars or so if you can find a used paperback.
To save some money, consider renting your books instead. This is an option at most colleges. You usually still have the option to write in the textbook as needed, even though you’ll be returning the book back to the bookstore at the end of the semester.
There are some other tips and tricks to lower your textbook costs as well. For example, you may be able to save a small fortune if you're able to use an earlier edition of a book. See this post for more insight.
2. Extracurricular activities
Extracurricular activities provide a great way to make new friends, explore your interests, and take a break from your academic work. Many colleges have hundreds of different organizations you can join. Plus, if your college doesn’t have an organization that you want to be a part of, you can probably start your own.
However, most student organizations require members to pay dues. Dues are usually collected at the beginning each semester. The money goes toward a variety of things, including buying T- shirts, booking meeting spaces, and making general improvements to the organization.
Dues can vary greatly. Clubs, societies, or academic-focused organizations may charge $10 or $20 per semester to be a member.
If you’re thinking about joining a fraternity or sorority, you should plan on paying somewhat more substantial dues. Depending on the one you join, dues could cost anywhere from $500-$1,000 per semester. Going Greek could be a great option, just keep in mind how it might affect your budget.
Even if you have a meal plan, you still might want to buy groceries. You'll probably want at least a few snacks to keep in your room to hold you over between meals.
Obviously, your living situation and how much you eat at the dining halls will determine the cost of your groceries.
If you live in a dorm with a mini fridge and don’t have much room for food, your grocery costs will likely be pretty low, around $10-$20 a week. This might include things like cereal, milk, yogurt, granola bars, chips, Easy Mac, Ramen noodles, microwave popcorn, ice cream, etc.
If you live in an apartment with a full kitchen and have a small meal plan or no meal plan, you’ll obviously expect to pay more for groceries. Budget around $50 a week for groceries if this is your living situation. Keep in mind that if you’re in an athletic program, you might spend more money on groceries. It’s important to fuel up before practice or a game so that you’re ready to go.
If you live with roommates, you may want to talk about splitting the cost of things that you all eat to help offset the costs.
Regardless of your living situation or meal plan, you should definitely budget for some amount of grocery shopping. It’s always smart to keep a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter in your dorm if you want something quick for lunch or a healthy snack.
4. Eating out/ordering in
Let’s face it, you probably won’t want to eat at the dining hall every day. And lots of colleges have restaurants nearby as easy alternatives to cafeteria food.
Whether it be a nice night out with your friends or a pizza night in with your roommates, expect to drop some dough on restaurants.
Depending on your situation, the cost of this will vary greatly. You’ll probably want to factor in somewhere between $100-$200 each semester.
Laundry is a skill that, if you don’t know how to do it now, you’ll definitely have to learn before you go to college. Most college dorms have laundry facilities. Depending on the size of the dorm, you may find one or multiple laundry rooms on different floors of the building.
The cost of laundry is one that seems minimal, but can really add up. In many cases, the cost of a washer load is $1.50, and the cost of a dryer load is $1.50. Yes, college student, that means a full load of laundry may cost you three dollars.
Let's do the math on this: If you do your laundry once a week, and there are about 16 weeks in a semester, you should expect to spend $48 a semester on laundry, and $96 a year.
Tip: Make sure you stock up on rolls of quarters. Lots of dorm-laundry rooms have coin-operated machines.
6. Social outings
Going out with friends can definitely be a fun time. The cost of going out will differ depending on what’s around your college and what you decide to do.
Depending how often you go out, your budget for social outings will vary. A coffee date could cost about $2-$5. If you go to college in or near a city, seasonal events like ice skating could cost around $20. If you’re looking to go to a museum, tickets could cost $10-$15.
Many museums and other attractions offer student discounts, so be sure to ask. You can also consider going out somewhere that’s free, like a park. Lots of cities and towns have really nice green spaces that make for great picnic and hangout locations.
Different types of transportation are, without a doubt, something that can have a serious impact on your budget.
Commuting can be a great way to save money on housing, but the transportation costs can add up pretty fast. If you’re driving home every day, or even just for the weekends, you’re going to wind up filling up your gas tank pretty frequently. If you’re taking the train, that can cost up to $10-$15 one way.
If you’re going to school in a suburban or rural area, public transportation may be limited, so you might be using your car as your main method of transportation.
If you’re going to school in a city, public transportation can be a great way to travel. For example, in Philadelphia, a single subway token costs $1.80. In most situations, taking the subway is faster and cheaper than other modes of transportation.
Uber and Lyft are services that many college students take advantage of, especially if they don’t have a car on campus. While Uber and Lyft are super convenient, the charges can add up. Rides with these companies can range anywhere from $5 and up. Definitely consider using the lower-cost ride sharing options to cut down on your costs.
Carol Katarsky is a contributing writer for Nitro. She is an award-winning journalist with extensive experience writing about both finance and education. Her corporate and non-profit clients include AIG, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and the Project Management Institute. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, son, and one cat more than she should. Read more by Carol Katarsky