7 Things Most College Students Forget to Budget For

Jon O'Donnell Updated on July 26, 2018

Let’s face it: college is expensive. Between tuition, housing, and meal plans, the costs can really add up—and those are just the big expenses.

There are lots of other small expenses in college that can add up, too. Spending a couple dollars on something like a cup of coffee doesn’t seem like it’ll do too much harm. But if you’re buying multiple cups of coffee every week, that small expense can suddenly turn into a bigger one.

In order to keep track of your spending in college and not run out of cash by the end of the semester, you’ll want to know ahead of time where, exactly, you’ll be spending your money.

Let’s talk about the seven things most college students forget to include in their budgets. 

1.  Textbooks

Unlike in high school, textbooks in college are not free, and in many cases, they can be pretty pricey. They can range anywhere from $5 if it’s a small paperback book, all the way up to $300 if it’s a big hardback textbook.

If you’re thinking that $300 is expensive for a book, you wouldn’t be the first person to be surprised by textbook prices.

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. Plus, it’s always cheaper to rent textbooks instead of buying them.

2.  Extracurricular activities

Extracurricular activities provide a great way to make new friends, and they can be a fun break from classes. Many colleges have hundreds of different organizations you can join. Plus, in many cases, if your college doesn’t have an organization that you want to be a part of, you can start your own.

However, most student organizations require members to pay dues. Dues are usually collected at the beginning each semester. Dues 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-focussed organizations may charge $10 - $20 per semester to be a member.

If you’re thinking about joining a fraternity or sorority, you should plan on paying some 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.

3.  Groceries

Even if you have a meal plan, you still might want to buy groceries, even if it’s just a couple snacks to keep in your room to hold you over between meals. Your living situation at college 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. You might be paying something along the lines of $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 a great alternatives.

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 $50 and over $100 each semester. You can choose to order food as seldom or as often as you please.

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5.  Laundry

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 it really adds up. In many cases, the cost of a washer load is $1.50, and the cost of a dryer load is $1.50, so a full load of laundry is $3 total.

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.

Make sure you stock up on rolls of quarters so you’re set with your laundry expenses.

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 about $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.

7.  Transportation

Different types of transportation are, without a doubt, something you want to factor into 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. Be sure to think about how often you may need to use these services.

Planning ahead for your spending in college is necessary so you don’t run into the issue of running out of money by the end of the first semester. You’ll need to figure out the best way to save and spend your money that lines up with your lifestyle.

Keep in mind all of your costs, even the small ones, and you and your wallet will be happy together.

About the Author
Jon O'Donnell

Jon is a writer and marketer for Nitro who is passionate about bringing transparency to the student loan process along with providing families with the information needed to make smart financial decisions. He also just recently refinanced his student loans allowing him to pay them off 5 years faster all while saving an additional $152/month. As he continues to pay them off himself, he strives to help others do the same. Jon also has a long history of connecting people with educational opportunities to help them improve their careers and their overall personal finances. In his free time you can find him reading travel blogs and researching destinations around the world in search of his next adventure. Read more by Jon O'Donnell

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