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There’s more to budgeting for a higher education than covering tuition and housing. Even if you’ve accounted for items such as books and have a plan to borrow or buy them used, the bucks don’t stop there. There are dozens of hidden extras that can drain your funds before you’ve even completed a semester. You could easily fill a short book with anecdotes revealing the surprising and unexpected ways a college student’s funds can be depleted. Here are the most common ways college can cost you more, along with some advice on how to avoid those extra expenses.
A Kid’s Gotta Eat
Even if meals at the cafeteria are included in your room and board fees, you know you won’t hit the dining hall for every meal you eat. What about sustenance for those late-night study sessions, or just hitting the pizza parlor after mid-terms for fraternization and relaxation? Eating off-campus just once a week can add up. According to Bankrate one pizza a week can cost a student about $500 in just one school year. You don’t have to resign yourself to living off cafeteria food for the next four years, but you do need to be smart about eating out. Give yourself a food allowance based on the income you have, whether it’s from a part-time job or a stipend from the parents, and be strict about adhering to it.
Those Insidious School Supplies
Notebooks, paperclips, highlighters, pens, thumb drives — a few dollars here and there will drain your financial resources like a slow leak in a tire. Go basic when it comes to these necessities and only buy what you need. Travel credit cards can be useful for students to help them keep track of expenditures because you can access a summary of your spending any time you want to. Just avoid slapping down the card impulsively if you see a cool leather jacket or think you “need” those Lumineers or Radiohead tickets.
The thought of having your own transportation while at college might sound appealing — until you get the bill. CNN Money reveals that owning and operating your car will run you close to $7,000 a year, not including a car payment. And that doesn’t even cover the cost of campus parking. There are a number of options for getting around this hidden college cost, but they all involve leaving your car at home. Most of the places you’ll need to go will be on or near campus, so prepare yourself to walk where you can and hitch a ride with friends or take public transportation when you have to. There usually are discounts for students for those public services. Consider car-sharing, too. These services are big in college towns, and if you only need a ride occasionally, you’ll probably spend under $40 a month.
You want your dorm to be as homey and comfortable as possible, but you could easily spend $500 or more outfitting it with the items on college-suggested shopping lists. The solution to avoiding the dorm decorating money-pit is not to buy everything on the list before you get to campus. U.S. News and World Report recommends only taking the necessities, then making a list of additional items you really need during the first week or two that you’re there. Buy the majority of the items used from a thrift store, and consult with your roommate(s) to share the responsibility of the bigger ticket items such as a mini-fridge, a microwave or a television.