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The Hidden Costs of College & How to Budget For Them

Your education may be priceless, but it still comes with a hefty price tag. You already know the general costs of going to college—tuition, housing, a meal plan and more. But sometimes, it’s the less obvious expenses at college that will really have you seeing dollar signs. From your academics, to your social life to your basic living habits, here’s a list of hidden costs you should anticipate and start saving for now!


Books and Supplies
When you head to the store to buy your textbooks, brace yourself for an inevitable hit to your bank account. A Student Monitor Study reported that students throw down an average of $330 for textbooks each semester! While it may be tempting to save time and grab the first full-price textbook you see, it’s always best to explore your options to find cheaper books. Tons of bookstores have jumped on the “rental bandwagon,” letting students borrow books for less. Companies like BookRenter, Chegg and Amazon are also known for their super-discounted book purchases and rentals. Some sites, such as Big Words, even do most of the work for you, comparing stores to make sure you get the most bang for your buck when buying or selling books.

On top of book expenses, some professors even require you to supply your own Scantron sheets for multiple choice tests, or blue books for essay tests. So buddy up with classmates, buy them in bulk and split the costs. Also, don’t forget about printer paper and ink! You’re bound to need it for all the papers you’ll be writing. You may also want to consider investing in your own printer to save yourself from late-night runs to the printing lab. And instead of spending money on expensive new ink packages, take old cartridges to a supply store and see if they can be refilled for less. If you’re a math, science or business major, you may also want to search around for the best price on a calculator or purchase a used one from online sites like Amazon.

Student Loans
According to Lynn O’Shaughnessy, author of Amazon bestseller The College Solution and a blog of the same name, student loans are some of the main hidden expenses. Most of the time, college students don’t really understand how loans work, she says. “It’s better if you can start paying them off while you’re in school. You can get used to paying for a loan so it doesn’t become this monster debt once you graduate.”

Some interest rates on loans are as low as three or four percent, while others are as high as 10 or 11 percent. She recommends taking out a federal loan versus a private student loan. Private student loans generally have higher interest, and this interest begins to accrue as soon as you start using the money. She also advises students sort out as many financial details with their parents (who’s paying for housing, transportation and tuition?) as possible before they ship off to school.

“It’s good to know what the cost of college is so you can prepare and talk to your parents about who’s going to have what responsibilities,” O’Shaughnessy says. If you’re splitting the cost with family members, you might want to draft an outline of who’s paying for what, just so everyone is on the same page!

Class Fees
Tuition fees can carry a lot of fine print. If you’re a science major, or if you’re trying to wrap up some Gen Ed classes, there is a good chance you’ll be taking a few courses in a laboratory. And sometimes, these lab classes tack on additional fees that help cover the cost of equipment and more. Make sure to talk to an advisor about other course options so you can save a few bucks if possible – some classes might have higher fees than others.
Living Expenses

Caffeine Addiction
Coffee: it runs in college students’ veins. It’s a lifesaver when you pull an all-nighter, and a pick-me-up when you’re nodding off in your early morning class. “Before college, I wasn’t much of a coffee drinker,” says Harper Yi, a Her Campus correspondent at The College of William and Mary, who now sips on coffee at least three times a week. “I stay up later, and need more oomph in the mornings to get around campus and stay awake in class.”

But these caffeine cravings can be dangerous to your wallet. When Harper realized her coffee habit was costing her $50 to $70 each month, she decided it was time to set a budget. Leah Tully from University of New Hampshire faced a similar problem. In her first semester, she spent nearly $1,000—most of it on caffeinated beverages.

Your best bet for saving money? Try your morning cup of joe with a do-it-yourself twist. When Leah’s parents bought her a Keurig (a popular brand of single cup coffee maker), she was able to get a jolt of java for much less. “Keurigs are expensive, but they brew one quick cup and are allowed in most dorm rooms!” she says. “I like to get plain coffee and then change the flavor with different kinds of creamers. Even better than Starbucks!”

Personal Keurigs are usually $100 to $200, and 24-pack refills for brewing are less than $20. If that’s a little out of your price range, check out these more budget-friendly coffee makers.

Do yourself a favor, and learn how to do laundry before you set foot on your college campus. In dorm laundry rooms, it usually costs between $2 and $3 to wash and dry a load. Don’t forget to factor this into your monthly budget, and remember to bring quarters for the machine. Clean clothes are an essential!

Whether you attend school in the heart of a huge city, or the center of a small town, getting from Point A to Point B is a must. This can cost a pretty penny, however. If you have a car, try leaving it at home for a semester. This way, you won’t have to pay for gas and you can even save money by taking take your name off your insurance during that time. Let’s crunch the numbers: If a single-semester parking pass is $80, at the end of four years, you will have paid nearly $650 just to park your car on campus. If you need to use public transportation, opt for purchasing long-term passes (30-day, unlimited, etc.), which tend to be less expensive than weekly or short-term passes. Also, see if your school has programs such as Zipcar, which offers students the opportunity to rent a car for a few hours to run errands off campus.

If you need to travel longer distances (like heading home for the weekend), check out sites such as Zimride, which helps you arrange carpools. You can set up a profile that will help you find compatible passengers, and fees for rides are generally inexpensive – usually less than $40, or the price of gas plus a little extra. But if you live out of state, don’t forget about potentially expensive plane, bus and train tickets that you’ll need to purchase. Set aside money each month so that you won’t be out of luck when it’s time to go home.

Shipping and Storage
Leaving home for college shouldn’t mean leaving your life behind. But costs to ship clothes, furniture and all your essential items can cost an arm and a leg. Look into cheaper, college-friendly moving companies, such as Ship2School. When you head home for the summer, consider purchasing a local storage unit for the extra stuff you won’t need at home, like your coffee maker or your lamps. Better yet, rent a storage unit with a friend and you can cut the cost in half! Not only will a storage unit help reduce the cost to move home, but it will also be cheaper and more convenient when you don’t have to lug everything back to school at the end of summer.
Social Scene

Student Involvement and Greek Life
Joining a sorority or another campus organization can provide an immediate support group. This sense of belonging usually comes at a price, though. The average cost of sorority semester dues ranges from $2,000 to $3,000 at most schools. However, the charges don’t end there. Most sororities have socials, date parties or formal events. From the good ol’ prom days, you know getting dolled up can be an expensive process. And the everyday costs, such as donating to your sorority’s philanthropy, can add up fast. To make payments a little less harsh, make sure to ask about scholarships your sorority offers on both the local and national levels.

University of Leeds student Rosanna Pound-Woods says she decided which student organizations and societies she wanted to join before the school year began. This allowed her to work all summer and save money for membership fees. Check out your school’s website for a complete list of student organizations on campus, and don’t be afraid to call the Student Involvement or Greek Life Offices for more information on dues or fees.

Side Trips and Vacations
During the semester, you and your friends may want to break away from school for a weekend. Traveling to football away games and taking side trips make some of the best college memories, but those getaways usually cost a solid chunk of change. Luckily, the Internet has made it possible to coupon clip for experiences like this. Look for hotel or food deals on sites like Living Social, Groupon and more to save big money. And as Emmanuel College student Hyanna Cardoso recommends, always start saving steadily a few months in advance for big events such as Spring Break.

Netflix, Hulu and Red Box: they are the answers to every college student’s prayer for cheap, convenient entertainment. But when your usual Friday night chick flick marathon gets boring, you’ll want to have some extra cash set aside for a change of pace. A night out on the town can be so fun, but it can be expensive, too. Dinner, drinks and a cab ride later, and you may be wondering how you’re going to afford groceries next week.

Take advice from Rosanna, and create your own budget system that will allow you to have a little more flexibility with your moolah. Rosanna maintains a weekly budget, but is careful with her money so that she doesn’t have to deprive herself of what she wants. “Anything left over from my weekly budget can get used on ‘treats’ like clothes or unneeded snacks,” she says.

Knowing the hidden costs of college is the first step to better budgeting and more financial freedom as a collegiette. But the second step—preparing for these hidden costs—is even more important. Ready, set, save! We promise you’ll thank us later.

Photo Sources: Shutterstock
School Supplies Photo
Laundry Basket Photo
Coffee Beans Photo

Ali is a junior studying journalism, education and leadership at the University of Florida. Internships in broadcast journalism and public relations convinced her to follow her original dream: a career in magazines. This summer, she will intern with SELF Magazine in New York City. Ali is an active member of Kappa Delta Sorority and maintains a lifestyle and entertainment blog (www.idealist-ali.blogspot.com). She loves photography, city lights, Steve Madden shoes, Modern Family and Florence, Italy (where she studied abroad in the summer of 2011).