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College Living Expenses

If you’re making a mental list of college living expenses, your head is likely full of numbers: tuition, fees, financial aid, etc. But the figures printed on official university letterhead aren’t the only ones to take into account when planning for that first semester of school. A number of college living "start-up costs" are also likely to pop up and throw off your careful calculations of how to pay for school. School supplies and dorm accessories (like that extra-long twin bedding) are probably the first that come to mind, but there are costs, as well as saving strategies, to be aware of when going off the college.

Independent Living

Even if you have a meal plan, you should still budget for some snacks, venti frappuccinos, and middle-of-the-night pizzas. Even the most frugal student will occasionally be tempted to splurge on food or caffeine to keep going at school. Add in toiletries (and teenagers tend to gravitate towards the most costly products imaginable), clothing (ditto), and other recurring expenses, and you have a sizeable financial commitment on top of the college tuition statement.

Limiting these purchases to a student’s part-time job is a wise way to curb spending. There are some ways in which colleges can actually save on recurring expenses: Many colleges have free movies and cable for students, and if the combination of late night snacking and free-flowing cafeteria soft serve add up, most campuses have gyms and wellness centers that are free for students to use.


Most, if not all, of your instructors will assume that everyone has 24-hour access to a home computer, a data storage device of some kind and a printer. They’ll probably expect the student to also have word processing software, as well as software for editing images and preparing presentations. Students will also need Internet access, which someone has to pay for if the student lives off campus. If you don’t have a laptop with these features, that’s likely a college shopping must.

Some colleges and programs give out free (or "free," as there might be a corresponding mandatory fee) computers to new students, such as Valley City State University in North Dakota. If you don’t gravitate towards one of these programs, you may want to budget for anywhere from $300 to $400 for a low-end machine with bare-bones features, to a couple thousand dollars for a high-performance machine. Luckily, college financial aid and college savings plans both allow students to use those funds towards purchasing a computer for college, provided funding is available.


Other new expenses might include gas money, bus fare, train tickets, or flights home at holidays or on random weekends throughout the year. There are a variety of discount travel options targeted at students, however, including bus services, airfare sites, and campus rideshare programs. Unfortunately, there are also spring break travel specials and frequent out-of-town school-sponsored (or not) trips that you may have to contend with on top of these deals.

If you have a car on campus, there will also be gas, regular maintenance, and on-campus parking, which can cost anywhere from tens to hundreds of dollars a year at many schools. Many campuses and surrounding areas are very walking-friendly, and the majority of colleges will offer free shuttles and other services to students both on and off campus, so a vehicle may not be necessary.

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