Small Expenses Add to Cost of College
College applications have been completed, acceptance letters have been received, and deposits have been made. Now you are receiving the first bill with the college logo on it, which will include expenses for items billed to you by the college: tuition and fees, and room and board if your child lives on campus. But your children are going to have other expenses that you must plan for as a family, like books and supplies, transportation and personal expenses. Additional college planning can help you reduce the likelihood of overspending and accumulating unnecessary education-related debt.
Books and Supplies
On average, students spend about $1,200 per year on textbooks, and buying textbooks at the college bookstore is probably going to be convenient but expensive. Students may be able to get their books more cheaply at places like Amazon or by renting them online at Chegg.com. Other options include sharing with a roommate (if they are both taking the same class) or checking the book out from the library. Professors often place textbooks on reserve in the library, and this is a great option if a student is not going to be using the entire book and is willing to make the trip to the library when necessary. Another trick that worked for me was to look for an older edition of a textbook; your child should check with the professor for any major changes, but newer editions are often not much different from their predecessors.
Colleges will build in transportation costs for the average student in their Cost of Attendance estimate, but these costs can vary quite a bit depending on how you travel, how often, and how far. You may find student discounts on bus and train fares, but if your child is planning to travel home for the holidays, plan early as costs tend to be higher. Before your children head off to college, make a plan with them regarding how often you will pay for them to come home. If you are going to buy a ticket to get your child to college in September, also think about the return trip home for Thanksgiving or winter break.
Make sure that you set certain expectations for your children beyond the calculated college costs. Extras like study abroad and fraternity or sorority expenses can be very costly, while dorm décor and other personal expenses also add up. Are you planning to give your child a credit card as they leave for college? If so, have a conversation with your son or daughter about your expectations regarding the use of this card. Discuss who is responsible for paying the bill and whether you expect them to consult with you before making a purchase. Many students are given credit cards for use during emergencies, so provide your child with some examples of when credit card use is appropriate (e.g. for travel home, taxi fare when a designated driver has been drinking, or a visit to the doctor, perhaps). Make sure your child understands that a late-night pizza craving does not constitute an emergency.
Planning for the small things should continue throughout your child’s college education. Other things that you will want discuss in advance are dorm selection for upper class years, meal plans, and potential off-campus moves. During the first year, you and your child may be able to start putting together a budget for the following year, which can help account for where he or she is spending money (books, transportation, housing, food), and what costs can be reduced. Finally, encourage your children to earn money while in school or over the summers, which may offset some of the small costs that really add up.