As college-bound students eagerly await the coming fall and their first days at college, many are shopping for the supplies they want to bring to campus. To avoid a budgeting crisis in the fall, remember that college costs include more than tuition, room and board.
Students and families need to plan for living expenses and school supplies that add significantly to college costs.
Here are a few college start-up costs to keep in mind:
New college students will need bedding—a set or two of sheets (usually extra-long); blankets, bedspread and pillows; towels; a desk lamp; laundry basket or hamper; cleaning supplies; toiletries and room decorations. Your college’s residence life website will have a complete list of suggestions. You may be able to coordinate with roommates for a television, mini-refrigerator, fan, bookshelves and perhaps an area rug, small chair and other accessories.
Textbooks and Supplies
Colleges are required to provide booklists for courses at the time of registration. This allows students time to comparison shop at the bookstore, online or a book rental service.
There may be other expenses such as lab and computing fees, art or music supplies or other material fees depending on your academic program. Review your invoice and understand which fees are mandatory and which are optional. If you are unsure, ask your advisor or bursar about first-year academic expenses.
Meals can be the third highest expense at college, after tuition and room charges. Many colleges offer a variety of plans based on how much food you might eat in a week. Rather than opt for the most expensive plan with the most meals, review your eating habits and select a plan that will give you the most value for your money. Many plans include “flex” money that can be used at different campus locations and a few local businesses. Check the terms of the flex options and find out if unused meal money can be refunded or rolled over to another academic term. After your first semester, you may want to reconsider meal plan options that may result in additional savings. Meal plan details are usually available on the dining and residence life pages of the college website.
It’s a room key, your campus ID, library card, even your money: Nearly every college offers a wide range of services on a campus card. If you are expecting a credit balance of financial aid, you may receive it on a campus debit card.
Be aware that while you may need a campus card for on-campus services and meals, you may not necessarily need it for banking services or be required to have a financial aid credit balance added to it. Before you begin using a campus debit card for banking services, understand the fees that may be associated with it, including any ATM or non-use fees. You may save money by using a debit card that is associated with a local branch of your hometown bank.
Renter or Dorm Insurance
Students often bring expensive computer equipment, phones, game systems, books and clothing which can be costly to replace if stolen, lost in a fire or accidentally damaged. To help reduce replacement costs, you may wish to consider renters or dormitory insurance, either a stand-alone policy or as a rider on current homeowner’s insurance. Renter and dorm insurance is usually inexpensive and many policies offer varying deductibles. Your residential life office may have suggestions, or go to National Student Services Inc., a specialist in dormitory insurance recognized at over 2,000 colleges nationwide.
Your college may or may not include local cable service with the room fee, so check ahead if having your own TV is a “must.”
College life includes making new friends, socializing and going out for movies, pizza, concerts, participating in sports and other activities. Talk with your family about how much money to budget for weekly entertainment expenses.
Planning ahead and preparing for these additional college expenses over the summer will help you start the new fall term on the right track.