You know that college tuition and room and board are pricey, but you may be surprised by the many other costs associated with everyday life on campus. There’s a long list of additional expenses facing college students, which is why it’s so important to avoid paying more than you need to or making purchases that aren’t really required. Here are just a few items you probably don’t need to add to your shopping list:
- Shiny new textbooks. The College Board's Trends in Higher Education estimated the average student's budget for books and supplies at a public four-year college was $1,240. Instead of buying new books on campus, look into cheaper options including used or rental copies, e-books that can be accessed from a computer or mobile device or, in some cases with classics or popular titles, copies that might be available from the school or local public library for free. Also, make sure to note which books are required and which aren’t before purchasing everything on the list, since your student may never actually use the ones that are optional. Search online for the best deals on textbooks, and get some of your money back by selling the books you’re done with at the end of the year.
- A set of wheels. There are many expenses related to owning a car, including gas, insurance, depreciation, maintenance and repairs, license fees, registration fees, parking passes and taxes, as well as finance costs related to an auto loan or lease. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average vehicle costs $9,576 per year to own and operate. Unless the student is a regular commuter, it probably makes sense to leave the car at home or forgo purchasing one at all. There will be travel costs for trips home during the summer and other breaks, but once you’ve estimated those you may find they’re less expensive than the price of keeping a car at school all year.
- The wrong meal plan. Will your student be a cafeteria regular or will he or she find themselves grabbing a bite from a corner deli between classes or heating something up in a dorm room? It’s tough to know in advance. In picking a meal plan, find out if you can rollover any unused dollars on your plan into the next year, so they aren’t wasted. Some parents start by picking the most basic (and least expensive) meal plan and adding on later if that works best for their student (and if the school allows it). Remember that your student may need advice about budgeting and shopping to ensure they can manage meals that aren’t covered in their plan.
- Pricey technology. If professors accept assignments via email, the cloud or flash drive, then there’s probably very little need to pay for a printer, as well as the ink and paper it will use. If you’re on the fence, find out if your student can print papers for free or at a low per-page cost in the campus technology lab or library. Your student will certainly need a computer, but carefully evaluate his or her needs (which may be affected by the selected major, among other considerations) to see if the most expensive model is really necessary. As part of your shopping, check out netbook computers and similar options, which allow users to access a range of internet-based applications.
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With more than 6,500 members in public practice, industry, government and education, the OSCPA is Oklahoma's only statewide professional association of CPAs. Since 1918, the organization has continued to provide professional education, conduct quality reviews and promote and maintain high standards of integrity and competence within the accounting profession. The Money Management (Dollars & Sense) columns are a joint effort of the AICPA and the Oklahoma Society of CPAs, as part of the profession’s nationwide 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program.