9 Expenses That Surprise Most College Students (and Pro-Tips to Save Big)

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Even for the most savvy saver, budgeting for college can be a tough task. With the rising cost of tuition taking its toll, the last thing you’ll want is costs coming out of nowhere. Now more than ever, though, the sticker price you see for tuition is far from all-inclusive. You may already have considered room, board, and living costs, but that’s just the beginning. Here’s how to look past those basic line item expenses so there are no surprises.


1. Textbooks

This one blindsides many students and family, who think, “How much could textbooks actually cost?” The average yearly cost of books for a college student is $655, but with individual books costing upwards of $300 each, this cost could be much higher. Budget for this expense, and plan to update each year as course-loads and classes change.


Savings tip: Avoid the campus bookstore and buy used, directly from other students via Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, or through friends.


2. Software and Specialty Class Supplies

Beyond books, many instructors will strongly suggest or require new software or speciality class supplies for their courses. Examples include individual Photoshop licenses, writing software, or art supplies like special paper, pencils, and photography equipment. Students should also look out for class fees when choosing their courses, which cover costs like travel or time in the lab.


Savings tip: Browse online and ask in-store for student discounts on software and supplies.


3. Greek Life

Going Greek? Greek life is a central part of many college experiences, and sometimes is a driving reason why students pick a particular school. Plan to pay out $2,560 or more per year in dues, depending on if you live in the chapter’s house or not.


Savings tip: Living and eating in a sorority or fraternity house could be cheaper than on-campus housing, but it varies from school to school. Look into this potential savings before rushing, and research scholarship options if available.


4. Transportation Fees

If you have a car, parking on campus can be hundreds of dollars per year, with hefty parking tickets if you’re not careful. Opting for public or campus-sponsored transportation can be up to a couple dollars per ride. Rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft are often one of the largest surprise expenses students see, with costs adding up quickly at $10 to $15 per trip.


Savings tip: Price shop for parking options if you’re bringing a car to campus. Look into semester passes for campus bus options if you know you’ll be a frequent rider.


5. Travel

Most universities observe four main breaks per year where many students travel home or away (fall break for Thanksgiving, winter break, spring break, summer break), and long weekends can prompt off-campus trips as well. Travel costs depend on how frequently students leave campus and how far away you’re going. Budget more for out-of-state or international students, and don’t forget family visits to campus as well.


Savings tip: If you’re within driving distance of campus, carpool with friends. If you need to fly home, book flights at least eight weeks in advance to lock in the best rates.


6. Study Abroad

Studying abroad can be one of the most transformative experiences in your college career, but it doesn’t come cheap. Many programs can cost upwards of $31,270 for the semester, nearly double the cost of staying on campus for some students.


Savings tip: Compare prices of study abroad programs offered by your school versus private programs. Opt for programs like National Student Exchange that allow you to “study away” without the cost of going international. Research scholarship options for study abroad programs.


7. Entertainment

College students need a break sometimes, and when it comes to entertainment, things can get expensive. Student season tickets for football or basketball games can cost around $100 to upwards of $500 per year. Other entertainment costs include eating at restaurants, going to bars, seeing movies, and concerts on and off campus.


Savings tip: Take advantage of early bird pricing for concerts, happy hour specials when eating out, and student discounts on other entertainment.


8. Moving or Storage

Dorms and apartments may seem like small spaces, but you’d be surprised how much stuff a student can have and accumulate in their housing over a year. Moving expenses can range from just the cost of gas to get home, all the way up to $2,000 or more depending on if you DIY or hire a service and how far you’re heading. Opting to store your stuff near campus for the summer might be the easier option, costing around $500 to $600 per summer or semester, plus optional insurance.


Savings tip: Opt to rent larger furniture and items, or buy and sell on Craigslist as you go. Borrow trucks and ask for help from friends willing to lend a hand.


9. Miscellaneous Fees

Don’t forget to read the fine print! Colleges and universities often tack on fees that can range up to $1,700 on top of tuition. Be on the lookout for orientation fees, health center fees, activity fees, technology fees, library fees, building maintenance fees, and even graduation fees.


Savings tip: Do some research to see which fees are required, and which are optional.


With planning, budgeting, and saving, you’ll avoid the sting of these surprise expenses like a pro. Do your research and consider these expenses on top of tuition as you decide which college or university is right for you.


The more ways you can find to cut back on expenses and spending, the less student debt you’ll have and the better off you’ll be on graduation day!


This post is in partnership with LearnLux, the #1 way for students and young professionals to learn about personal finance for free. Get started today in just five minutes.



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