Moving to College on a Budget: 5 Things You Can Do Right Now

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As you tear open your acceptance letter, you feel a sigh of relief come over you. You are in! You look at your paperwork. Note to self…”send in deposit.” Then you glance at your tuition bill. As if that isn’t high enough you are now wondering how you are possibly going to get everything you need to move into college.

You quickly check your mental rolodex. Did you plan for everything in your college budget? You think of all you need to get for college. Even if you aren’t going too far from home, there’s a lot to consider in terms of being able to live in comfortably. Here are 5 things you can do right now to not only prepare to move to college, but will also save you money.


1. Create a Moving to College Budget Right Away

Even if you have already put together your college budget, this is a great time to review it. You can adjust it or add a line item for “moving to college” expenses.  It’s important that as you learn about money you remember these types of “hidden” categories. These are many of the college costs you may forget to consider. By thinking about this “moving to college” category carefully, you can continue to make smart financial decisions from the start. You will also be prepared for the costs that many of your friends may not have even thought about.

Expert Tip: Don’t pay full price for any dorm items!  Wait until the seasons change and supplies go on clearance or consider purchasing from local online marketplaces for gently used items.

2. Think About Transportation Costs

This may seem obvious, but it’s important to remember transportation costs. This is especially important if you live further away from school. Plane fares, gas, and tolls are all “hidden” costs that we often don’t think about. Whether you are a student or a parent, it’s important to budget and plan for these costs. They certainly add up. For example, if you need to fly to college, there’s not only the plane ticket, but the cost of luggage and fees. Tolls can add up, too, if you are driving a long distance to your future alma mater. Don’t forget these transportation costs so you aren’t derailed when it comes to your financial planning.  

Expert Tips: Save on travel by joining airline membership programs and earning points for miles. Purchase and use gas gift cards to keep track of your gas spending. Invest in a cost-saving EZ pass for tolls (it will shave off commute time, too!).  

3. Consider Your Space Size

You may have visited the college you are attending and checked out the dorms. There may be a variety of styles of dorm rooms and suites. Whether or not you think you know how big your dorm room will be, make sure to consider your space. It’s possible that you have much less room than you had anticipated. Or maybe there was a last minute change and your room assignment was moved. The last thing you want to do is overspend on dorm accessories. They are pricey enough without having too much of what you don’t really need.

Also, chat with your future roommate if possible. If your dorm allows hot plates, toaster ovens or mini fridges, consider sharing the cost. Your roommate can grab the toaster oven and you grab the mini fridge. You are not committing forever to this arrangement. Remember you can always snag a deal once you move into your dorm if you think you need additional amenities or have more space than you anticipated.

Expert Tip: If possible, raise your bed up using platform posts to make room for more under the bed storage of household items, shoes, and seasonal clothing.

4. Don’t Spend Money on Moving Boxes

One of the biggest lessons of learning how to afford college on a budget...don’t spend money on unnecessary things. This includes moving boxes. Many people spend money on boxes when in reality you can find moving boxes in other creative ways. Local department and grocery stores often crush their boxes after receiving deliveries. Make friends with these local businesses. Find out their delivery days and set up a time to collect a few medium-sized sturdy boxes. You can also use suitcases and reusable grocery bags for packing. Although this isn’t necessarily a huge savings, you can put the money saved here on tolls and gas expenses.  

Expert Tip: Reinforce your grocery or department store boxes with a few good strips of sturdy packing tape!

5. Share a “Club” Membership

Chances are, you aren’t the only friend in your group going to college. If this is the case, consider sharing a wholesale club membership with a friend’s family. Doing this can save you big on dorm and college essentials. These types of one-stop shops have everything from HBA items to stationary, computers, food, and household items. Club memberships are relatively inexpensive, making it cost-effective to split a membership. Then when you shop, you can buy in bulk, split up the items, and the cost

Expert Tip: Split the bulk three or more ways between families for even more savings!

You can move to college on a budget. Start by taking your time and considering all the ways that moving to college may cost you. Then, think outside of the box (pun intended!). Opt for generic items, clearance items, or gently used second hand items when possible. Make sure to continue educating yourself on becoming financially fit and you can make a cost-effective transition to school.  Share ideas with your friends or other families and come up with creative solutions. The bottom line: Don’t wait to the last minute to think about these costs and dole out your dollars selectively.

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