Once-They're-There College Expenses

How to budget for expenses past tuition

As I type, I have friends and colleagues scrambling in preparation to take their kids to college. Last-minute Target runs for bedding and storage boxes, car tuneups, laptop checks, the works. I've still got five years before we send our oldest off for freshman orientation, but I can sense that moment in the air.

On top of all the emotions of having a child leave for college, there are all the financial implications. According to Daily Finance, students spent an average of $21,178 for the 2013 academic year. Yikes. Tuition is obviously a big chunk of that, and MetroKids will be exploring how to attain financial aid in our November issue. But after the big check is written, expenses once a kid is at college can mount up. Here are some smart tips to save on on-the-ground college expenses, courtesy of First Fidelity Bank.

Look for cheaper options when purchasing books and school supplies. The price of college textbooks can be surprisingly high. A good rule of thumb is to start looking early and buy used books. There are a limited amount of used books available, so carve out time as soon as you know the required reading materials for the class and look for the best price. You can also find used books on sites like Amazon and eBay. The best way to save when purchasing school supplies is to wait until you know exactly what you will need for each class. Consider shopping with a group of friends to take advantage of two-for-one deals or the opportunity to buy items in bulk for a lower price.

Buy food in bulk. College life requires many adjustments, including meal choices. Fast food and eating out is quick and convenient, but it adds up tremendously. Even $5 on lunch and dinner each day of the week adds up to more than $280 a month. Buying food monthly in bulk, cooking at home and using coupons help students save where it counts.

Factor laptop costs into budget. As much as we’d like to think laptops stay fully functioning forever, repairs and replacements are inevitable. Laptops are a big investment and you’ll want to make sure you get the most out of your purchase. Look into warranty and insurance options. Many times, insurance plans can provide a replacement if your laptop gets damaged or will cover the cost of necessary repairs. Additionally, look into payment plans to break up the bulky cost. Right before school starts is a great time to find deals and discounts on laptops. Retailers look for any opportunity to increase electronic sales and the end of summer is one of the most popular selling seasons.

Plan ahead for transportation and traveling costs. If you’ve brought a car to college, consider walking and using alternative transportation such as bikes or campus buses. Then, use the money you’ve saved on gas and put it toward the cost of a trip home. Carpool with friends as much as possible to cut down on gas and paid parking. No matter the distance, traveling home is an additional, often overlooked cost. If you need to purchase a plane ticket to get home for the holidays, buy it months in advance if you can. Holidays are not only the busiest times for traveling; they are also the most expensive.

Utilize student discounts for weekend activities. Work out a budget that is easy to stick to during the week so you have extra funds to spend on activities and events on the weekends. Allow yourself an “entertainment and fun” budget for things like weekend trips, movies or dinner with friends. Look for group and student discounts when you plan your weekend activities to make them more affordable. Most restaurants, movie theaters, concerts and even sporting events have student discounts and rates ideal for a college budget.

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