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Hidden Costs of College (And How to Cut Down)

Off to College
Categories: Save Money

College is expensive, that’s no surprise. But what you might not expect is how easily the extras, from books to housing, can add up.

We dig into the sneaky costs of college and how you can be better prepared.

Home Sweet Dorm

Getting your own place as a college student is always exciting. It’s a big part of growing up and becoming independent. In your new dorm, house, or apartment, you’ll quickly learn to manage home-related expenses especially if you attend one of U.S. News’ “10 Colleges That Charge the Most for Room and Board.”

When budgeting, make sure you factor in rent (or mortgage payment), utilities, maintenance, and even laundry. Keep these costs manageable by attending school near home or in a more affordable area.

No matter where you end up, try to live on campus as long as possible as this is usually more affordable then being at the mercy of a college town landlord.

If you do find yourself living off campus, finding a roommate(s) will help you split up monthly expenses. It could also be more fun!

Tools of the Trade

When you’re a kid in elementary school, you may have looked forward to buying those fresh supplies for a new school year, but as your parents might tell you, those items add up and this expense can be much higher in college. Don’t let it sneak up on you!

You can save a lot on supplies if you skip the campus store and visit a nearby department store. For essentials like pens, notebooks, and highlighters, make sure to buy basic or store branded products rather than flashier (more expensive) brand names.

Take the money you save and use it for specialized supplies such as advanced calculators or musical instruments.

Hit the Books

The College Board reports that students could expect to spend an average of $1,137 on textbooks and supplies per year. You will often need 1-2 hardcover books for each course and maybe a workbook too.

Save a ton by planning ahead and buying books online, especially when you buy used. You can even rent books through sites like Amazon and Chegg. Look into downloading e-books to save even more money and have a much lighter backpack.

Getting Around

Many larger schools don’t allow you to bring a car to campus for the first year or 2, but no matter where you plan to attend you need to think about transportation.

If you’re living off campus, factor in the extra gas you’ll need to drive back and forth to class, study groups, and other activities. Even if you decide to go carless, you need to think about trips back home for holidays and the occasional off-campus excursion.

Save money by carpooling, and use public and campus transportation whenever possible.

Off-Campus Dining

Sometimes a hot, cheesy pizza is too good to pass up but try not to go crazy. According to Bankrate, if a college student eats 1 off-campus pizza a week, he’ll have spent $2,000 on pizza by the time he graduates from a 4-year program.

Even if you’re not a pizza lover, those quick snacks and coffee shop trips can add up. Be sure to minimize and factor off-campus dining into monthly budgets.

Student Organizations

College is a great time to get involved and take advantage of the variety of student organizations available on campus.

However, it’s easy to forget about the costs that come with these organizations whether it involves monthly dues, supplies, or events. Ask potential organizations what you should expect to pay each month and make sure you budget accordingly.

Also, don’t feel pressured to buy every hat, T-shirt, and sweater with your organization’s logo. Start with just one item to show your allegiance and you’ll save money and potential clutter.


With online classes and digitally submitted assignments, college students (and professors) don’t use paper like they used to. However, it’s still important to consider printing costs when budgeting for your semester.

Aside from going paperless whenever possible, you can also cut down on print expenses (and trips to the library) by buying your own printer and supplies.

Printing and scanning devices have become much more affordable in recent years, and you can sometimes even refill old ink cartridges by taking them to a supply store.

Do you know of any other hidden costs of college and ways to save? Post your ideas on our Facebook page and we’ll share our favorites.