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Managing College Costs

By College Parents of America

College is expensive. There is no way around it, and no argument about it. Tuition and fees are high, the cost of textbooks has skyrocketed and there are more unexpected expenses than you anticipated. Sometimes parents pay all costs, sometimes students pay costs and often parents and students together share the burden. Some costs are fixed and some are flexible. Hopefully you’ve discussed costs and expenses with your college student and helped create a budget. Whether you will be sending them spending money or they will be responsible for their own finances, there are some things that your student can do to keep expenses in check.

Create a Budget

Having a plan will help students know ahead of time what they can afford and where they may need to cut corners.

Track Spending

One of the most eye-opening and helpful things that students can do is to write down everything they spend. Keeping a small notepad or list on their computer or phone and jotting down each expense, no matter how small, will give them an idea of where their money is going. They may be surprised to discover how quickly little expenses add up.

Consider Whether a Car Is Essential

Having a car on campus may not be an option for your college student. But if it is, encourage careful thinking about whether it is really needed. If the car isn’t necessary, encourage your student to consider the cost of gas, insurance and a parking pass. Perhaps leaving the car home for a year and taking it off the road to save on insurance costs makes sense.

Use the Meal Plan

If your student has a meal plan that includes a certain number of meals, remind him or her to use the campus meals rather than eating off-campus. If students eat many meals at restaurants or take-out and leave unused meals on their plan, they may be paying twice.

Consider Alternatives to New Textbooks

You don't have to purchase new textbooks from the college bookstore. Often, online booksellers offer the same textbooks for less. In addition, many used books are available from other students, the campus bookstore or online.

Take Advantage of All of the Resources the College Offers

Use college tutoring services, health services, counseling services, free concerts, plays, trips, events and fitness facilities that are included with your tuition and fees. Encourage them to get their money’s worth.

Use College Printers if Costs Are Included in ttuition and Fees

Even if students bring their own printers to campus for convenience or emergencies, encourage them to make use of “free” college printing when they can lower the costs of replacing expensive toners.

Think about Cell Phone Charges and Extras

Be aware of charges for extra minutes or texts. Consider Skype on the computer to reduce minutes.

Consider the true Cost of College Drinking

College students drink. Some college students drink a lot. There are many reasons that your student should think carefully about his or her drinking habits, and we hope you’ve had several conversations with your student about drinking, health and the dangers that may result. However, aside from the many other factors, drinking costs money. Once again, if your student keeps track of the true costs, he or she may be surprised to see how much of his (or your) money is being spent.

Use In-Network ATMs

Using out-of-network ATMs often incurs additional charges. While they may seem small at the time, they add up quickly. Staying in-network will avoid the withdrawal fees.

Minimize Credit Card Use

Finance charges add up quickly. Remind your student to use a credit card judiciously and to pay the balance each month.

Find and Spend Time with Other Students Who Have a Similar Mindset

Your student may be surprised to find how many other students are also trying to save money and curb expenses. Spending time with these students, sharing possible tips and generally sup-porting and encouraging each other will help. Your student won’t feel so alone in the struggle to save. How much money your student finds that he or she can save will depend on many factors. Some schools offer more “free” services than others. Some schools may have more expectations than others. However, students may find that with some encouragement and some creativity, they can find many ways to cut some corners financially. Whether this becomes a challenge, a “game” or a hardship will depend on their attitude. As a college parent, you will need to step back and let them experiment. Financial independence is just one of the many forms of independence that comes with the college experience. You can, however, encourage them and support wise financial decisions. Hopefully, your student will learn and develop habits that will last a lifetime.


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Don Munce