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Beyond Sticker Shock - Extracurricular College Costs

By Kathleen Carmichael, Ph.D.

June 05, 2007

You’ve probably already calculated tuition bills and costs for room and board. Yet the hidden costs of college — from pizza to airfare, from library fines to laundry money — can easily add up to another $2,000 per year.

To get a handle on those extras, you’ll want to put together a monthly budget that estimates your costs. Be sure to include:

Books: Book costs vary widely, depending on your courses. Call your bookstore to get early warning of book prices for your various classes.

Transportation and travel: If you commute, figure in car insurance, gas and parking fees. Some colleges offer free parking, while others may charge more than $100 for a permit.

Don’t forget to include the cost of holiday travel. Often you can cut these costs by carpooling or shopping around for special saver or student rates on airfare.

General food: Dorm dwellers may have a pre-paid college cafeteria plan, while students living off campus may pay their food bills on a weekly basis. Either way, it’s good to figure out how much you’ll spend at the grocery store and in restaurants.

Appliances and utilities: Apartment dwellers usually have utility bills: gas, electric, heat and water. On-campus students face different charges: mini-refrigerator rental fees, for example, can range from $35 to $120.

To limit phone bills, consider getting a cell phone that includes long distance or using pre-paid phone cards. For staying in touch on the cheap, nothing beats email.

Personal supplies: Remember when things like soap, toilet paper, makeup and laundry detergent were just there? It’s easy to forget these when you’re planning your budget, but they add up. Washing your clothes at a coin laundromat, for example, will run you $1 to $3 per load per week.

Fraternity or sorority dues: Charges vary widely, depending on the school and chapter. Budget $30 per month minimum, although $50 fees and more are likely. However, Greek life can have an upside; if you live in a house, the dues sometimes cover extras like laundry, social activities and access to a computer lab.

Printing, copy and computer costs: Stock up on printer paper, ink cartridges and computer discs at a discount store before the school year starts (on-campus supply stores often charge many times the going rate). You’ll not only save money, you’ll avoid last-minute exam week supply crises.

Magazines and newspapers: Consider using your local or campus library before paying for a subscription. Otherwise, get a limited subscription that covers either weekdays or weekends only.

Entertainment: Prioritize your recreational activities. What extracurriculars are really important to you? Keeping them in mind will help you turn down other offers.

How much you spend depends on your skill at finding bargains and setting spending limits for yourself. Resist the urge to tap your folks for money too often. College is a good testing ground for your budgeting skills. Make the most of your experience!


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