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. Although most parents and students have no control over the price of tuition and fees, there are some living expenses over which your student may have some control.
Hopefully, you’ve discussed costs and expenses with your college student and helped him to create a budget. Whether you will be sending him spending money or he will be responsible for his own finances, there are some things that your student can do to keep expenses in check. Depending on his situation, he may want to include a few of these suggestions or as many as possible. Whenever you have your financial chat with your student, you may want to help him think through some ways in which he can shave a few of his expenses. Ask him to consider implementing a few of the following suggestions.
- Create a budget. Having a plan will help your student know ahead of time what he can afford and where he may need to cut corners.
- Track spending. One of the most eye-opening and helpful things that your student can do is to write down everything that she spends. Keeping a small notepad or list on her computer or phone and jotting down each expense, no matter how small, will give her an idea of where her money is going. She may be surprised to discover how quickly the 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 her to think carefully about whether she will really need it. There are many factors that may mean that she needs to have transportation available: she may need the car for visits home, she may need to travel to an off-campus job, or she may need to get to an internship. But if the car isn’t necessary, encourage her to consider the cost of gas, insurance, parking pass, etc. Perhaps leaving the car home for a year and taking it off-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 her to use the campus meals rather than eating off campus. If your student eats many meals at restaurants or take-out, and leaves meals unused on her plan, she is paying twice.
- Consider alternatives to buying new textbooks from the college bookstore. Many used books are available from other students, the bookstore, or online. More and more students are renting books from online sources such as Chegg.com or Bookrenter.com. Some college bookstores are even offering rental services. Some faculty members may be willing to place a copy of a textbook on reserve in the library (which means doing all reading at the library). Although it takes some coordination, some students successfully share a textbook with another student.
- Take advantage of all of the resources the college offers. Use college tutoring services, health services, counseling services, free concerts, plays, trips, events, fitness facilities, etc.. Those huge college fees entitle your student to these services. Encourage him to get his money’s worth.
- Use college printers if costs are included in tuition and fees. Even if your student brings his own printer to campus for convenience or emergencies, encourage him to make use of “free” college printing when he can to lower his toner costs.
- Think about cell phone charges and extras. Be aware of charges for extra minutes or texts. Consider Skype on the computer to reduce minutes. Be aware of ways to save on cell phone costs.
- Make a game of “alternative shopping” (if shopping at all). Frequent consignment shops, dollar stores, discount and salvage stores. The fun of the hunt for new, cheap, treasures can be a great form of entertainment as well as saving money.
- 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 drinking habits, and we hope you’ve had several conversations with your student about drinking, health, and dangers. However, aside from the many other factors, drinking costs money. Once again, if your student keeps track of the true costs, he may be surprised to see how much of his (or your) money he is spending.
- Minimize the use of any credit card. Finance charges add up quickly. Remind your student to use 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 supporting and encouraging each other will help. Your student won’t feel so alone in her struggle to save.
How much money your student finds that he can save will depend on many factors. Some schools offer more “free” services than others. Some schools may have more expectations than others. However, your student may find that with some encouragement and some creativity, he can find many ways to cut some corners financially. Whether this becomes a challenge, a “game”, or a hardship will depend on his attitude. As a college parent, you will need to step back and let him experiment. Financial independence is just one of the many forms of independence that comes with the college experience. You can, however, encourage him and support wise financial decisions. Hopefully, your student will learn and develop habits that will last a lifetime.