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Students need to stay on budget in college

By By Mary Motzko, Staff Writer
Published On: Jul 23 2011 09:27:06 PM CDT
Updated On: Sep 27 2013 09:58:43 AM CDT
Calculator and money

iStock / OlgaMiltsova

Early-morning latte on your way to class, $4. Admission to a house party, $5 to $10. Late-night pizza, $10 to $15. Tickets to watch your school's football team in action, around $20 to $30.Little by little, expenses can add up quickly for college students.

While most students and parents worry about the larger financial burden of paying for college tuition, fees, and room and board, the students' every day spending is also an area that requires savings and budgeting.

Depending on the location of your school, the estimated spending expenses vary for students. Harvard, located near Boston, recommends students have around $3,130 for personal expenses, while Baylor, in Waco, Texas, advises students to plan on spending about $1,890. The University of Wisconsin in Madison estimates that its students have about $2,310 for miscellaneous spending.

According to Alloy Media + Marketing's annual College Explorer study, college students were expected to spend $237 billion in spending during the 2008-09 school year on non-essential items.

Living On A Budget In College

For students living in on-campus housing, most of their monthly bills should be included in their room and board fee, leaving the student with just their own personal bills to pay, such as a cell phone bill, and additional expenses.

Their remaining monthly expenses could include "non-necessities," such as eating off-campus, going to a movie or a school football or basketball game, or an occasional shopping trip.

Those living off-campus could encounter more monthly expenses. If utilities aren't included in the cost of rent, students will need to set money aside each month to pay the gas and water bills. If they have cable, they will also need to budget for that cost. Students who live off-campus also likely will not have a meal plan set up through the university, so they will need to shop for groceries.

In addition to the traditional utility and food costs, students living off-campus will also need to account for spending on the "extras" -- eating out, social activities and shopping.

To try to cut expenses where you can, Scholarships.com gives the following advice to students:

  • Split larger packages of food with your roommate.
  • Cook instead of eating out or ordering takeout.
  • Make coffee at home instead of stopping at the coffee shop on the way to class.
  • Take advantage of student discounts when and where they are offered.
  • Rent movies instead of going to the theater.

The University of Minnesota also suggests that roommates fight the urge to spend too much money decorating their dorm rooms and apartments, and that they coordinate who's bringing what before move-in day as to prevent duplicating items and forgetting others. The school also suggests that students shop around for text books, looking online and at used book stores.

Where Can Students Get Spending Money?

According to the University of Minnesota, college students tend to spend money more freely in the first couple of months of the school year -- quickly going through their summer savings -- before realizing they're in financial trouble near the end of the first semester.

So how can students replenish their dwindling cash supply during the school year?

Some students rely on money from their parents -- but not many. The survey conducted by the University of Minnesota found that 45.5 percent of parents questioned said they do not give their child money monthly throughout the school year.

The university's Web site also said, "Students themselves have told us that their friends who earn their own money tend to be more financially responsible than are those whose parents give them all the money they need.

"Still, some students need help from home. When determining how much money you should give your child, Lance Mills, who operates www.collegeanswerguy.com, suggests deciding what expenses you want to help your child pay for. On his blog, Mills recommends that parents who want to give their child general spending money should start with a low amount, as kids are likely to spend any money that's in their account.

For parents who want to only give their money for specific items, such as groceries, Mills suggests having the child save all of his or her receipts for a month and adding up how much money was spent on specific items. Parents will then know about how much money their child will need to cover certain expenses.

Another option, Mills said, is for parents to buy their son or daughter a gift card at specific stores -- such as a grocery store -- and then add more money to it as the child needs. This way they know exactly what their money is going for.

Students whose parents do not give them a monthly allowance or money for certain items might consider working during the school year to supplement their summer savings.

The University of Minnesota's Web site claims that there are benefits to working in addition to financial perks. According to the Web site, holding a job helps students be more organized, as they have to pay more attention to their schedule, and it helps them get work done more efficiently since they don't have time to procrastinate.

However, the Web site also warns against working too many hours. The school suggests that college students work less than 20 hours a week to ensure they have enough time to dedicate to school.

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