College Expense Planning

Many college parents are unprepared not only for the overwhelming cost of today’s college education, but the numerous additional expenses that significantly add to the total bill.

As a benchmark, provided below are the average college tuition and fees for the 2015-2016 school year (source):

4-year private school tuition expense: $32,410
4-year public school tuition expense: $9,410

Other College Expenses

When creating your college budget, don’t forget to add in other often overlooked college expenses in addition to the tuition expense (use this calculator if you need help). If you don’t budget accordingly for these items, you may underestimate the amount that you need to come up with in cash or borrow in student loans.

We’ve listed various college expenses below. If you want to learn more and get money-saving tips for each college expense, check out the links below.

  • Housing – college dorms and college apartments are usually the largest expense next to tuition.
  • College food
  • College textbooks – College textbooks can be extremely expensive. There are other money saving options to the college bookstore.
  • Student travel- Depending on where your student lives, don’t forget to budget in gas money, college parking and/or airline fares.
  • Study abroad – Start looking at programs now if your student plans to study abroad.
  • Supplies – Certain majors, like art or photography, will require expensive supplies.
  • Lab fees
  • Miscellaneous – Remember college kids play as hard as they work, so there will be expenses like movies and pizza. Don’t forget that once your kids are away from home, they will incur their own expenses like car maintenance and electricity bills, too.

Here is an example of an annual college budget for a college freshman attending a 4-year public school. This example assumes the student had to sign a one-year lease on an off-campus apartment, which is typical for off-campus housing.

Annual Expense Budget

Tuition Expense$6,000
College fees$500
College parking pass$150
Gas$1200 ($100/month)
College apartment$6000 ($500/month)
Cable & Internet$600 ($50/month)
Electricity$600 ($50/month)
College textbooks$750
Science lab fee$75
Food$2000
Total$17,875

Pay for College

Once you determine your child’s big ticket college expenses, you’ll want to finalize all of the cash, savings and financial aid that your family will likely allocate to pay for college. Use our College Parent Checklist to make sure you have explored all of the financial aid options available to you. We’ve compiled a list of all of the different financial options available to pay for college below. Feel free to click on the links to explore each option in depth.

  • 529 Savings
  • Personal cash and savings
  • College scholarships
  • College grants
  • Federal Stafford Loan
  • Federal Parent PLUS Loan
  • Private student loans
  • Federal work-study program
  • Student jobs
  • Other – tuition payment plans, parent 401k loans

Using the budget of the example above, we’ve illustrated below how you might pay for college:

Paying For College: Freshman Year Example

Tuition Expense$6,000Scholarship 1$1,000
College fees$500Scholarship 2$500
College parking pass$150Parent cash contribution$1800 ($150/month)
Gas$1200 ($100/month)Student work-study income$1200 ($100/month)
College apartment$6000 ($500/month)Federal Stafford Loan$5500
Cable & Internet$600 ($50/month)Private Student Loan$7,875
Electricity$600 ($50/month)
College textbooks$750
Science lab fee$75
Food$2000
Total$17,875Total$17,875

Student Spending

It’s important to involve your child in the college budgeting process since they will need to learn to live within their means. This is an aspect of teaching financial independence, but it also ensures that your child understands and sticks with the plan while away at school.

Without much financial experience, college students may make financial mistakes, such as bouncing checks, overspending on credit cards, and using student loan funds inappropriately. As a parent, talk with your child about these issues before they go off to college. If you plan to give your student a credit card to pay for books and emergencies, it would be a good idea to ensure that the card has an appropriate limit.

Student Budgeting Tips

Some parents ask their child to pay for their “extracurricular activities” using federal work-study funds and/or part-time income. If your student knows that they are responsible for all movies, travel and trips to the mall, they will be more likely to use their money wisely. Making your student responsible for any line item of the budget also gives them a sense of involvement in your family’s finances. The more your child can learn about budgeting during his/her high school and college experience, the more successful he/she will be in the real world.