How to Manage the Incidental Expenses of College

Mar 31, 2017

How to Manage the Incidental Expenses of CollegeWhile it’s common knowledge that the cost of a college education can be staggering, what is all too frequently overlooked are the accumulative expenditures beyond tuition, fees, and room and board that tend to accompany the “college experience.” From campus parking permits to late night runs to cafés off campus, these incidentals might easily add up to several hundred dollars per week. But by anticipating them early and planning accordingly, you can maximize your dollars and avoid being blindsided by unexpected bills. Here are some typical expenses to be aware of when building a college budget – and a few tips on ways to save:

Shop around for textbooks: According to the College Board’s Trends in College Pricing report, undergraduate students pay an average of anywhere from $1,230-$1,390 per year for textbooks and supplies. While textbooks aren’t exactly what most people would consider a “hidden expense” of college, they are an area of your budget where you can realize considerable savings. For the best value, avoid purchasing the majority of textbooks new at the college bookstore. Instead, consider buying them used, renting them or accessing digital versions that can be downloaded to a Kindle or other e-reader. Numerous retailers sell textbooks online, just a few of which include Amazon, and eBay. To compare prices across different sites, visit or BIGWORDS, which allow you to search by ISBN (International Standard Book Number), title or author. If you prefer to rent your books, Chegg , VitalSource and BookRenter are a few good options to try.

Consider the costs of transportation and parking: It’s wise to explore just what the school and nearby community have to offer in terms of transportation when deciding whether to bring a car to school. As they become increasingly green, many schools are expanding programs and incentives to encourage biking and the use of public transportation, carpools and shuttle services. But if taking a car to college makes sense for you or your student, be sure to account for parking fees in your budget as a parking pass may cost upwards of $500 per year. For example, fees for an undergraduate’s parking permit at the University of California, San Diego currently run at $183 per quarter and $732 per year.

Prevent food costs from escalating: Even for students who have a pre-paid meal plan, it’s a pretty sure bet that most will at least occasionally eat meals out, and that they will need snacks on hand for midnight study sessions and other times between meals. To keep these costs down, regularly stock up on inexpensive foods to keep on hand when the dining rooms are closed and hunger strikes. It can also be a good idea for parents to send their students care packages filled with their favorite munchies.

Keep tabs on costs for going out, activities and entertainment: Perhaps more than any other time in life, college provides immeasurable opportunities to meet new people and foster relationships. The downside of this is can be tempting to overspend while socializing. Make sure to set limits on this discretionary category prior to the start of the semester or quarter. If you or your student is a fan of attending sporting events, do the math to determine whether it might make sense to buy a season package rather than paying per event. Thinking about joining a sorority or fraternity? Be sure to factor in the cost of clothes for special events and travel that they usually entail. To learn more about the costs of the Greek system, check out USA Today’s article at

Put purchasing for the dorm room in check: Before heading out to Target or another store to buy items to equip the dorm room, take an inventory of what you may already have in your home and find out what the school will provide. While furnishings such as new lighting and bedding may be a priority depending on your budget, it may not make sense to shell out for certain appliances such as a $400 vacuum cleaner if you can easily rent one from your dorm. And if you plan to make several big-ticket purchases such as a new laptop, printer or MP3 player, it can pay off to sign up as a member for a program like Ebates, which offers great bargains on thousands of retailers and cash back from commissions.

Looking for some help in tracking expenses and building and managing a budget for college? SF Police Credit Union has an excellent online money management tool called MoneyTrac that makes this process simple. You can let MoneyTrac develop a budget for you, or create your own categories and spending limits. What’s more, it provides color-coded visuals to view spending in various categories – and see at a glance whether is is within healthy limits, or approaching or exceeding budget. To get started in MoneyTrac now, visit

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