If you have a child in college, and you’ve got their college tuition and room & board “under control”, pat yourself on the back because you’re doing better than most, but don’t sit back and put your feet up on the desk just yet.
The fact is, the average student spends thousands of dollars every year on higher education “extras” that must be factored into the total cost of their college education.
“The whole area of what I’ll call variable, mushy kinds of costs can sometimes be a gotcha for people,” said Anne Sturtevant, executive director of higher education for the College Board.
At the top of the list of course are textbooks, which average about $1200 a year right now according to the College Board. One of the reasons is that, over the last 10 years, the cost of textbooks has risen by 82% or almost 3 times the rate of inflation. (!!!) Unfortunately, many students are simply doing without their needed course books and 65% of them, according to a recent survey by US PIRG Education Fund, have foregone purchasing textbooks completely because of the high cost.
Another big cost, especially in the last few years, are gadgets like smart phones, computer games, tablets and other electronic devices. A recent survey showed that nearly 90% of students had laptop computers, almost 70% had smartphones and nearly 70% had videogame consoles as well.
And of course you can’t forget food, which can be very expensive. In 2011, for example, the average student spent $765 eating off campus according to a survey performed by 21st Century Insurance. Transportation is an added cost as well and, depending on how far a student is away from home, or if they commute, this cost can vary greatly.
The question then becomes simply this: what can you do to cut down on these extra costs?
The first is simply to use common sense and research tools. Textbooks, for example, can vary widely in price but there are a number of ways to either get them new at cheaper prices or buy then used at much cheaper prices. Bookfinder.com, for example, lets students search for the best textbook prices online. Then there are sites that allow students to rent textbooks including Coursesmart.com and Chegg.com.
What it comes to technology mom and dad definitely should sit down with their son or daughter and decide exactly what’s needed for school and, conversely, what devices are luxuries. While a laptop is certainly a necessary electronic device no matter what subject your student is learning, and Xbox or PlayStation certainly isn’t.
Choosing the right data plan for their smart phone can also make a huge difference in the cost of calling home to ask for more money. (Yes, were being facetious.) Seriously though, if you have the choice between a cheaper plan that might end up costing you a lot of extra money in overage charges, or a slightly more expensive plan that won’t, you might want to opt for the more expensive plan and avoid a huge shocker of a bill and months end.
Finally, when it comes to food and “entertainment”, the best idea is to simply put your child on a budget and give them a certain amount to spend on those things every month. If they’re away at college, it makes sense to get them a meal plan so that they can eat whenever they want and not run up huge food bill.
This is also, frankly, an excellent time to teach your child about tracking their spending and keeping a meticulous record of what they spend. These are the building blocks of budgeting, something that will help them greatly as adults once the “fun” of college ends.
It might also be an excellent time for your son or daughter to get a part-time job and see exactly what it’s like working out in the “real” world and also how fast that their money can disappear. There’s nothing like flipping burgers or waiting tables to show a student that getting a college degree, and the chance for a better, higher paying job, is vitally important to their future well-being.