College Costs: More Than Just Tuition

A recent article by Morningstar states that tuition and fees for public four-year colleges have risen by 27% over just the past 5 years. However, if you’ve heard recent talk about “tuition freezes,” you may think the rise in tuition costs should soon slow, and while this may be true to some extent, remember that it’s not all about tuition….

Puzzle Pieces
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There are a number of other items that factor into today’s high cost of college besides just tuition, so while we always encourage attendees at our workshops not to get “sticker shock,” you also need to have a realistic picture of the total amount that college is going to cost you.

Here are the other major pieces of the college cost puzzle – and what you can do to keep them as low as possible:

Room & Board: After tuition, room and board is usually the largest expense your child will incur for college. In some cases, room & board may make up nearly half of your total college bill! This means, while you may be thinking that $9,000 tuition bill for an in-state school sounds pretty reasonable, when you add on room and board, you are looking at a figure that is closer to $20,000 – which is obviously a big difference.

So what can you do about it? Living at home is a great option if your child is attending a local college. If not, they should consider a cheaper dorm, or possibly off-campus housing with roommates. They may also want to look at becoming an RA (Resident Advisor), which often covers the entire cost of room & board – plus they gain interpersonal and leadership skills which look great on a resume!

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Textbooks: While you may not think of books as a terribly expensive item, as the article mentions, textbooks can actually add up to around $1,200 per year – especially since many college courses require the newest, most up-to-date books, making used textbooks obsolete the following year.

However, when you are able to purchase used books, it can really save you some money. Students may also be able to purchase or rent electronic books for some of their courses, which can substantially cut down on costs.

Transportation: If your student is attending a school that isn’t local, you will also need to factor in transportation costs – both for your student, and for family members who may want to visit him or her from time to time. Depending on whether your student is within driving distance, or will require an airplane ticket to come home to visit, this can really add up. Studying abroad will be even more expensive.

Educate your student on ways to find cheap flights (fly at off-peak times, choose red-eye flights, etc.), and save up frequent flier miles (many credit card rewards programs offer these – just be sure you or your student pays the card off every month to avoid interest charges). If your student is going to school within driving distance, taking the bus, or sharing rides with other students heading the same direction can help reduce costs.

Technology: While the price of technology has come down in recent years, it can still add up – especially if your student is set on purchasing the most recent laptop, sound system, smart phone, etc. Instead, choose an earlier model computer, or buy used or refurbished (just make sure it includes a warranty to avoid potential costly repairs down the road). And teach your student to save for these items and pay for them out-of-pocket. This may well encourage them to choose more cost-effective options.

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Other Living Expenses & Incidentals: Don’t forget pizza money for the weekends, gas money & car insurance (if your student has his or her own car), and tickets to sporting events! These are all part of the college experience, and you must factor them into your total college costs. Fraternity or sorority membership fees can also be rather steep, although they often include some room and board expenses.

To prepare for these costs, educate your student ahead of time on good money management and saving strategies. Encourage them to get a part-time job while still in high-school, and practice saving and budgeting for things they want. These skills will benefit them not only in college, but throughout their adult lives!

Factoring all of these items into the total cost of college, and keeping an eye on what you and your student can do to save money in each of these areas, can help keep your total college bill under control.

But it can still be scary – especially if you have multiple children, and are looking at paying more in total for college than for your house! If you need help planning for how to meet these costs, we’re always here to offer guidance!  Call us today for a FREE analysis of your college plan: 614-536-0246.


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