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9 Small College Expenses that Add Up to Big Bucks

When you think of college expenses, what comes to mind? It’s probably tuition, books, housing, and food. Those are the big four, and college students are always looking for ways to do them more cheaply.

But what about the rest? Even if you’ve covered the basics, you can find yourself spending hundreds of dollars a semester on miscellaneous expenses that are just part of college life.

When preparing for college, it’s important to prepare for these expenses as well. Consider setting a budget, or at least setting aside money. Find creative ways to save money on some of them and be ready for the rest.

The problem with these little expenses is that they’re so much a part of everyday life that you can forget what they are. So here are 9 expenses you’re likely to encounter during the course of a semester:

  • Printing. Check whether or not your college charges for printing. Some will give you $X in printing credits, but you have to pay if you go over.
  • Copying. These vary wildly depending on what class you’re in. I took one class which had me photocopying things every week, sometimes I had to photocopy things for my student organization. Other semesters I barely touched the copiers.
  • Laundry. Laundry isn’t free. And while you can fudge around it a bit by taking things home to wash on break (unless you have to fly), you’ll need to do laundry on a regular basis, at least once every two or three weeks. More colleges are accepting laundry payments via student ID card, so you don’t have to worry about quarters, but they often cost the same as at a laundromat. You can expect to pay from $1.25 to $2.00 for one cycle (wash or dry).
  • Library Fines. While college libraries often have more liberal policies than public ones, most have higher fines too. If you return your books on time, that’s great–until you’re 1 day overdue and have to shell out $15.
  • Parking Passes. If you have a car and plan to park it on campus, you’ll probably have to shell out a couple hundred bucks for the parking pass. If you’ll be parking in a city instead, you should check their parking requirements, because you don’t want to get:
  • Parking Tickets. Campus security are notorious for ticketing improperly-parked vehicles. Some people go through college without ever getting one, others collect them like stamps. Even if you’re in the first group, it’s safest to budget for 1 parking ticket a semester for those exceptions to the rule.
  • Public Transit Passes. If you don’t have a car (or do but don’t always drive it) and are in an area that has good public transportation, it may be worthwhile investing in a pass. DC, for example, has the SmarTrip card, which costs $5 initially and can be refilled indefinitely. Other places sell one-time passes or monthly passes.
  • Entertainment. There’s a lot of great stuff you get for cheap or free as a college student. Remember to budget so you can catch your friends in a play or orchestra concert, see the band/artist your college brought for a major concert, etc. Don’t let these great times pass you by, you may never get the chance to do so much so cheaply.
  • Student organizations and Greek life. If you plan to join a student organization or a fraternity/sorority, scope out the costs ahead of time and be sure to budget appropriately. Costs vary widely by interests. The activism/awareness organization that I headed for a year cost me far less than my sister’s outdoors club presidency cost her (equipment, travel, etc). Some organizations can get an approved campus budget, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be paying gas money or for your own equipment.

How much you’ll need to spend on them fits your situation. This list may even remind you of something else that you need to prepare for in the coming college year.

For those starting and continuing college this fall, good luck!

What nickel-and-dimed you during college? How did you cope or find ways to save?

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Miranda August 12, 2009 at 8:59 am

Sometimes we forget all the little expenses. And don’t forget if there are little food shops and eateries on campus. Buying a quick snack everyday, or a coffee, is something that can add up as well.
.-= Miranda´s last blog ..When Will Interest Rates Rise Again? =-.

Mr. Micah August 12, 2009 at 10:43 am

(Hah! I stole your name!)

Didn’t they make us pay for our room keys and mailbox keys too? I think we got the money back when we turned in our keys at the end of the semester, but still. It was like $10 or $15 or something — money I wasn’t expecting (at least freshman year) to have to not-have-access-to. (Does it count as spending if you get it back three months later?)

Dunno if they do that kind of thing at any other college. . . .

Diane August 12, 2009 at 11:16 am

For my older son, who has ADD, parking tickets, library fines and one you didn’t mention – lost dorm keys @ $50 per pop. I think we replaced at least 3 in 2 years of dorm living.

Craig August 12, 2009 at 11:46 am

I would add food too. Food, whether dinner or late night add up very quickly, and most college students eat out more than they should.
.-= Craig´s last blog ..Where to Find Discount Gift Cards? =-.

SingleGuyMoney August 12, 2009 at 7:17 pm

I was too cheap to pay $60 for a parking pass and decided I would rather play “fast and loose” with the parking authority. Unfortunately, the $5 fine they charged each time they caught me quickly added up. I finally broke down and bought the parking pass.
I could have save myself a bunch of money by buying the parking pass up front.
.-= SingleGuyMoney´s last blog ..Saving For Christmas =-.

mapgirl August 13, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Poker. We used to play poker games for laundry money. In fact, our stated intention when organizing games was that we needed to do the laundry. Kids would grab their coin jars, play a few hands and usually that was enough for the winner to have enough money for one or two loads of laundry.

We played poker variants that were mostly games of chance so no one was deliberately losing to the person who needed money.

I realize this is probably passe now that you can play online for money.

Also, you forgot gas money to go with parking passes/tickets. Even if you carpool to go home for the holidays, you have to chip in for gas and tolls.
.-= mapgirl´s last blog ..Savory Bread Pudding Recipe =-.

Shawanda August 13, 2009 at 11:37 pm

I lived the majority of my college career off campus. But that didn’t stop me from using the on campus apartment laundry facilities. The washers and dryers were half the price of the ones at my apartment complex.

I always kept a look out for free food. The beginning of the semester was awesome because there were so many free events going on.

If you need to save on rent, look into becoming a resident assistant. My housing was either 100% provided or heavily subsidized. However, don’t expect a free ride. It can be hard work at times.

Roger August 14, 2009 at 6:08 am

Hunh, I apparently lucked out, as neither of the dorms I lived in as an undergrad charged for use of the laundry facilities. My (somewhat questionable) suggestion on cutting your laundry expenses: see if any of the dorms on campus don’t charge in the laundry room, and find a friend in said dorm to let you in to use their facilities.
.-= Roger´s last blog ..Determining Your Ideal Asset Allocation =-.

Ashley August 14, 2009 at 3:21 pm

I guess this would probably go under entertainment, but hanging out doing nothing actually can cost money and I didn’t know that until college. Alot of nights my friends and I would stay in the dorms to save money but still ended up spending money on pizza, drinks, or movie rentals.
.-= Ashley´s last blog ..Friday Grab Bag – 8/14/2009 =-.

mrsmicah August 14, 2009 at 10:17 pm

@Miranda, Craig & Ashley good point, getting food outside your grocery shopping or meal plan can really add up! I used to chip in for pizza a couple times a month, but the people I got it with had it more often. I didn’t have the $$

@Mr. Micah & Diane I’d forgotten about keys, but yes, those can be an annoying expense. Micah, I think you’re right that anything which ties up money is an expense of some sort. Diane, I had a roommate like your son who lost hers twice in the her Freshman year. Parents weren’t thrilled.

@Single Guy It’s funny, we’re doing that right now with Micah’s college because they charge so much and there are a couple places you can park for a few hours, plus farther-off places you can park for longer. It’s been $35 in tickets in the last year, which is much cheaper than the $450 parking pass…

@mapgirl nice. The boys on my brother floor used to do that. I only played for candy because I’m quite bad at it!

Good point about gas. I used to budget small amounts to pay for the gas when I borrowed peoples’ cars or got rides.

@Shawanda thanks, lots of good tips there. I’d forgotten that RA’s got discounts. One thing I love about working in an academic environment is that I still get some free food.

@Roger Nice! I suppose they factor that into the price of the dorm.

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