A College Expense List Is Longer Than You May Think

Every day when I see my children after school I have always asked them if they have any homework. In a couple of years, my daughter will be off to college and now I’m asking myself if I have done my college preparation homework? I have been preparing since she was born. I started a pre-paid tuition plan when she was a baby. I invested in a 529 college savings plan to offset the cost of books, lab fees and room and board that may not be covered by the prepaid tuition plan. Is that enough?

Well I did my homework. I called my friends, family, clients and co-workers that have had or currently have children in college and I asked them one very simple question, “What college expenses came as a surprise to you?” 

I missed a few items and you may have too. You can easily search your child’s college website and create a book budget by looking at the classes he or she will be attending. The only problem with that is when “change” occurs. The teacher may change the book requirement to a newer more expensive version and/or your child may change their field of study requiring more books and supplies. Be prepared to reposition your books and supplies budget. These issues cost a friend $200 last year. Commonly overlooked but an absolute necessity is the need for transportation. How else is your student going to get to and from college, come home for the holidays, head to the beach for spring break or drop by with a bag of dirty laundry? Transportation includes: a car, airfare, bus tickets or even a bicycle. One couple I questioned told me they forgot about adding their son’s car into the budget. They should have added gas, $600 per year, registration, $80 per year, auto insurance, $3,620 per year and maintenance, $150 per year to their budget.

You’ve raised your children so you know them pretty well right? So why not add a dollar amount to your college budget for snacks? I know I’m getting a little picky here but what I found out will amaze you. College kids eat all the time even when the kitchen is closed. A midnight run to Krispy Kreme doughnuts is a necessity for an all-night study session. My interviews revealed that parents are spending on average over $50 a month on snack attacks.

Add it up.

When my daughter was a freshman in high school we begged her to get involved. Well let me tell you, she got involved, and I have been doling out the dollars for Booster club, Key Club, Sophomore Class Council, Diamond Girls (baseball concession stand volunteers), National German honors society and flag football. Did I mention that I am also paying for her to attend football, soccer, baseball and softball games? It may not stop in college and from what I’ve uncovered in my research, the same activities will cost you more. You can utilize individual college websites to gain insight into the cost of student activities, clubs, sports and tickets to sporting events and add it to your student’s college budget. A friend and I averaged out the monthly handouts he gives to his daughter to attend sporting events, donations for charitable events, Christian fellowship and the ever notorious, “I need twenty bucks for … dad.” He spends an estimated $960 a year.

Going Greek! Just a cursory look at my nieces Facebook page and the myriad of sorority activities she is involved in, I can tell that the cost of joining and participating in a sorority can be quite high. On average a sorority will cost $1,280 per semester and a fraternity will cost $605 per semester. Many college freshmen choose to rush a fraternity or sorority so it would be wise to look into the member fees, chapter dues, social expenses and even fines for unexcused absences and tardiness for member events. Additionally, there are extra costs for socials and mixers where sorority sisters pay for their date’s tickets, dinner and sometimes their formal wear. Add to that the rush outfits, Greek letter gear, philanthropy swag and gifts for pledges and members for an estimated $400 per year out of my brother-in-law’s pocket.

Please, please, please do not forget yourselves mom and dad. According to my good friend Sue, she and her husband spend about $1,000 a year driving to see their daughter, taking her (and a friend) out to eat, attending the football games and moving her back home every summer. Creating a solid college expense budget can be a daunting task but taking the time to look at college budget planning tools, listening to others that have been through it already, talking to your student about their wants and needs and consulting with your trusted financial advisor will close that gap between not budgeting enough and having money left over.