Know the Costs of Living On or Off Campus
For the past 18 years you’ve clothed your child, fed your child and put a roof over his or her head. Before your child leaves the nest, talk with him or her about the ins and outs of managing housing, food and other living expenses while away at college.
Dorm vs. Off-Campus Housing
On-campus and off-campus housing costs can vary quite a bit. Most schools require freshmen to live on campus. The upside: your child’s core living expenses will be known in advance. The dorm room will be furnished, equipped with Internet and cable hook-ups and located near dining halls.
If your child wants to live off campus, he or she should compare the cost of living on campus. Off campus means your child must pay for:
Renters insurance is a good idea—and an additional expense. Here are a few things to consider before you or your child sign a lease.
Outfitting the Dorm Room or Apartment
Your child needs to outfit where he or she will live. Advise your teen to do some research.
- It’s a good idea to contact his or her future roommate to discuss what each will bring. You want to avoid both of them arriving at college toting a mini fridge.
- For dorm living, your son or daughter should check with the school to see what’s in the room. Some colleges supply microwaves and mini fridges.
- Beyond that, your child should plan to bring clothing, desk materials, linens, toiletries, decorations and small personal items.
If your child opts to decorate or buy appliances or apartment furniture, he or she should do so armed with a shopping list and a budget. Big-box retailers push back-to-school deals that can encourage binge spending. Thrift stores, flea markets and online sites such as Craigslist are a cheaper alternative. So are the items cluttering up your own house.
Co-signing a Lease
You’ll inherit a financial stake in your son or daughter’s apartment if the landlord requires you to co-sign the lease. Avoid signing if at all possible or you'll have to pick up the roommate’s tab if he or she fails to pay rent. This is an especially big risk if the school is in a high cost-of-living area.
Meal Plans and Swipe Cards
Many colleges allow students to choose a meal plan. Your child should choose carefully.
- An unlimited plan may tempt your child to eat his or her money’s worth, even when it’s too much.
- A limited plan may leave your child hungry and buying additional snacks and meals.
- A college-supplied magnetic swipe card is an easy way to pay for meals. The cards also can be used at other campus sites including bookstores, snack bars, or convenience stores.
- Check if your teen’s card is like a debit card pre-loaded with a certain sum. That can prevent binge spending.
- But be sure to find out what happens when there is no money left on the card and make certain your child will not need the card for something critical, such as medical care.
- Otherwise, you’ll want to monitor your child’s spending, perhaps by having bills sent to you.
Four Wheels…Two Wheels…or Two Feet
If your child wants to bring a car, ask if he or she really needs one. How much would your child use it for trips home or elsewhere? Most campuses are designed for students to walk, bike, or ride the bus. If your son or daughter wants a car, you both need to consider the subsequent rise in their cost of living. There's:
- possible parking and traffic tickets