Tuition, room and board are certainly the major college expenses, but textbooks, lab fees, practice room charges, Greek dues and cell phones can add another $2,000 or more to your child's tab, if you're not careful. And that's before the pizza bill arrives. Expecting the unexpected is half the battle.
- Textbooks: Books and school supplies can easily add $940 to the college tab, and that doesn't include the practically mandatory laptop. Science majors can expect to spend even more. Their books routinely edge into the three figure range. But there are ways to shave considerable costs off the book bill.
- Laptops and Computers: A laptop is a pretty necessary purchase for school - although most colleges libraries have computers available for student use. But there's no reason to buy a printer. These days, many professors want essays turned in electronically, typically through plagiarism-detection sites such as Turnitin.com, and the few papers that require hard copies can be printed at the library for a nominal charge. Instead of spending $200 on a printer, spend $10 on a thumb drive, so data can be easily transported between computers. (Thumb drives, by the way, make nice stocking stuffers and care package gifts too.)
- Lab Fees and White Coats: Whether it's art class or biochem, lab fees can add another $10 to $50 per course. If it's a chemistry lab, your child will also need a white lab coat ($25-$30) from the campus bookstore. On the other hand, think of the money you'll save when she trashes the coat - not the Juicy jeans - with sulfuric acid.
- Music Rooms and Tuning Fees: If your child takes music courses, the college will likely charge a fee to cover practice room rental and piano tuning. At UCLA, for example, it costs $50 per quarter for first-come, first-served, practice room access. Add another $30-$90 if your child wants to be able to reserve a specific time slot. Need to rent a locker? That's another $50. And junior will need not just a tuxedo ($350), but tails. Tip: Check the vintage clothing stores in your area for used formal wear, or see if your child's college music department has a deal arranged with a local formal wear shop.
- Greek Dues and Social Fees: Joining a sorority or fraternity? Plan on spending $400-$800 or more per year in social dues. On the plus side, if junior moves into a Greek house, room and board costs can be lower than dormitory life. Not going Greek? Dorm social fees and college "activity fees" can tack another $200-$400 onto the base cost.
- Cell Phones: Expect your child's texting and calling frequency to go through the roof when he leaves for college. It's not necessarily that he'll be calling home more often - although one can always hope - but he'll be calling siblings, high school friends and new college buddies. Contain costs by reviewing your cell phone plan - beware of roaming charges - and re-evaluating the number of minutes and texts your child is allowed. Sometimes it's cheaper to go with a more expensive, unlimited texting plan, than to incur overages.
- Pizza & More: It's difficult for a kid to stay on budget when he's suddenly faced with a new and insanely exciting, campus social life. It's even more challenging when mom and dad forgot to have the budget discussion. Talk now. And if you've already had the talk and it's still not working, talk again. One reader on the YoungAdult forum said she put a large lump sum, intended to last the entire year, in her daughter's savings account and it was gone by February. Now that her younger son's in college, the family is taking a different approach: small amounts, monitored closely. Got other ideas? Click over to the "spending money" thread on the discussion forum and share.