10 College Expenses You Didn’t Expect and How to Pay for Them

Loans, Student Loans
10 College Expenses You Didn't Expect and How to Pay For Them

You’ve picked your college, and you’ve planned nearly everything: how you’re going to decorate your dorm room, the clubs you’re going to join, and how you’ll introduce yourself to your new roommate. Freshman year is going to be awesome.

You’ve also planned to pay for certain things out-of-pocket, including your housing deposit, your textbooks and laundry. But there are other expenses you might not have considered.

We’ve compiled a list of 10 such expenses so you can plan how you’ll pay for them before starting college. Some are unavoidable, but with careful budgeting, they’re all manageable.

1. Interview/business attire

If you’re looking for a work-study job, interviews can start as early as your first semester of freshman year. Then there are career fairs and networking events for internships and post-college gigs. If you want to look your best for those events, you’ll want professional clothing — but that can take a big bite out of your budget.

How to deal:

  • Shop your own closet first — but skip the jeans.
  • Set a budget for the items you need to complete one interview outfit.
  • Check clearance sections and consignment shops or trade in old clothes.

2. Weather gear

Going to school in another climate? Your flight won’t be the only added expense. For example, if you’re a Texan who’s attending college in New York, you might need a winter coat, boots and gloves.

How to deal:

  • When you’re considering schools, look up the area’s average temperatures while classes are in session. This will give you time to shop before you’re hit with other college expenses — and possibly take advantage of end-of-season sales.
  • If you’re lucky enough to get cash as a graduation gift, consider using it to pay for weather-related necessities. Check consignment shops for cheaper alternatives.

3. Electronics

You might already own a laptop, but what if it crashes? Even if you bought a new one that should last all four years, anything can happen — spilling a drink on your keyboard, for example. Or what if your major requires extra equipment, such as a camera or editing software?

How to deal:

  • Buy virus protection software and scan your hard drive frequently.
  • Find out if your school has an IT department that offers free or cheap help with technical issues. You might get a student discount for buying your software through the school, too.
  • Try to rent or borrow any extra gear you need for your major.
  • Invest in protective covers, such as a laptop case or keyboard skin, and look into getting your devices insured.

4. Study abroad

About 1 in 10 college students studies abroad, according to the Institute of International Education. If you do, you’ll have the added expenses of international flights and applying for visas and a passport. Your financial aid package will probably look different for that semester, too: Work-study doesn’t exist overseas and visa requirements can prohibit you from working. You might also be unqualified for certain scholarships that are contingent on you being on campus.

Even if you have a decent amount of cash saved up, currency conversion fees can quickly deplete your bank balance.

How to deal:

  • If you can, study in a country where the dollar is strong.
  • Use a credit card that has no foreign transaction fees.
  • Find out if your bank has a partnership with a foreign bank and will allow you to withdraw money straight from your account. This will lessen — and might even eliminate — exchange fees.
  • Use common sense travel tips to keep track of the cash you do have. For example, keep your wallet in your front pocket and don’t store all your cash in one place.

5. Clubs, sports and Greek life

Frats and sororities have annual dues that can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, in addition to the costs of social events, initiation and pledging. Being a member of a club or sports team could also mean shelling out hundreds in transportation costs every year.

How to deal:

  • Ask how much members typically spend per semester before you sign up.
  • Be mindful of your budget: If one club or organization is too expensive, join a different one or create your own.

6. Printer ink and paper costs

Let’s say you need to print an average of 50 pages per week, and a cartridge produces about 200 pages. If one cartridge costs around $20 — that’s a conservative estimate — you’ll end up spending about $140 on ink per year, taking into account school vacations.

Happily, many schools let students print a certain number of pages for free each semester. That quota might give you more than enough pages, or it might cover only a few weeks’ worth of print jobs.

How to deal:

  • Use up your free prints before resorting to your personal printer.
  • Print only when you absolutely have to, and choose the double-sided option when you can.

7. Summer storage

If your journey from home to college involves a flight, it’s usually cheaper — and easier — to store your stuff somewhere near campus than it is to lug it back and forth. But storage can be expensive.

How to deal:

  • Your school might partner with a storage company that will pick up and drop off your boxes — but it might not be the cheapest option. Look into other local storage companies to make sure you’re getting the best deal.
  • Find out if your school offers free storage to students returning in the fall.
  • Condense your stuff as much as possible and rent the smallest, least expensive storage space you can.

8. Social activities

It’s easy to rationalize spending money on going out as you make new friends. After all, you’re in college for only a few years. But spending mindlessly on social outings will quickly wipe out your bank account.

How to deal:

  • Create a budget for entertainment and extracurricular activities, and stick to it. Write it down, and check in every week to ensure you’re not overspending.
  • Use budgeting apps like Mint to stay on top of your expenses.

9. Car costs

Many schools don’t allow freshmen to have cars, but you might be tempted to bring yours once you’ve settled into college life. This means you may be responsible for new expenses, such as parking, gas, insurance, maintenance, and — potentially — tickets. According to a 2015 study by AAA, if you drive your car 15,000 miles per year, the cost of ownership is a whopping $725 per month.

How to deal:

  • Skip bringing your car if feasible.
  • Take advantage of any parking deals your school offers.
  • Keep an eye out for student discounts for your car insurance and always heed the “check engine” light.
  • Pay attention to parking restrictions, and drive safely to avoid tickets.

10. Taking longer than four years to graduate

Only about 40% of the class of 2011 who went to four-year colleges graduated within four years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. You might find yourself in this position if you repeat classes, change your major or transfer schools. Add in the prices of summer semesters and excess credit hour surcharges, and you’ve got an even more expensive college education.

How to deal:

  • If you’re at all on the fence about your major or school, make sure your credits will transfer to other majors or colleges.
  • Ask your advisor about changing majors before you’re sure you want to so he or she can keep you on track.
  • If your grades start to slip, use your school’s tutoring programs and your professors’ office hours to make sure you pass. Bonus: This kind of proactive behavior will help you succeed after college, too.

Getting a college education is a major financial commitment, but it is possible to offset some costs by taking advantage of programs your school offers and budgeting for other expenses. When you’re smart with your money, you’ll be able to enjoy your college experience and maintain control of your finances.

Devon Delfino is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: ddelfino@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @devondelfino.