Unexpected Expenses to Budget for In College

College is already expensive before you even step foot on campus, and when you get to your school, you’ll quickly realize you’re not done paying just yet! From laundry costs to club fees, you’re going to be paying a little bit here and a little bit there for the next four years. Planning for these unexpected expenses for college students is a must.

We’ve put together a list of some of the costs you may not have expected and outlined a game plan to help you budget for unexpected expenses below.

A student writing down expenses on a pad of paper with a calculator next to them.

10 Unexpected College Expenses

Tuition is just one aspect of the overall cost of college. There are several costs associated with college that you may not have thought of – and ones that only a select number of students need to worry about. We’ve listed 10 of the most common unexpected expenses college students see during their four years.

1. Textbooks

It’s no secret that textbooks are expensive, but many students and their parents still experience sticker shock when they get to the college bookstore. With books costing anywhere from $50 to $200 and beyond and some classes requiring more than one book, it can be easy to spend $1,000 on a particularly expensive semester.

READ MORE >> How To Save Money on College Textbooks

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2. Homework Plan

You have to do homework – that’s a given – but paying for it?? Yep! That’s a reality for some students. Some professors opt for a homework subscription plan that students are on the hook for. And, if you don’t subscribe, you can’t complete the work and it’ll affect your grade.

3. Required Supplies and Fees

Depending on the course, some may require certain materials or supplies to be used in class. Many two-dimensional art classes will require supplies such as paintbrushes, canvases, paint, etc. Some lab classes may require lab equipment or safety goggles. Your professor should present you with a list of supplies you need to buy before classes start, but if you have any questions, reach out to them ahead of time to avoid buying the wrong materials.

Some of your courses may also require or recommend a field trip. For instance, my Ancient History course took us to the Met in New York City – and we were on the hook for our tickets and travel fees.

4. Living Expenses

You’ve probably already accounted for your housing cost and meal plan as that is usually presented to you fairly early on by the college. However, these are not the only living expenses you’ll have! You will need to budget for:

  • Toiletries
  • Bedding
  • Dorm supplies and decor
  • Snacks
  • Groceries
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Social expenses such as the movies or museums
  • Fun money for your free time

5. Parking & Transportation

Owning a car is already expensive between maintenance, gas, and registration, but did you know that you’ll have to pay to park your car at college, too? And it can get costly. Many times, students opt to leave their car at home because the fees are close to highway robbery! And we don’t recommend trying to bring your car without paying these costs – campus police can and will ticket your car.

Transportation may be offered at your school which may still cost money that you need to budget for (though many offer this service for free!), but it will be a lot cheaper than bringing your car.

For some students, though, a car might be required to get around town and then these higher expenses need to be planned for.

6. Laundry

Laundry might be another cost you didn’t expect! It doesn’t cost a lot to do this task, but you need to account for it as it can add up. Some campuses, but not all, will require you to pay to use their laundry machines. And if you’re living off-campus without your own washing machine and dryer, you’ll have to head to the laundromat.

7. Potential for Reduced Financial Aid

While you may have received financial aid that covered your full cost of attendance for one year, it is not a guarantee for next year or the year after. Financial aid requirements can change from year to year, and if you won that scholarship this semester, is it renewable? Or will you win it again?

Loss of financial aid can result in a period of shock, so planning for this potential is a must.

8. Greek Life Fees and Dues

If you’re thinking about joining a fraternity or sorority, you’re going to want to plan for these expenses. Yep, you’ll be on the hook for fees and dues – and they can cost up to $6,000 per semester! Do your research before joining so you’ll know exactly what to expect money-wise.

9. Club Fees

You should join clubs and extracurriculars while you’re in college, but you might have to pay some cash to get involved. These fees can be put towards supplies, trips, and the general operation of the club. Thankfully, there are plenty of clubs that are free if you’re strapped for cash, too.

10. Emergency Expenses

Emergencies come up. It could be a punctured tire or a health scare, but whether you’re in college or graduated, you should plan for emergency expenses. Setting aside money for these potential catastrophes is a must both now and in the future.

How to Budget for Unexpected Expenses in College

Don’t let these unexpected expenses scare you. There are plenty of ways to keep your costs at a minimum and plan ahead for these expenses.

1. Look for Affordable College Materials

Not every single book and class material has to be purchased through your campus bookstore or at full price. While there are some exceptions (a professor may require the most recent edition of a book, for example), you can usually find more affordable options online. Buying used textbooks saves a lot of money. You can purchase from local bookstores, past students, and online stores to save some cash.

At the end of the semester, you can then turn around and sell those books to other students.

2. Take Advantage of Free Resources

It can be easy for those little expenses to add up and eat into your budget. Gym memberships, parking fees, gas, paid tutoring – it’s a lot of money at the end of the day.

Thankfully, colleges have plenty of free resources that they offer students. You can use on-campus gym facilities, opt for free transportation around campus, and join a tutoring group with your peers.

3. Maximize the Use of Your Meal Plan

Many students don’t make the most of their meal plan. Understanding the best places to eat on campus for your money is an excellent start though. Compare quality and costs to help you save some cash.

And for meal plans that work like a gift card, where you put a certain amount of money on the card and that’s your spending money for campus for the year, you might lose out on that cash at the end of the year. To avoid this, buy groceries on campus towards the end of the semester. Groceries that will last through fall are great options as you’ll be able to stock up for next semester. Or your parents may appreciate all the food you’re bringing home for the summer.

4. Plan for the Future

Of course, you never know what’s just around the corner. You don’t know how much you’re going to have to spend on books in the spring or if you’ll win that scholarship again. While you should have some fun money, save where you can, too. You might want to consider getting a part-time job if you want more spending money.

5. Work with Your Parents

If you’re not quite sure what to expect or how to budget, talk to your parents. They likely have experience budgeting and can help you determine where you can save some cash. There are also apps you can get that will do a lot of the heavy lifting!

6. Track Your Expenses

Printable budget worksheet for college students.College is a new experience, and you sometimes won’t know what you’re going to spend until you’re in the midst of it. You might find a club you want to join in November, for example, or you could discover your program requires some very expensive books. By tracking your expenses this semester, you can get an idea of what the next semester will cost you and create a better budget for the future.

Unsure of how to start your college budget? Try using a budget calculator to help get you started and don’t forget to account for those unexpected college expenses. Understanding what you’re going to spend when is invaluable information and could save you thousands.

College Raptor has resources and information to not only make your college search easier but also help you smoothly transition into the college experience.


Need additional money to help you fund the gap? Search and apply for scholarships now with our FREE Scholarship Search tool.

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