One of the many mysteries of college, especially freshman year, is what college actually costs.

Sure, you know there’s tuition. But how much will you need to make it through the first semester? The first year? It’ll probably be a pretty big chunk of change. Here are a few tips to help make that price tag a bit more affordable.

Equipment Start-up Costs

This is a whole new phase of life, so you’ll need to buy a lot of stuff at the beginning. It’s likely you’ll need school supplies or specialized equipment for your new classes. Try to spread the costs out so that you don’t have to buy it all at once. Just be careful that you don’t buy things you don’t end up needing. Focus first on things you know for sure will be useful (notebooks, a laptop, etc.), and then move to the things you might use (a fancy calculator, a special lab coat, etc.).

The Cost of Independence

You might be amazed at how fast cash disappears if you’ve never lived on your own before. There are things you’ll need on day one like bedding, towels, furniture, dishes, small appliances, and more. It’s best to focus on essentials first. Sure, a new TV would be nice, but if you buy that instead of cooking supplies, you’ll be stuck with expensive takeout and boring microwave dinners.

Once you’re actually moved in, you’ll pay for rent, groceries, utilities, and supplies every month. The sheer amount of things that you’re suddenly responsible for can be overwhelming. A budget helps you break up the costs and divide your money responsibly.

One of the easiest ways to create a budget is to split your income into three sections: needs, wants, and savings. A need includes the everyday things that you need to survive like food, utilities, toiletries, and laundry. Your wants are the other things that can make life fun but be cut in a pinch. Finally, it’s wise to dedicate part of your budget to an emergency fund and long-term savings every month.

Share the Load

If you’re moving out, you should consider getting roommates. This gives you people to share laughs,memories, and expenses with. If you do live with roommates, make a plan for who will buy what before you move in. That way you can avoid ending up with two mini-fridges and no coffee maker. If you’re moving in with new people, colleges often give roommates each other’s contact information before school starts.

It may also benefit you to share certain foods and dinners. It’s hard for one person to get through a gallon of milk or loaf of bread before it expires, but it’s pretty easy for three people. You may also ask about rotating dinner nights (ex: one roommate makes dinner for everyone on Monday, the next on Tuesday, etc.). It usually doesn’t cost much more to make a meal for two than it does for one and doing so saves money and time.

Messy Money Moments

You splurged and bought a new microwave for your dorm room. But when you show up with your stuff on the first day, it turns out you’re actually not allowed to have a microwave in your room. Thank goodness you held on to the receipt.

Receipts may seem like a waste of time—another scrap of paper in your pocket or another email clogging up your inbox. But, since you’ll be buying so much so fast, it’s important to keep all your receipts until you’re fully moved in and know what you’ll really need. Otherwise, you’ve spent part of your precious budget on things you can’t use.

Being a college student often requires working on a tight budget, but thoughtful budgeting choices can make it much easier to cover your expenses and enjoy this unforgettable experience.


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