Whether it’s your child or your grandchild that is off to college, it’s no surprise that college costs have increased dramatically and will continue to do so over the years. At least you know how much to set aside to cover it all — the cost of tuition, room and board, and books, right?
While those are the main entities for a new college student, there are actually a variety of hidden costs that some families tend to overlook.
“Parents are overwhelmed by the true [price] of education, which they often have not thought about fully,” says Maura Griffin, CFP and CEO of Blue Spark Capital Advisors. “In many cases, they don’t [even] know how much college will cost until they get the financial aid letter.”
To help avoid any unwelcome fees (and a major headache), take note of these common hidden costs of attending college:
Laundry - While it might seem like a nominal fee, if laundry costs $3 per load and you do two loads a week, you’re spending more than $200 a year just on cleaning your clothes—and that doesn’t include detergent, dryer sheets and an iron. Speaking of laundry, your student may need to buy new clothes during the year as well. From special occasions such as semi-formals and internship interviews to more casual purchases such as school t-shirts, clothes can become quite become a fluctuating hit to any budget.
Greek life - While not a mandatory activity for college students, many choose to join a fraternity or sorority, and Greek life is one of the most expensive clubs to join. For example, at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, new sorority members owed between $335 to $647 just for their new-member fees, and new fraternity members at the small private school Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, owed an average of $2,000. And that doesn’t even come close to the amount owed throughout the four years, especially if you live in a chapter house. In fact, those who did reside in houses paid an average of $5,187 per semester. Before joining Greek life, be sure to determine what it will cost and if it’s affordable.
Parking - If you or your child is bringing a car to campus, parking fees will typically ensue — and they’re not always cheap. On average at most major universities, students are looking at an extra $250 or more per semester just to park a car on campus.
Storage - After each year, it’s convenient to tuck away all of your student’s belongings into a nearby storage facility so you don’t have to haul it all back home. To cut costs, book your storage facility early before summertime hits. And try to share with a friend so that you can split the costs (plus, there’s usually plenty of room for more than one person’s belongings). In addition, there may be student discounts available, so be sure to inquire.
Travel - If you or your child is attending college a plane ride or even a long car ride away, traveling back and forth can add up quickly — from airplane tickets to the cost of filling up the gas tank (and don’t forget about tolls). If you’re traveling home and back to school for every holiday and break and for summer vacation, or if your family visits you, this can be costly on both ends. Make sure to discuss what a realistic number of times to visit per year is, and take advantage of video messaging services such as Skype to help reduce some of these travel costs.
College should be one of the most exciting times in a student’s life, but don’t let it cripple your finances. Planning ahead can help ensure you have the money you need.