The biggest parts of the cost of college are tuition and fees and room and board. Yet you cannot overlook the other expenses you will have, and this month's newsletter will address keeping those costs in check. Even though estimates for these costs are included in the official college "cost of attendance", these are not paid to the college. You have total control over how much you spend.
First, books. You want your son or daughter to avoid buying new textbooks. Instead, rent them or buy used. Here are three specific ways to do that:
Chegg.com is the "go to" site for renting books. It is easy to set up an account and the books are shipped quickly. Save the box and returning the books at the end of the semester is as easy as printing a shipping label. You might also find a coupon code for Chegg on retailmenot.com.
Amazon.com is a great place to look for used books in their Amazon Marketplace. You want to be sure that the seller has a good reputation, but having Amazon involved in the transaction provides a degree of safety. Amazon also has an interesting buy-back program. You purchase a book, either new or used, and you can sell it back to Amazon at some point in the future. The result is you pay a "net" price similar to a book rental. This is not offered for every book but check to see if you can take advantage of it.
The link to Amazon Textbooks is here.
Finally, your college's bookstore might have some used books or book rental options. If the bookstore is online, you can find out fairly easily and use that information to compare prices. Remember, the books at the bookstore are not any "better" than the books from Amazon, so don't pay more than you need to just because they are on campus.
Make sure you have arranged for the books over the summer. If you wait until you get to campus in the fall, you'll be more likely to end up buying new books at the last minute from the bookstore and wasting hundreds of dollars.
TIP: Get the ISBN of each book you will need. How do you find that? When you register for your classes for next fall, the school has to give you the ISBN of the required books. Be sure to save that information so you can get the books from an alternate source. College textbooks are notorious for changing editions slightly every few years and you want to be sure you have the correct ISBN, not just the name of the text.
Next, spending money. We're going to touch on a number of aspects of spending money and if you'd like more information on any one, please drop us a note.
Activities and Greek Life: Many things at college are included in the tuition, but there are a number of extra charges to be on the lookout for. Fraternities and sororities are part of some students plans, and parents need to know that these groups are not inexpensive to join and be a member of. Budget a few thousand dollars, depending on specific housing and meal options, to cover Greek life. Special activities also have extra fees at many schools.
Allowance: Your son or daughter will need spending money at school. Parents often ask what is a "normal" allowance or budget, and there is no pat answer to that. It depends on many factors, but here is one way to approach the question.
First, determine what items are to be included in the allowance. You cannot determine an amount of money if you do not know what expenses it covers. We have a worksheet that you can download here to help you with this exercise.
Second, think in large categories like Food, Gas, and Fun. You might wonder why food is a category if you are paying for a meal plan, and certainly that will cover most meals. But there will be missed meals, times to go out with friends, and special snacks. Gas might not be a big item if you don't have a car on campus, but you might be contributing to the gas expenses of friends who do drive. Fun is the category for everything else: concerts, movies, t-shirts, whatever!
If each parent and your son or daughter come up with a range for those three categories, you can then all sit down and compare answers. This takes what can be an emotional decision and makes it more of a simple math problem. PARENT TIP: if you agree to review the budget after two months, you probably can get away with a lower figure at first. You will be hard-pressed to lower any allowance, but you can always increase it. Start conservatively, but be willing to adjust if needed, and tell that to your teenager.
You will need a system of getting the money to your son or daughter on campus. Will they be using the same bank they do now? Does that bank have a convenient ATM? Do you make deposits electronically or do you need to go to the branch? These aren't revolutionary questions but by figuring out the answers now, you'll avoid some hassle later.
Our final suggestion for college finances is to consider making your teenager an authorized user on your credit card. In the old days, students were inundated with credit card offers but those days are gone. Now, students under 21 need a cosigner. If you worry about emergency expenses, having an emergency credit card can be a stress reducer. Don't let your teenager use your credit card for convenience, but only for emergencies or with your pre-approval. This strategy isn't for everyone of course, but if you think your teenager is responsible enough to follow the rules, it can be a real help.
Often, parents don't think about (or want to talk about) some of these financial issues until late summer. With these tips and a little planning, you can make the financial transition from home to college go much more smoothly.