College budgets can vary a lot from student to student and family to family. Individual colleges usually will provide a prospective student with a sample budget, but there are many variables—so the odds that it will resemble yours are small.
Sometimes it's helpful to see what a real-life budget looks like. Here's an actual accounting of costs from one family.
[Learn about unexpected college costs.]
Earlier this year, we showed you what Lindsey's freshman year expenses looked like at the University of Kansas. Now that her sophomore year is in the books, we've compiled those numbers as well. Here's the breakdown:
• Room and board: $7,150
• Sorority: $1,049
• One-time expenses (computer, printer, dorm room furnishings): $65
• Fees (campus, technology, orientation, parking, sports pass, etc.): $1,298
• Books: $629
• Deposits (enrollment and housing): $0
As parents, our total for the year was $13,171. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that we saved more than $4,000 from the year before. That's not supposed to happen, is it? Here are the factors that caused the drop:
We had no one-time expenses for computers or dorm room furnishings. We spent more than $2,200 on that last year, so that was a huge savings. We also saved on first-time fees and deposits for orientation, enrollment, and dorm contracts. We even saved the $10 student ID fee.
Books were also several hundred dollars cheaper this year. Book costs will vary from year to year as classes do, but Lindsey also rented her books this year, which may have accounted for part of the savings.
Second year sorority costs were a whopping $2,200 cheaper than the first year. That's something we didn't realize.
All of these combined brought our second year total costs down significantly, despite a slight increase in tuition and a larger increase in room and board.
[Find out if parents should pay for college.]
This fall I will be a junior at the University of Kansas, which means I am halfway through my college career. After my freshman year, my mom and I revisited our first year expenses as a guide for what incoming college students could expect (or try to avoid). Here is that breakdown for my sophomore year:
• Food: $944.95
• Clothes: $334.01
• Gas: $936.16
• Personal: $521.56 (honor societies, gifts, movie/concert tickets, etc.)
• Miscellaneous (Target/Walmart/Walgreens): $1,066.12
My spending total on the necessities (minus the occasional gift or movie ticket purchase) came out to $3,802.80. That's about the same as my freshman year total expenses of $3,544.60 for the same four categories.
It's also important to note that I earned $1,526.24 during the school year from my three part-time jobs: a transcriptionist for the anthropology department, an orientation assistant for New Student Orientation, and an office services assistant at a Farmers Insurance building.
My sophomore year expenses differed from my freshman year expenses in a few ways. My food expenses were higher this year because I'm no longer on the residence hall meal plan. On my freshman year meal plan, I was able to eat nearly every meal in the dining halls, only spending money on food when traveling or eating out with friends.
[See why students are paying an increasing share of college costs.]
This year I lived in my sorority house, which meant fewer options for each meal and less food on weekends. I also didn't have any refrigerator or pantry space to store food, so buying cheaper grocery store food wasn't really an option.
Also, my gas expenses were higher this year than my freshman year because I took several trips this year to Gulf Shores, Ala.; Tulsa, Okla., and Manhattan, Kan.
Although gas prices are high, I try not to sweat money spent on gas because it's always spent visiting people I love. If your student is trying to cut costs, suggest they start with their food or clothing budget first. Those road trips with friends are much more memorable than a new top or sub sandwich.
Finally, I was happy that I was able to earn more than $1,500 during the school year by working at campus jobs and returning to my summer job during winter break. Having one—or a few!—part-time jobs during the school year is a great way to add to your savings a little at a time, as well as take some of the guilt away when spending money on something such as clothes or movie tickets.