A Quick Guide to Living Off-Campus As a Student

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So you finally got into that school you were stressing about, and you’ve made the decision to find a place off campus. You’re basically living on your own now, and Mom and Dad won’t be there to bug you about responsibilities. Guess what? Now YOU have to remind yourself to be responsible for more things than you may be used to, but don’t worry because below is a comprehensive breakdown of the many things you will have to pay for with what little money you have. Just like with the classic novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, DON’T PANIC!

First thing’s first–there are things that you inevitably have to use your funds for, whether you have a side job, financial aid, or you took out student loans (good luck with that). This guide is excluding tuition because let’s face it, you needed to pay for it before you even got this far. Below is a list of the necessities (no, a fancy new TV or a cute pair of shoes don’t count) you’ll need to consider for scholastic purposes.

School Expenses

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Books:

Remember those awful heavy things you had to lug around in high school? Well, now you have to buy them yourself and they are typically a lot of money. Depending on your major and what classes you are taking this semester, you can have just a few books or over a dozen. Price ranges can also vary from under ten dollars to a few hundred, so doing some research before the semester starts will be helpful.

Of course, alternatives to buying brand new books exist; many schools sell used books at discounted prices and also rent out textbooks for even less. Schools also like to change the editions of books every few years or so, so be wary when looking for older versions of your textbooks online or from other students.

Office Supplies:

When the professor starts talking, you should probably be taking notes, right? Pencils, pens, notebooks, and folders will probably be commonplace in your backpack arsenal–no need to buy half of Staples to suit your needs. If you can utilize campus services that let you print out your papers and essays, a relatively cheap flash drive can save you plenty in printing costs (don’t forget about printer ink cartridges).

Computers & Software:

Hopefully you get some assistance in this area in form of getting a laptop from someone before starting school. Depending on your major, you may need a computer and certain software to complete assignments. You don’t need the most expensive laptop out there,as a machine that gives you good internet access and a word processing program is enough to get you started. Chromebooks are good choices for someone on a limited budget because they provide the bare essentials for doing student tasks.

Parking Passes:

Every school is different, but school parking lots can be expensive to park in. A single pass for a semester can cost well over $100, so deciding whether or not it’s worth the convenience is something you’ll have to evaluate in congruence with your personal finances. Of course, if you decide to find another means of traveling to school, that can save you quite a bit of cash every semester.

You thought that was it? You’ve entered the world of adulthood; it only gets more expensive from here, but with smart decisions and moderation, everything is workable. Here are some things you’ll need to think about when you are not in class.

Living Expenses

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Rent:

This one should be a no-brainer. The amount you pay can depend on many variables such as geographic location, how fancy your living complex is, if you are living in a house or apartment, and whether you are living with roommates or alone. The details of your lease should have been hammered out before you moved in, so it goes without saying that rent will be your most prevalent and ultimately largest expense during these next few years of higher learning. If you are living with other people, refer to our guide to dealing with roommates.

Utilities:

These services include your electricity, gas for heating and cooking, water supply, internet service, and cable subscription (avoid if you can). More times than not, these are included with your total rent cost, so you usually won’t have to worry about these expenses being on a separate bill. Of course, if you use these utilities in excess, you may see that monthly bill get bigger. Like many things in life, moderation is key.

Toiletries:

Basically the backbone of your personal hygiene (contrary to popular belief, that stuff does matter, even in college). Ranging from hand soap at the sink to your toothbrush, these items need to be purchased every now and then to keep you clean and pristine for that lecture early in the morning to impress that cute person you met in class. If you are thrifty, most of these things can cost under $10, so check out your local stores to find the best prices.

Furniture, Furnishings, & Appliances:

We all want our pads to look nice–after all, you are going to be living here for a while. A bed, desk, table, chest of drawers, chairs, and maybe a couch to fall asleep on during the week should be enough to get you started. Many apartments for rent come with basic appliances like refrigerators, microwaves, and ovens. Your best bet is to try not to spend money on these things, but instead bring used ones with you from family and friends to your new residence.

Maintenance & Cleaning Supplies:

Unfortunately, you’re going to have to get used to the fact that a parent or other relative is not going to be cleaning up after you anymore. A solid investment in things like a Swiffer broom/mop, dish soap, and toilet bowl cleaner can make your living situation not look like an episode of Hoarders. As wonderful as a “controlled chaos” mess your bedroom is, your fellow apartment dwellers and your own health will thank you for keeping things decently clean every week.

Food & Water:

Hopefully you won’t be too busy studying (or procrastinating on YouTube) to remember to nourish your body and replenish your energy with something that is not laced with chemicals and caffeine. Everyone has their own opinions about what is acceptable in terms of healthy eating, but rest assured you will feel better and have more energy if you invest in actual food rather than processed stuff. Like your toiletries, check out your local stores to find good prices. Eating out most of the time can be very costly in the long run, so making food at home is always going to be your best option.

Transportation:

If you’re lucky enough to go to a college that provides a shuttle service to and from your residence, take advantage of it. For everyone else, driving your car or taking public transportation will be another prominent expense on a monthly basis. Depending on your location, putting gas in your car can be a real pain, so keep those long road trips to minimum. Depending on your proximity, you may also want to consider walking or even using a bicycle to get to school on time. If you decide to take the more exercise-based methods of travel, do keep in mind what the seasonal weather is like in your region to make an appropriate choice.

Cell Phone:

As phones get more sophisticated, so does the price to use them on a monthly basis. If you have the option to stay on a family share plan, you may be able to avoid this expense entirely. Most modern phone plans provide a reasonable amount minutes per month for an actual phone call in addition to a large reservoir for texting if not unlimited. It’s your data usage that is a killer if you possess a smart phone, so try to use secure Wi-Fi signal when surfing the web when you can. It may be tempting to buy every app you hear about and use them constantly, but just remember that if you don’t have a plan with unlimited usage, staring at your phone for the majority of the day will cost you way more than you were ready for.

Car Expenses:

Owning a car can be expensive if you are not mindful of what is happening to your car day in and day out. Registration, insurance, oil changes, replacement parts, taking it to the mechanic, flat tires, and calling AAA can all add up. If you use a car and don’t have someone to help you with these expenses, regularly monitoring your car’s condition can keep many of these costs to a minimum. In other words, don’t put off that oil change!

Taxes:

If you have a job, expect the government to already be taking a sizeable chunk of your checks out in taxes. For most students, taxes due every April will either be minimal or non-existent due to your very low income; that is not to say your should not keep the IRS in the back of your mind when you’re spending money throughout the year.

Let’s take a moment to recognize optional things you will inevitably spend money on because you desire to have at least a partial social life. Do try to keep these to a minimum so you don’t get evicted (seriously):

  • Movies
  • Music
  • Video streaming services (Netflix, Amazon Prime)
  • Magazine subscriptions
  • Games
  • Entertainment electronics
  • Admission to events, venues, and concerts
  • Expensive specialty drinks (non-alcoholic)
  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco & vapor products

So we’ve laid out the many wonderful things that will take all your money away, but there is a silver lining. There are methods at your disposal that can help prevent you from falling in money troubles. Many of these methods come in the form of apps and new media that you can utilize on your own computer or smartphone. Here are some things to get you started.

Check your bank account regularly:

Sometimes looking at monthly bank statements don’t help you day to day, week to week. Most banks and credit unions let you view your account online at any time, so tracking what you are spending your money on consistently can help you pick and choose what is worth it and what can be cut as well as give you the real time amount left in your account.

Create a spreadsheet for tracking finances:

Simply inputting your expenditures into a spreadsheet program can give you an overall picture of where money is going. Another advantage is being able to plan for future expenditures and adjust spending habits accordingly. Think of it like the digital version of that little tracking book that came with your checkbook.

Apps & Software:

Ever since smart phones came out, there has been no shortage of apps and software to use for almost anything, from monitoring your health to ordering food. A relatively new banking system called Simple is becoming an increasingly popular method for people in the digital age to keep track of their expenditures and even withhold a portion of the their bank account total be allocated for things like rent and bills to decrease overdrafting and defaults. Check the Apple App Store or Google Play Store depending on your mobile hardware to see what apps are available to help streamline your finances.

DON’T PANIC! If you can handle juggling classes and assignments, this should be a breeze for you.