4 Things Your College Student Doesn't Need

You know that college tuition and room and board are pricey, but you may be surprised by the many other costs associated with everyday life on campus. There’s a long list of additional expenses facing college students, which is why it’s so important to avoid paying more than you need to or making purchases that aren’t really required.

The California Society of CPAs reveals just a few of the items you probably won’t have to add to your shopping list. 

#1: Shiny New Textbooks

According to a report from the National Association of College Stores, spending on course materials added up to an average of $579 in 2016-17. Instead of buying new books on campus, look into cheaper options, including used or rental copies, e-books that can be accessed from a computer or mobile device. In some cases copies of classics or popular titles might be available from the school or local public library for free.

Project Gutenberg (https://www.gutenberg.org) has more than 54,000 free e-books available in several formats and languages. Many are classics of world literature that students will study in liberal arts courses.

Also, make sure to note which books are required and which aren’t before purchasing everything on the list, since your student may never actually use the ones that are optional. Search online for the best deals on textbooks, and get some of your money back by selling the books you’re done with at the end of the year. 

#2: A Set of Wheels

There are many expenses related to owning a car, including gas, insurance, depreciation, maintenance and repairs, license fees, registration fees and taxes, as well as finance costs related to an auto loan or lease.

In its most recent study, AAA found that owning and operating a car currently costs an average of $8,558 a year. Unless the student is a regular commuter, it probably makes sense to leave the car at home or forgo purchasing one at all.

There will be travel costs for trips home during the summer and other breaks, but once you’ve estimated those, you may find they’re less expensive than the price of keeping a car at school all year. 

#3: The Wrong Meal Plan

Will your student be a cafeteria regular or will they find themselves grabbing a bite from a corner deli between classes or heating something up in their room? It’s tough to know in advance.

In picking a meal plan, find out if you can rollover any unused dollars on your plan into the next year, so they aren’t wasted. Some parents start by picking the most basic (and least expensive) meal plan and adding on later if that works best for their student (and if the school allows it).

Remember that your student may need advice about budgeting and shopping to ensure he or she can manage meals that aren’t covered in their plan.  

#4: Pricey Technology

If professors accept assignments via email, the cloud, or flash drive, then there’s probably little need to pay for a printer, as well as the ink and paper it will use. If you’re on the fence, find out if your student can print papers for free or at a low per-page cost in the campus technology lab or library.

Your student will certainly need a computer, but carefully evaluate his or her needs (which may be affected by their major, among other considerations) to see if the most expensive model is really necessary.

As part of your shopping, check out netbook computers and similar options, which allow users to access a range of Internet-based applications. 

Consult Your Local CPA

Are you seeking ways to plan for and minimize your college expenses? No matter what your financial objectives, your local CPA can help. Turn to him or her for expert advice on all your financial concerns. Visit 360finlit.org to find a CPA near you. 

Copyright 2017 American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

The Money Management columns are a joint effort of the AICPA and the California Society of CPAs as part of the profession’s nationwide 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program.