Student Housing: Room and Board Essentials
Next to college tuition, the biggest expense you’ll have during your college years is the cost of actually living—your rent being a large component of that. Thankfully there are lots of options for college students to choose from. Knowing the pros, cons, and prices of each will help you make a financially-sound decision, putting you one step closer to a life with less debt.
On-Campus: Dorm Room & Residence Halls
If you’re a college freshman, you might find that you are required to live in on-campus housing during your first year at school.
- Location: You aren’t close to campus. You’re already on it. You can walk to class in minutes and easily return to grab books for your next class. It’s ultimate convenience.
- Social connection: Living in a residence hall almost forces you to interact socially with the people in your building, and that can be a great way to meet new people.
- The roommate experience: A lot of people stay friends with their college roommates for life. There’s always struggles, but you might make one of the best friends you’ve ever had.
- Safety: Campuses often tend to have their own police. Dorm room floors are assigned hall monitors are the building are usually accessible only to people living there. This means your home-base is as safe as it can be.
- Cost: Living on campus, especially when you factor in meal plans, can be more expensive than living off-campus precisely because your costs are pre-determined and you can’t budget-shop for a cheaper residence.
- Square footage: While having a roommate can be a great experience, it can also be a stressful one, especially when you’re sharing such a small space.
- Shared amenities: You don’t get much private time or space in the dorms. Usually there are shared bathrooms, shared laundry, shared common rooms, et cetera. If you need private time, you might be spending a lot of time in the library.
- Limited access to kitchens: Some dorm rooms have shared kitchens. Some don’t have them at all. Point being: cooking for yourself can be a hassle, which means you’ll probably need a meal plan.
Renting an apartment, house, or room off-campus can be a great way to get involved in the local community, and can save you a lot of money.
- Cost: The price you’ll pay for living off-campus is up to you, and that’s the virtue here: choice. You can decide how much you want to spend and adjust your housing search accordingly. Key here: you’re paying for location. That means less convenient locations usually cost less.
- More space: Your money is usually “better spent” off-campus, meaning each dollar goes further. Get your own bedroom. Maybe your own bathroom. A kitchen shared with a few roommates instead of an entire residence floor.
- Flexible lease terms: This is especially true when you’re living in a college town. Landlords are often flexible on arrival/departure dates.
- More freedom: No more resident assistants telling you what you can and can’t do.
- Commuting: Not being on campus means you have to get there. That means more walking, or public transport, or you might even need a vehicle of your own.
- Deposits: Normally you’ll need to pay an extra month’s rent at the beginning of your lease as a security deposit, which you’ll get back when you leave. If you didn’t, say, knock over a wall or break a window.
- Utilities: Depending on your lease’s terms, you may be responsible for paying things like electricity, water, gas, trash pickup, internet, and other recurring costs, which you’ll probably pay every single month.
- More responsibility: When you rent off-campus, you have to deal with landlords directly. If faucets don’t work, the sprinklers are broken, or the windows are painted shut—well, you’re responsible for tracking down the landlord and taking care of business.
- A wider range in quality: This can actually be a positive or a negative. Sometimes you can get a really great apartment for cheap. Sometimes you might get stuck in a crappy basement. The point here: make sure you do your homework, see all potential properties, and give yourself an adequate amount of time to find an apartment.
Off-Campus: Living with parents
If you’re on a tight budget, or just want to save more money, living with parents can be a great plan. It all hinges, of course, on your college selection. You would, after all, have to go to college in the same place your parents live—which requires you to say goodbye to the dream of leaving home, at least for now.
- Cost: There might not be any! Although you’ll probably get stuck with some more chores…
- Food: Who wouldn’t want home-cooked over cafeteria-style?
- The burden of staying home. It’s pretty self-explanatory. College students want to grow up, be their own people, and experience a new kind of life. That’s more difficult when living with parents.
Saving on Room and Board
Living and eating at college obviously gets expensive, but as with all things, there are ways cut down on the high costs. Saving money on expenses means you’ll have more free cash for things you don’t have the option of not paying, like tuition. And it means you’ll have to borrow less to push your way through a higher education.
- Live in a forced triple. The forced triple is a pretty self-explanatory setup: three people in a dorm room intended for two. Schools will usually refund you a substantial amount of your housing bill if you volunteer to live in a forced triple, so it might be worth it even if space is tight.
- Bring Tupperware© and a backpack every time you go to your dining hall. The point? Eat there, then bring extra food back to your room. Save it for later.
- If you have a meal plan, stop eating out as much.
- When you do eat out, order water.
- If your dorm has a communal kitchen, use it. Learning to cook has two benefits: significant others surely appreciate a home-cooked meal, and it’ll also save you money. You can go to a grocery store and buy exactly what you want at prices you can afford.
- Go to events that have free food.
- If internet, cable, and telephone fees are optional, skip them. Do you really need all that in your dorm room? Go to the library instead.
- Do less laundry. Seriously, all those quarters add up. You can wear jeans twice if you don’t spill food on them or sit in the mud.
- Live with more people. A general rule: the more people living in a house, the less it costs each person to be there. Even if your rent is the same between houses (given that larger houses or apartments will, inevitably, cost more), costs for utilities go down. Split internet/cable/gas/electricity five ways, and you’ll find yourself saving bundles.
- Buy in bulk. If you don’t live with lots of people, stick to non-perishables like toiletries, pasta, and things that come in cans. If you have several roommates, it’s a good idea to shop with them and buy bulk items you can share—even perishables, since there’s enough people to eat them. You can save literally hundreds.
- Brew your coffee at home. Cut Starbucks or the coffee cart out of your daily routine and you could find yourself with a hundred extra dollars each month.
- Consider transportation. The cost of driving to and from campus can be a lot, especially when you factor in the cost of car insurance and parking. If you’ve got a car, keep it at home. Get a bike, use public transportation, or practice your walking skills.
- Check with family and friends. People usually have used stuff tucked in their garage or basement that never gets used anyway. Each used chair, or table, or mattress, or poster saves you money.
- Find free stuff. Many local newspapers have “to give away” sections in the classifieds, and often contain used household items. They may not be in prime condition, but if they work, so what? Also check out Craigslist and the Freecycle Network—both are great places to find great stuff for free, or very, very cheap.
- Bargain hunt. You probably won’t be able to find everything you need for free. But when you do have to buckle down and spend some money, do so resourcefully. Don’t just go to the store and buy the first thing. Comparison shop. Go online. Use eBay, Amazon, Overstock, and other bargain sites to save big.
- Get creative. Who says you need to buy a picture to hang on that empty wall? Why not paint the wall yourself? Or put a whiteboard there and do daily doodles? It’s more fun and cheaper.
- Go multipurpose. Why get a couch and a bed if you can have a futon that is, in essence, both? Think about all the corners you can cut, then cut them.