Sending Your Teen to College: Preparing a Student-Friendly Budget

Sending Your Teen to College: Preparing a Student-Friendly Budget


Going to college is exciting, but it also requires some financial planning, which is why budgets are so important for students. Aside from tuition, room and board, and textbooks, you need to consider everyday spending and savings, as well as sound financial habits.

We’ve broken down the most significant expenses you’ll need to budget for. Take your income into account as well to make sure you’re making enough to support your teen’s college needs…and if you’re not, it may be time for them to look into a part-time job or paid internship.

Quick Tip:  Here’s a handy college budget snapshot.

Tuition and Student Fees

Tuition is a considerable expense, and according to College Board, in the 2020-2021 academic year, the cost was approximately $10,560 to $37,650 per year, depending on in-state vs. out-of-state, and public vs. private tuition.

Additionally, most educational institutions also have their own student fee structure, including gym access, counseling services, sporting events, printing at the library, and other fees that are required.

School Supplies & Textbooks

Supplies that cost $20-30 in high school will increase to hundreds or even thousands of dollars in college, depending on your student’s field of study. Things like scientific calculators, online access codes, and textbooks add up quickly – and each class has its own requirements for the semester.

According to College Board, students spent an average of $1,240 during the 2020-2021 academic year on textbooks and supplies. Knowing that, your student may want to consider a part-time job or paid internship. Sites like Indeed or Glassdoor, or Handshake are great resources that college students can use to find on-campus jobs, internships, and part-time positions.

Room & Board

If your college student is living on-campus, you will avoid extra fees like garbage pickup or internet, but you will also need to buy an on-campus or dorm parking pass if your teen plans to bring a car to school. Living on-campus isn’t always the cheaper option, but some colleges and universities require it for incoming freshmen.

If your student is living off-campus, you should include utility fees like internet, electric, gas, water, trash pick-up, and other miscellaneous expenses it’ll cost to live independently.

Check the college or university’s room and board cost breakdown to compare it to local apartments or houses in your area to make sure you choose the option that best suits your budget.


Everyone needs to eat, and in college, some dining options are better than others. As a freshman, your student will probably be required to participate in the university’s on-campus dining package, including meal passes to the dining halls and restaurants. On average, these meal plans cost $4,500 for the academic year.

If your student is an upperclassman (sophomore or higher), they may not be required to participate in the on-campus meal plan. Instead, you will need to budget for groceries, restaurants, and other dining expenses in your student’s day-to-day life. Will they be cooking every day, going out on the weekends? Think of a plan and budget accordingly!

If it makes more sense financially to sign-up for the on-campus meal plan, make sure your student is enrolled in one that aligns with their schedule. For example, suppose they won’t be on campus every day. In that case, you purchase a smaller meal package for lunches or dinners instead of every single meal.

Transportation Fees

Whether they’re going to class, work, study groups, or a party, your student will always be on the go, so it’s essential to budget for transportation expenses.

If your student brings a car to college, they will most likely need an on-campus or off-campus parking pass, depending on the educational institution. If they are not bringing a vehicle, you’ll need to budget for a public transportation pass. University buses are typically free but check with your institution.

In addition, you may also need to budget for gas and ride-share programs, especially if your student will be traveling to places the on-campus or city bus doesn’t visit.


While it may not seem like much, clothing expenses can add up. As a freshman, your teen will probably want some spirit gear, which is not always cheap. By the time you buy university t-shirts, hats, sweatshirts, and accessories, you’ve racked up a few hundred dollars in expenses.

Additionally, if your student joins an organization or sorority, they may have specific uniform or event clothing requirements, which require additional spending.

And finally, if they get a part-time job or internship, they may need to invest in some work clothes, which can be a lot more expensive than everyday jeans and shorts. If your student needs to build a professional wardrobe, stick to staples like black pants, khaki pants, plain blouses, collared shirts, and some comfortable shoes. They can rotate the pieces and have a new outfit every day!


If your student plans on leaving campus on the weekends, or exploring their new home, then they will most likely need an entertainment budget. This category includes things like going to the movies, concerts, on-demand streaming services and more.

You may want to encourage your student to get a part-time job or paid internship to help cover some costs in this category.

Health & Wellness

We all get sick, so make sure you set aside money for health and wellness expenses each month. University care centers are often cheaper than urgent care or emergency rooms, so look into the cost of services before you go.

On top of office visits, you’ll also need to save for vaccinations (flu, meningitis, COVID, or other vaccines the university may require), medicine, and other miscellaneous health expenses your student may incur.

Emergency Savings

And if all of the above wasn’t enough, you’ll also need to put aside money for an emergency fund. Emergency funds are used for unexpected medical expenses, car repairs, necessary technology upgrades, and other expenses not accounted for in a daily budget. Check out our blog about starting, using, and saving for an emergency fund here.

Going to college is expensive, and with so much to budget for, you’ll want to track your income, savings, and spending. Using financial tracking apps like Mint or Spendee will help you categorize income, debt, and bills to make sure you have enough money allocated to each month. We have a blog that includes our favorite financial tracking apps that will make you and your student’s life easier.

And if you’re planning ahead for college, learn more about college saving plans, tips and tricks, and resources available to you and your family. Check out our blog to learn more about financial wellness.

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