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  • Software subscriptions and laptop repairs can add up. Reach out to your school to see if they offer student discounts.
  • Check out free events on campus rather than going out to dinner with new friends.
  • Doing your laundry for the first time? Save on laundry costs by wearing some clothing items more than once, and only doing full loads of laundry.

Planning your college budget when you’ve never been a college student before can be, well, tricky. You know you’ll need to account for tuition, books, and food… but what else? Leaving room in your budget for some unexpected expenses—from laundry fees to late-night pizza—can make these costs more manageable.

1. Software subscriptions

Whether you’re a visual arts major who works in Photoshop or a computer science student who uses MATLAB®, you may need these tools to complete class assignments. And having access to Microsoft Word® and Microsoft Excel® can be helpful for a wide range of subjects.

How to save: Before you hit buy, look for student discounts, which are offered by many of the major software companies. Many companies, like Microsoft®, even provide their software for free for students who have a valid school email address. You could also try using the software in the library or on lab computers.

2. Printer ink

Printing costs add up quickly, whether you own a printer and buy your own paper and ink, or pay the library to use theirs. Your costs will partly depend on your work style. Can you study off a laptop screen, or will you need to print materials? Can you write a paper without physically highlighting your source materials, or will twenty open tabs drive you nuts? Your major and your professors’ preferences about accepting digital submissions will make a difference, too.

How to save: Use “draft” or “economy” mode when you’re just printing notes or source material for yourself. Skip printing in color whenever you can. And to save on paper and help the environment, always print double-sided.

3. Your social life

You’re about to make new friends, and you’ll want to spend time doing things with them—many of which cost money. Lunch with your study group, and going to sports games are just a few examples of these expenses.

How to save: Campus life is full of free or low-cost events. Many of these even serve free food! Look for fliers around school and student websites advertising these, and plan your social outings around them. Meeting friends for coffee instead of lunch or dinner can also cut back costs.

4. Devices

Between taking notes in class, writing papers, doing research, and even attending virtual sessions, your laptop will practically become an extension of you during college. So make sure that you have extra cash available for repairs or a replacement if yours breaks mid-semester. Same goes for your phone or any other devices, like a tablet, that you rely on regularly.

How to save: Some colleges have loan programs that allow students to borrow laptops at no cost. A few even provide free laptops as part of enrollment. It’s worth checking with your institution’s IT department and library to see what technology is available for free. Lots of tech companies offer student discounts, so definitely look for those. Buying refurbished devices and recycling or trading in your old ones can also help lower the cost. And often, certified refurbished phones and laptops are as good as new.

5. Your wardrobe

Your clothing needs may change in college. For example, if you’re going to college in a climate that differs from the one you currently live in, you may need to invest in some new items. And if you’re used to having a washer and dryer at home, you may also want to buy more of certain clothing items so you don’t have to do laundry as frequently, since it’ll now require a trip to the laundry room or a laundromat. Speaking of laundry, that’ll cost you a few bucks a load, too, plus detergent.

How to save: Shop the sales for big-ticket items, like a winter coat. Hitting up thrift stores can help you save, too. As for laundry, you can save by getting more wear out of items like jeans and sweatpants before tossing them in the hamper, and waiting until you have a full load before washing. Also, skip unnecessary add-ons like dryer sheets and fabric softener.

Creating and sticking to a budget will help

Keeping track of how much money you have to spend and where it’s going every month will help you stay on top of your finances. The first step is understanding how much you have to work with each month (your income, allowance, student loan funds, etc.). Then make a list of all the expenses you can think of, with a projected amount you’ll spend. The key is keeping the sum of these lower than your total income.

Rather than getting frustrated each time an unexpected expense comes up, realize that budgets are fluid, and revisit your money plans regularly. Find a system (e.g., spreadsheets, apps) that works for you and adjust when you need to.

If managing your money in college seems daunting, know that you’ll get the hang of it over time. Unforeseen expenses are a fact of life—in college and beyond—and dealing with them now will prepare you for managing them into adulthood. Try to anticipate whatever expenses you can, and know that your budget isn’t written in stone. You can always adjust as you go. Like when you realize just how much cash you’ll spend on late night pizza.


MATLAB® is a registered trademark of The MathWorks, Inc., which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this site.

Microsoft®, Word®, and Excel® are registered trademarks of the Microsoft Corporation, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this site.

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