College costs have risen more than 80 percent for tuition, fees and room and board at public, four-year institutions since the 1997-98 school year, according to the College Board. This has parents and students considering how to afford college and ways to save money. One way to lower the total cost of attending college is to manage living expenses. Whether you live on campus or off, it's possible to use strategies to limit college expenses. However, choosing where to live isn't only about cost; convenience is another factor to consider.
Living with Your Parents
Perhaps the easiest way to reduce living expenses is to live with your parents and commute to school. If your family lives within driving distance, your main expense will be gas and parking. If the bus or train is an option, that may also reduce your transportation costs. Living with your parents can help save you money on food and laundry as well.
The whole family can benefit from this arrangement since it means your parents won't have to help you pay the cost of living away from home, and you have the chance to save money while attending college — thousands of dollars, in fact. According to the College Board, the average cost for in-state room and board during the 2017-18 school year is $10,800 at public, four-year institutions.
When you live at home, however, it's important to consider your adult experience. There's a chance you might not develop the same life skills, such as budgeting and taking care of your own meals and clothes, when you rely on your parents to take care of you. If you choose to live at home, work out a way to practice these skills too.
Living On Campus
When you live on campus, you don't have to worry about commuting, but there are other expenses, such as room and board and meal plans. The latter can be pretty pricey: The average three-meal-a-day plan, which covers the academic year, costs about $4,500, or $18.75 per day, according to a recent story in the Hechinger Report, a publication that covers inequality and innovation in education.
However, in addition to dorms, some universities offer apartment-style living that lets you live close to campus amenities while still being able to make some of your own food. Consider that even when you live in dorms, it's also possible to purchase smaller meal plans, creating a hybrid situation where some of your food comes from school and some you prepare or obtain elsewhere. Whether you live in a dorm or on-campus apartment, the flexibility to prepare meals at home will help offset some of your costs.
Campus living can also be an advantage if you have an on-campus job or a work-study position. Having everything close can help you better manage your schedule and save time and money on a commute.
Living On Your Own Off-Campus
The farther you are willing to live from campus, the lower your monthly rent is likely to be, although this isn't always the case. Data from the College Board about living expenses for independent, off-campus students varies by region and other factors. For the country as a whole, a moderate 9-month budget for 2018-19 is $18,730. In the Washington, DC, Arlington and Alexandria region, that jumps to $22,101.
Look for a residence that fits your budget, no matter its location. You may need to account for a longer commute to campus that can impact your availability to work on top of going to school, as well as cost more money for transportation. However, carpooling with other commuter students can be one way to reduce gas and parking costs.
Another strategy is to choose to live near campus with roommates to save on housing expenses, and avoid commuting costs by walking or biking to campus. Housing next to a school can offer access to amenities without the same premium associated with living in dorms. This option offers you the ability to live independently while getting a taste of college life.
Before you make a decision about where to live, weigh your options and create a budget. No matter your living situation, look for strategies that can reduce your college expenses so you don't break the bank.