The cost of college has been rising faster than the rate of inflation over the past several years and especially since the pandemic. In addition to the increase in college tuition, other school-related expenses such as books, fees, and housing continue to rise.
These ancillary expenses make the total cost of college pricier, but the good news is there are ways to help pay for or reduce the costs associated with on- and off-campus housing expenses.
Start Saving Now For College Housing Expenses
No matter where you plan to live, the first thing is to open a 529 plan and save beforehand. Of course, the advice to save money in a 529 plan is mostly applicable if college is still in the future.
If you're in school now and if you or a family member is paying for housing, it can benefit you to first contribute that money to a 529 and use it to cover your expenses. That way, you may gain some state tax benefits (similar to a Roth IRA) since your earnings will grow tax-free and you won't have to pay taxes when you withdraw the money.
Also, housing expenses are generally considered qualifying expenses for a 529 plan.
- If you reside on-campus and are paying your room and board expenses directly to an accredited university, it will be considered a qualifying expense at least half-time.
- If you live off-campus and are using the funds from the 529 for things like groceries and rent, your school may set a limit on how much of these expenses will qualify.
Check out a few types of savings accounts, including a 529 plan, to help you prepare for costs related to college.
$1/mo per child
(First $200 is free)
$1 to $10/mo
$3 to $6/mo
$2 per gift
(For the giver)
Live At Home To Save On Rent
One of the biggest ways to save money in college is to live at home. Of course, this requires that you attend a college or university that is close to where your parents or other family members live. Even if your parents charge you rent, you're still likely to save a decent amount of money by being at home.
Another option you may not have considered would be to buy a house. Buying a house isn't realistic for everyone, but in the right situations it can absolutely make sense. One scenario is if you have siblings that plan to attend the same school or colleges that are close to each other. Buying a house and living together will likely be cheaper than having to pay everyone's individual room and board.
Get A Job To Pay For Living Expenses
There are a lot of good reasons to get a job while you're in school. While your first priority should be your school work, it doesn't mean you can't also earn money when you're not studying or attending classes.
While you probably won't work 40 hours a week, even a part-time, on-campus job can help reduce the amount of loans you need to take out. A job can also improve your work ethic and time management skills for college and in your adult life.
Get Renters Insurance to Protect Your Stuff
Getting insurance helps protect the assets you already have, such as your laptop, other electronics, and books. Dorm room renters insurance might be something to consider - check with your school to see if they offer a discounted rate.
Renters insurance is best if you're living off-campus. Renters insurance helps pay for some monetary losses in situations where your possessions are stolen or destroyed. This could be caused by an unforeseen accident or something outside of your control.
Keep Track of How You're Using Student Loans
It's certainly possible to use student loans to pay for college housing, but stay vigilant of how much of the loans you're using for living expenses, since many of your loans will charge interest. Be just as careful about spending money via student loans as you would be about spending money on credit cards.
Even though credit card interest rates are typically higher than student loans, it's still a slippery slope when it comes to racking up debt. Take a look at this scenario:
Total (Multiplied by 4 Years)
Tuition, books, equipment
Housing and living costs
Tuition + Housing
If you had the cost of living ($80,000) covered by taking on a job, you'd have $120,000 to repay vs $200,000. Be vigilant about using loans to pay for living expenses and it may be helpful to write down what you're using the funds for.
When you see scenarios of individuals with over $100,000 in student loans, living expenses are a big driver of this!
The Bottom Line
The soaring price tag for college housing costs coupled with inflation and other factors, affect everything from energy to food. These costs are being passed on to you, the student, as schools raise fees for meal plans and dorms.
Make sure you have a plan in place to pay for college housing, whether it's on- or off-campus. If you still have a few years before college, make sure you’re saving money in a tax-advantaged 529 plan. If you're currently enrolled in college, look into getting a job, living at home, and signing up for renters insurance.
Above all, study hard and graduate on time so you don't have to pay for an extra year of college!
Robert Farrington is America’s Millennial Money Expert® and America’s Student Loan Debt Expert™, and the founder of The College Investor, a personal finance site dedicated to helping millennials escape student loan debt to start investing and building wealth for the future. You can learn more about him on the About Page, or on his personal site RobertFarrington.com.
He regularly writes about investing, student loan debt, and general personal finance topics geared towards anyone wanting to earn more, get out of debt, and start building wealth for the future.
He has been quoted in major publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox, ABC, NBC, and more. He is also a regular contributor to Forbes.