A lot of people go into college thinking that the cost is limited to tuition payments. But with pricey textbooks, living essentials, and transportation, you can end up spending much more than planned. Keep note of these frequent money drainers and budget accordingly.
Textbooks & school supplies
If you think paying tens of thousands of dollars in tuition is crazy, just wait until you see the price of the books your professors assign for class.
Your best bet here is to first determine whether you actually need a personal copy of your textbook. For math and science courses—in which you can expect homework assignments to come from the textbook—the answer is usually yes. However, many humanities classes call for textbooks that you’ll end up using for only a day—or even never.
The easiest way to determine if you need the book is to quickly look through the syllabus and see how much reading comes from a specific book. You can also rely on people who previously took the class for answers. Ask your RA, check CULPA reviews, or ask TAs. If you determine that you do need the book, always compare the prices of your textbook across various companies. Across textbooks, new ones are the most expensive and ebooks are among the cheapest (but be sure to check if there is a free pdf version on the internet).
Renting textbooks will almost always be cheaper than buying one, but make sure to check prices online before you fork over your cash because there are some cases in which buying a used book online is cheaper than renting. (And always check to make sure you have the right edition!)
If you’re willing to confine your studying to Butler, copies of textbooks are kept in the stacks for student use. You can only use them for two hours at a time, so make sure to frequently check them out or make photocopies of important pages.
Your school supplies also have the potential to cost a ton. The trick here is to stick only to the essentials and to buy generic brands, no matter how cute those designer folders look. Avoid shopping for supplies at the CU bookstore, since the prices are generally higher than at other places, and scour for deals online instead. You can still have a cute studying aesthetic, but do your research ahead of time.
Summer storage fees
As you approach the end of your first year, you’ll face the looming deadline of moving out of your dorm. If you don’t live within driving distance of the New York area, chances are that you’ll need to find a place to store all your college items. And even if you are within driving distance of Columbia, you might still want a place to store everything—you’d be surprised by how much stuff you accumulate by the end of the year.
Your options depend on your situation. If you have a good friend or a roommate who lives nearby, see if they can store a few of your things over the summer for free. If not, lots of companies offer great deals for summer storage. (Here’s a nice little link comparing several places for CU students.)
Travel & transportation
With the benefit of going to university in the greatest city in the world, actually getting around and exploring the city can end up costing you a lot. The subway and buses, which you will likely use the most frequently, are the cheapest options. Fill up a MetroCard with $20 to $30 when you get here and refill it as needed. If you’re planning to go out into the city and don’t want to always take the subway, make some room in your budget for those late-night drunk Ubers back to campus.
Don’t bother getting a weekly or monthly MetroCard when you first get here. While you might want to explore the city as much as you can, you probably won’t have that much time during the school year to warrant an unlimited MetroCard.
If you’re not from the city, another cost you will likely encounter is travel to and from home during breaks and holidays. Check out our travel booking hacks to make your journey as cheap and painless as possible.
Greek life dues
If you’re planning on going Greek at CU, keep in mind that each organization comes with monthly membership dues. While the Panhellenic Council encourages students not to be discouraged because of finances (most fraternities and sororities have grants and other helpful ways to help you pay), keep in mind the financial commitment. (For example, first-semester sorority dues are usually around $650 and around $350 per semester after that.)
Groceries & alcohol
Sooner or later, you’re going to find yourself either sick and tired of dining hall food or too damn lazy to get out of bed and walk to the nearest one. It’s always a good idea to keep some of your favorite snacks and fruits stocked in your mini fridge (seriously, the dining halls tend to have less variety of fresh fruit during the winter months when your body needs that nutrition most).
In order to save money on your groceries, try to buy things that don’t perish too quickly. If you want to get fruits and veggies, be sure to eat them soon after you buy them. Don’t buy large quantities and purchase fruits and veggies that freeze well if you know you won’t be able to finish them all.
Another good idea is to venture out of MoHi if you’re looking for deals. A quick subway ride down to Trader Joe’s or other cheaper grocery stories could save you big in the long run (bonus points if you head down with your roomies and fend off the crowds together for some ~bonding~).
And finally, keep an eye on your alcohol bill. NYC liquor is not cheap—we’re talking anywhere from $7 to $15 range for a cocktail—and that bill will add up quickly when you’re out with your friends. If you’re looking to save, trying staying in with some friends and buying your own bottles from a liquor store (if you’re of legal age, of course). Or, just mooch off of other people having parties, like a true college-student on a budget. But, as always, please drink responsibly.
Dating & social outings
With all the new friends you’ll be making, you’ll likely want to head out and spend time with them outside the MoHi bubble. However, be warned that going out on the weekend can be a costly venture. Create a monthly budget for yourself so you know how much you should and shouldn’t spend at any given time, or find fun things to do that don’t cost money. Luckily for you, NYC is full of fun, free activities all year round, so check back with Spectrum throughout the year for info on affordable activities around the city ;).
College is expensive, so don’t drive yourself into more debt than necessary. Be savvy with your money and make room in your budget for the unexpected. After all, it’s better to spend less than planned than to blow through your budget before NSOP is over.
Mariella Evangelista is a Spectrum staff writer and a rising Barnard sophomore. She spent so much money on produce from Westside Market this year that it now accounts for half of her budget for next year. Know yourself. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.