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College Costs Beyond Tuition

All parents know that sending a student off to college costs a lot of money. But these costs involve far more than tuition and housing, and parents might not be prepared for how quickly these "extras" can add up.

Vera Gibbons of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine visits The Early Show to highlight the biggest expenses, and offer tips on cutting costs.

Clearly, the largest out-of-pocket cost beyond tuition is going to be room and board. That won't come as a surprise to anyone, and figuring out a rough cost estimate is also not much of a challenge. But there are other, less obvious, extras. Parents and students shell out at least $3,800, and studies do show that parents spend twice as much on college students as they do on elementary or secondary students.

The largest "extra" is typically a shock to most parents: textbooks. Believe it or not, the College Board estimates that students have to spend $800 or more on books each year. Nationally, students and their parents will spend $8.8 billion on textbooks this year, according to the National Retail Federation.

How To Save

Books:
New students may not realize that this is an option. Check with the campus bookstore, other local bookstores, friends who have taken the course previously and of course, online sources.

Check out bestbookbuys.com. This is one of the best places to shop for textbooks, Gibbons says. You can't actually buy on this site, but you can comparison shop and find the best deals on used textbooks from over 20 stores and book outlets. "In our tests, we saved 30 percent on average," Gibbons reports.

Supplies:
Depending on your student's major, it's possible to shell out a small fortune on other supplies, too. Gibbons suggests avoiding the campus bookstore and heading to office supply superstores instead. However, the campus bookstore may be just the place to buy a computer because some have bulk deals with certain computer manufacturers. For example, Yale's computer store sells Dell notebook computers for $500 less than they go for on Dell's Web site.

Cell phone expenses:
College students spend an unbelievable amount of time on the phone - talking to friends attending other schools, chatting with new friends and, hopefully, calling Mom and Dad. As a result, it would behoove parents to get their students a new cell phone plan.

  • Share a pool of minutes. Verizon, Cingular and T-Mobile have multiple-line national plans starting at just $50 a month, which includes unlimited calling between plan members. Compare plans on myrateplan.com.
  • Get a toll-free number: You can get a toll-free number at home, which costs you as little as 3.9 cents a minute. Several different companies offer this, and it just may convince your student to call home more often.

Car expenses:
It's also costly to have a car at school. Not only do students have to buy a parking permit, many are notorious for racking up campus parking tickets, which add up quickly at $20 a pop. Plus, if your student is attending school in an urban area, you may see significant increases in your insurance costs.
  • If you can convince your student to leave the car at home, it will save you in more ways than one. If your student attends school over 100 miles away from home AND leaves her car at home, your insurance rates will drop by at least 10 percent.
  • Consider also keeping the student on your policy. Even if your student does decide to take the car to college, keeping him on your insurance plan will be cheaper than insuring him individually. He/she will benefit from your premium reductions, such as those for multiple policies and vehicles. Plus, insurers usually determine rates based on the combined records of all the drivers in your household.
  • If your student doesn't drive his/her car to college, be sure to figure transportation costs into your budget. The College Board estimates that these costs run over $700 per student. Luckily, students are eligible for a variety of discounts. Gibbons suggests checking out smarterliving.com and studentuniverse.com. Also, if you're willing to fly stand-by, you can fly Airtran for as little as $55 a leg with a student ID.

Credit card debt:
There's another "extra" that can plague students for years to come: credit card debt. In their first week on campus, students will receive offers for eight different credit cards! (source:Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy) What's even more frightening is that the average student will double his or her credit card debt while in school.

Before your student heads to school, it's essential that you discuss how to use a credit card responsibly. Set limits on what can and can't be purchased with the card.

  • Get a card before school starts: It's interesting to note that students who obtain credit cards at campus tables have higher unpaid balances than those who do not.
  • Set limits on card: Ask for a low credit limit on your student's credit cards. Some cards even allow to limit the number of monthly transactions on the card.
  • Receive duplicate statements: Parents and students can both receive statements for the student's card. This helps you keep track of your student's spending habits, and allows you to address any problems before they get out of control.

Of course, college is going to be full of a million other extra costs - everything from sorority initiation fees to quarters for laundry. Again, having a heart-to-heart discussion with your student about money, budgets and expectations before he/she hits campus will benefit both of you. If you now fear that college is going to put you in the poorhouse, here's the good news: 77 percent of college students have a part-time job.
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