CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – Students are preparing to either go back to school, or are first-year students, but are they financially prepared?

Parents and students have been anticipating going away to college all summer, and they might have a solid plan of how they will cover the tuition bill, but there are hidden costs and the challenges of keeping students on a budget now that they will be on their own.

To help navigate first-year college students, AAA offers several saving tips and hidden costs to look out for.

Hidden Costs

  • Club and organization fees – Lots of students like to join campus clubs or organizations to meet new people with similar interests and many of these clubs have fees.
  • Sorority and Fraternity – Students can either join or be recruited to join these organizations for many different reasons but there can also be additional costs to sororities as well.
  • Professional clothes – When packing, not many students think about suits or professional attire but if students are looking for an internship, part-time job, or other type of interview, they may be making a quick trip to a local mall or boutique.
  • Transportation costs – Even if you have accounted for the cost of flying your student halfway around the country to go to college, once they get on campus, they are going to want to explore the local area shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues, which means they will be taking Ubers, cabs, and buses.
  • Parking – If your student is not going that far and plans to bring their car with them to school, they will have to get a parking pass, oil changes, gas, and insurance.
  • Entertainment – Once on campus, your student will make friends, which can lead to nights out at the movies, restaurants, local concerts, and other expenses.

Saving Tips

  • Textbooks – Instead of buying new books, consider used books or even renting books. Once a student starts to make friends, they may have the same classes and could consider sharing a book with them as well. If possible, try to verify with the professor that they will be using the recommended books before the class starts.
  • Parking – Leave the car at home as there are lots of costs associated with having a car on campus. Most campuses have buses that can take students to town and more.
  • Off-campus housing – Consider sharing an apartment with multiple roommates off-campus to offset the dorm costs. Students can still use a campus-based meal plan or cook their own meals to save more money.
  • Fitness – Use the school gym, if available, instead of paying for a private gym, and a bike is not only a good way to get exercise but can help save on transportation costs as well.
  • Scholarships – Many students look for scholarships but find it a frustrating and overwhelming process, but staying determined and applying for scholarships the entire time they are in college can pay off even if they win a small scholarship.
  • Food – Consider the students’ lifestyle when choosing a meal plan. If your student usually skips breakfast, don’t spend the money on three meals a day. Instead of stopping at that brand name café, brew a cup of coffee in the dorm room. Little choices like this can add up to big savings.

Staying on Budget

  • Keep Track of What You’re Spending – This is one of the most important things, but can also be one of the hardest things to do for a college student who already has a busy schedule. Using budget apps can simplify this process and keep students engaged. Mint and Pocket Guard are two popular budget apps.
  • Reloadable Debit Card – Students always call home for money as soon as they run out. Parents can use a reloadable debit card so they can keep track of how much money the student is spending. Start with a small amount to keep your student from overspending.
  • Keep a close eye on spending habits – If you start with a small amount on the debit card and your student wants you to add more money to it, make sure they explain to you what they spent the money on. If they have been using one of the apps, this should be easy for them to do.
  • Make adjustments – Using this approach you should be able to see what your student is spending money on and have conversations with them to understand how to adjust and control their spending. For example, if they are eating off campus a lot as they are tired of the cafeteria food, cancel or reduce their meal plan for next semester.
  • Increase income – If your student is having a hard time staying on the budget, they could consider getting a part-time job on or off campus and applying for a federal work-study job the next time they apply for financial aid using the FAFSA form.

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