Hidden College Costs: What Parents Need to Know

Are you and your child prepared for the true cost of college? While tuition, books, and accommodation are the obvious expenses, there are numerous other financial considerations that can significantly impact your budget.

From room fittings to transportation, food to entertainment, clothes to personal hygiene items, it’s essential to account for these additional costs when determining the overall price tag of a college education.

Room Fixtures

Whether your child is staying in a dorm or off-campus, you’ll probably need to buy some items to fit it out. Dorm rooms are very simple with little more than a couple of twin beds, a desk, and if your child’s lucky, a small bookshelf. Even fully furnished off-campus apartments only have the basics, so you’ll need to spend money on items to make the place functional and homey.

Some items can come from your child’s room at home, but that may not be enough. You might find yourself spending money on a bookshelf, sheets and blankets, a power strip, and lighting. Fitting out your child’s dorm room or apartment can easily cost hundreds of dollars.


Transportation is a big cost for any person living independently, and your child will be no different. If your child lives off-campus they’ll likely use public transport or their own car to get to and from class. Public transportation is probably the cheapest option, but the small weekly amounts will add up from semester to semester. If your child has a car on campus, he or she will likely need to pay for a parking pass.

Those items are just the start of your child’s transportation costs. They will likely need to go to the store to buy personal items, clothes, and food. They may also incur travel expenses from social activities.


When your child lives away from home, they can’t rely on you to put dinner on the table. They have several options on most campuses. Most colleges have several food plans you can choose from, all ranging in the price and the number of meals your child gets per week. While this is an expense in addition to tuition, scholarships and loans can cover the cost. Some families decide to skip the meal plan to save money in the long run, but doing that means your child will have to visit the grocery to buy their own food.

This comes down to what you can afford now, and whether or not you want to pay off larger loans later. Food isn’t cheap, as you well know from having your child live at home!


Part of enjoying the college experience is making new friends and having fun experiences outside of academics. That often means nights out at local bars, trips to the movies to see the latest blockbusters, and weekend getaways.

Entertainment costs are one financial category that can easily blow out. Every parent wants their child to have fun at college, but no one wants their child to take advantage of them either. Negotiate an acceptable weekly or monthly entertainment budget with your child. The amount you agree on will likely depend on how social your child is and your own income.


This is probably the category parents are least likely to consider when budgeting for college expenses. Your child already has clothes, so why would you need to buy them new ones just for college? If your child is studying far away, a new wardrobe might be essential for coping with the climate. A wardrobe fit for Wisconsin won’t be entirely functional for the Californian climate. New professional clothes are also important for job interviews, volunteer experiences, and internships. Many schools offer intern experiences as early as freshman year, and some schools even require them, so it’s best to be prepared.

Personal Items

Your child will need to be able to purchase soap, deodorant, shampoo, menstrual products, razors, and any other personal hygiene items they use regularly. Whether they find a job on campus, they rely on an allowance, or some mix of both, it is important to work with your child to develop a budget for personal hygiene products.

You should be under no illusions: college is expensive. Even if your child has a scholarship covering some or all of the tuition costs, additional expenses like those outlined above will add up. Students have limited earning potential, so parents often find themselves filling the financial gaps. Consider all the costs involved with the college to develop a realistic budget for your child’s college years.

Share the knowledge