How to Pay for Living Expenses While in College

Posted by Frank Gogol

Going to college in America isn’t cheap. Tuition rates are on the rise, as are rent and other living expenses. Figuring out how to support yourself while in school isn’t easy.

Below, we’ll discuss the costs college students face, as well as what to do if you find yourself coming up short.

3 Types of Costs for College Students

Broadly speaking, there are three types of costs you have to worry about as a student.

Direct Cost for College Students

The first is direct costs. These are any expenses you have to pay to continue attending school. They include tuition, as well as textbooks, meals plans, and dorm fees.

Indirect Cost for College Students

Besides the fees the school charges, there are also many indirect costs associated with college. Depending on your situation, these indirect costs can include rent, gas, car insurance or cell phone bills. It’s important to keep these costs in mind when budgeting for school.

Cost of Attendance for College Students

The third type of cost you should consider is the Cost of Attendance (CoA). The CoA represents the average total cost students pay to attend your school. Lenders calculate the CoA by adding the direct costs to the average indirect costs for the area.

If you are using financial aid or taking out loans for college, your CoA is important to keep in mind. You cannot take out student loans greater than your CoA. If your student loans don’t cover all your living expenses, you may need to budget more carefully or take out private loans.

5 Ways to Cut Living Expenses While in College

Here are some simple ways to lower your expenses:

Make a Budget

The first thing to do is make a budget. Open an Excel file, list your income, loans, and all your expenses. Set a limit for yourself on for how much you can spend and try to stick to it.

Tracking how much you spend can be an eye-opening experience. Many people don’t realize how much they spend on small things like coffee or meals out.  For instance, how much do you spend on Starbucks? You might be able to save a lot of money by making your coffee at home.

Rent Textbooks

The cost of textbooks adds up quickly. To reduce costs, try renting them instead. Most college bookstores offer a rental program.

You can also ask your instructors if they require the most recent edition of the textbook. It’s not difficult to find older, used copies at bookstores or the internet.

Also, make sure to check your college library.  They may have copies of new and old editions of the text.

Live at Home

If you haven’t traveled far to go to school, living at home can save you a ton of money. You won’t have to pay for rent or college dorm fees, and living at home can save you money in other ways as well. For instance, having access to a kitchen means it’s easier to cook your own meals, instead of going out to eat.

Not everyone wants to spend their college years living with their parents, but the savings might be worth it. Even if your family doesn’t live in your college town, a relative might be able to put you up.

Make the Most of Student Discounts

Another great way to save money is to be on the lookout for student discounts. Hundreds of stores offer great discounts. You can save on food at chain restaurants like Subway or Chipotle, get inexpensive clothing from J. Crew or Banana Republic, and keep up to date with news with a discount subscription to the New York Times. If you are looking for a new phone or laptop to start college with, Apple also provides educational discounts. Finally, students can receive a free, six month Amazon Prime membership, which is great for stocking up on dorm or apartment essentials.

Get a Meal Plan

College meal plans can be another great way to lower foods costs. A typical meal plan gives you a certain number of points to spend on campus each month. Most campuses feature a large, all-you-can-eat cafeteria, along with smaller eateries. Some even partner with local restaurants close to campus. By stocking up and planning your meals carefully, you can save a lot of money.

If you have access to a kitchen, cooking at home is going to be cheaper, but only if you have the skills and self-discipline to cook. If you find yourself eating out every night, a meal plan still might be the less expensive option.

If you’ve cut all the corners that can be cut, and you are still struggling with expenses, then a personal loan may be your best option.

Personal Loans for College Living Expenses

The first thing to understand is the difference between a personal loan and a student loan. A personal loan will require a credit check, while most education loans do not. But the most important difference is who gives you the money and what you can use it for.

When you take out an educational loan, even if it is a private loan, the money will be disbursed by your school. The school will first use the money to pay for your tuition, and only then will you be able to claim the remaining amount. There are also restrictions on what you can do with the money. By law, you are only allowed to use it on educational expenses. You can use student loans to cover living expenses associated with attending school, but other uses are restricted.

On the other hand, a personal loan is disbursed directly to you and can be used for anything. You could use one to pay for additional training, like a coding boot camp. It could provide start-up capital for your great new app idea. A personal loan can also help cover large, unexpected expenses, like a medical emergency. And even after you leave school, personal loans are one way to consolidate debt.

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Check Loan Options

Loans for up to $25,000. No cosigner required. No prepayment penalty.


When planning for college, it’s important to keep all the costs of attending school in mind. A budget can help you realistically assess these costs and locate areas to cut.  And if you find yourself stretched, a personal loan can help bridge the gap between your financial aid and cost of living.

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