College Costs

Once you’ve decided to go to college, one of the biggest decision factors in selecting which schools to consider is the cost of attending college. Tuition and fees are the biggest expense of going to college. Living expenses and lifestyle are also college cost considerations. There are many things you can do to keep college costs to a minimum. Learn more about budgeting, college cost breakdowns, and smart options to pay for college.

Tuition & Fees

College tuition and fees are the greatest costs of attending college. Consider taking courses at a lower-cost community college, then transfer the credits to a university to save money. Also, take as many credits as you can per semester to graduate ASAP and not extend your college beyond 5 years. Don’t forget that some classes with labs have additional fees.

Books & Supplies

Look into options for buying used books or renting books. When looking at purchasing a computer for college, shop around for the best price and look at refurbished computers for cheaper options. New Mexico’s tax-free holiday is a great time to buy supplies and save money.


Most schools offer various options for on-campus housing and dorm rooms. Compare these costs to renting a place nearby with roommates or consider living at home to save on rent.


Transportation expenses are another area where budgeting and planning pay off. If you live on-campus, you might not need a car. Using public transportation is another way to save money. If you have a car, don’t forget to factor in the cost of gas, insurance, and maintenance in your budget.


Food expenses are something that can be controlled with budgeting and planning. Many schools offer campus meal plans but compare the average cost of these to what you could cook yourself. If you use a meal plan, also budget for extra food costs. Food expenses can make or break a monthly budget. A $5 daily latte habit can cost $150/month.


It’s fun to go out. Dinner, movies, concerts, and events are great ways to connect with friends. Planning and budgeting for entertainment expenses is the best way to have fun and not have any financial regrets.

Other Expenses

Don’t forget to include miscellaneous expenses like your cell phone, clothing, and home furnishings when considering the full cost of attending college. It’s also good to set aside money for emergencies.


Planning Today Saves Headaches Tomorrow

There are hundreds of articles and calculators geared to get college students to plan and stick to a budget. The bottom line is that running out of money stinks. Unfortunately, too many students have to experience this firsthand before they learn how to budget in college. Don’t let this be you. We recommend including these college costs in your budget. Here are some college budgeting tips and basics along with a budgeting worksheet to help prepare for college.

Know Your Monthly Income

Do you have a job? Are your parents giving you money? How much financial aid is going to living expenses? Do you have to stretch out your financial aid lump sum for an entire semester?

Track & Review Your Spending

Keeping a record of everything you are buying will help you know where you can save and what you really want to splurge on. There are several online tools to track your spending.

Define Your Fixed Monthly Expenses

How much are your rent, utilities, phone, internet, car, and other fixed monthly payments? Know the number you need to live on at the bare minimum.

Estimate Your Other Expenses

Once you are tracking your spending, you can truly see how much money you are spending on things like dinners out, clothing, groceries, and other costs. See where your money is going to determine where you can save.

Figure Out Your Needs & Wants

Do you really need your daily $5 coffee? Can cooking at home save on food costs? What are your real essential expenses like rent, and what are things that are nice to have?

Set Rules for Expenses

Without a budget and guidelines, it’s easy to spend on things you might want but not need. If you set up rules for spending, you can keep on track and save for things like vacations or a new car.

Use an App to Track Your Expenses

There are many apps to help you track monthly spending. They also help college students set up and keep to a budget plan. See budget app recommendations from Forbes and Nerdwallet  


Save for Emergencies

We recommend you have an emergency fund set up for unexpected expenses like medical emergencies, car accidents, etc.

Pay for Everything With Cash

Credit and debit cards can be invisible money. Paying for things with cash can help make you keenly aware of how much money you have.

Understanding Credit

Establish and maintain good credit

Having a good credit score and history is critical — it not only affects your ability to qualify for loans, but it also can dramatically affect the price you will pay for the interest rates on loans and insurance. Poor credit can also affect your ability to qualify for good jobs. Learn more about what factors go into maintaining and establishing good credit.

Credit Report

Reviewing your credit reports is a good way to learn if you have anything that may prevent you from qualifying for a loan and an essential way to identify and avoid identity theft. You can request a free copy of your credit report annually — one from each of the three agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

The only website authorized to issue your free annual credit report is 
Beware of other websites that claim to offer free credit reports, free credit scores, or free credit monitoring.

Credit Report Details

The type of information in a credit report includes:

  • Payment histories and if payments have been made on time
  • Your employment history and income
  • Previous addresses
  • Auto and home loans
  • Public records such as bankruptcies, tax liens, and foreclosures
  • Businesses requesting your credit history

Review your Credit Report for Mistakes

If you do find a mistake in your credit report, immediately contact the consumer reporting agency. Keep copies of your correspondence and your documents. If they agree that there’s an error, they have to notify the other major consumer reporting agencies. Learn more about your free credit reports.

Saving for College

One of the best ways to pay for college is with savings.

Starting to save for college as early as possible can make a huge difference in funding future education expenses. When you start saving for your child’s education early, the interest earnings on your investments can really add up over time. Paying for college with a savings plan means your child will need less financial aid and student loans to attend college. Every dollar saved now is a dollar you won’t have to borrow and pay interest on later.

Woman graduate illustration

529 Plans

These college savings plans are designed to help families save for their children’s future college costs. Each state has a 529 college savings plan operated by the state.

  • Funds can be used for colleges nationwide and are not limited to the state of origin.
  • 529 savings plans offer federal and state tax benefits and deductions.
  • The plans’ owners stay in control of the accounts, and the person who sets up the account maintains control of how the money is withdrawn.
  • 529 savings plans are low maintenance and offer the ability to contribute automatically directly from a bank account or payroll deduction.
  • You can withdraw funds from the college savings plan at any time for any reason, but tax penalties may apply.
    529 plan investment options can be changed twice per calendar year, and you can rollover your funds into another plan each year.
  • Compare the fees and performance of each state’s 529 plan to determine the best one to invest in; you do not have to invest in your state’s college savings plan.