College provides an opportunity for students to become independent and create a life outside of their parents' home. In order to develop a realistic picture of independent life, students should prepare an estimate of their annual expenses. This estimate translates to a monthly budget for students to live within their income or allowance. Since costs vary regionally, conservatively estimate expenses for housing, utilities, transportation and food.
Undergraduates living in a college dormitory or campus housing often pay less for a room than they would for off-campus apartments or houses. While students living at home incur commuting and transportation costs, living at your parents' home for little to no rent saves money.
Your monthly housing costs vary widely according to region and whether you live with roommates to share expenses. Students whose parents pay for housing should still be aware of the cost for housing because their living situation may change during the course of their college education.
Rent and monthly housing costs may include basic utilities such as water and garbage collection. Tenants pay for additional services, such as Internet service, electricity, cable television and telephone. Companies such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon often bundle these services for a single fee. Telephone costs can accumulate if you have both a land line and a mobile phone. The utility company charges for electrical usage each month, which can vary according to season and size of the home.
Students usually pay for school expenses such as supplies, equipment and textbooks at the start of each semester. Costs for textbooks can add up to several hundred dollars, even if you are buying used books. Use past receipts or a class supply list to estimate your needs for the upcoming year and calculate how much you need to save each month to cover those costs.
Some colleges include a dining plan with on-campus housing fees. Students often limit their food choices based on convenience and cost. Since grocery prices can vary according to area, prepare your initial budget using the cost for on-campus dining. As you become familiar with the area, adjust your monthly food costs based on actual expenses.
Leasing or paying for a car loan involves monthly payments. Car insurance, parking, gas, repairs and maintenance such as oil changes aren't paid once a month, so these charges need to be estimated for the year and then divided by 12 to include the cost on a monthly budget. Remember that these costs may not be required every month, so don't spend the extra money in your bank account.
Even the most frugal college student needs a clothing budget to purchase or replace seasonal clothes and shoes. The clothing budget should also include costs for laundry and cleaning supplies. College dorms and apartment complexes offer a laundry room with coin- or card-operated washers and dryers. Estimate how many loads of laundry you wash each month, and calculate the cost. Add the cost for laundry detergent and fabric softener to your grocery list. Allocate a minimal amount, such as $10 a month, for clothing to cover a new pair of shoes and T-shirts each year.