4 Ways To Lower Your Cost of Living at College

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From room and board to meal plans, the costs associated with living at college can add up quickly. If you're a student or a parent/guardian of a student who lives at college, there are ways to save money on the cost of living, from shopping around for a meal plan to living off-campus, even leaving your car at home. Keep reading to learn a few ways to lower the cost of living at college.

Key Takeaways

  • It's no secret that college tuition is not cheap. But coupled with room and board, meal plans, and other expenses, the cost of living and attending a college can really add up.
  • To save, look for alternative housing options like living at home and commuting, moving to a more affordable house or apartment off campus, or working an on-campus job that pays for room and board.
  • You can also get creative with your meal plan choice, and opting to live at college without a car may also save you money.

Ditch the Dorm

Depending on where the college is located, there may be housing options off campus that are more affordable than room and board costs for living in a dorm. Houses and apartments in the area may be a way to save on the cost of living at college and be just a short walk away from campus.

When looking for off-campus housing, save even more on rent by finding roommates to share the house or apartment with. Look for apartments or houses that come with free parking, a washer and dryer in the unit or building, and are close to public transportation and a grocery store.

If it's an option, you may also be able to save money by living at home and attending college online or by commuting to campus for classes.


Some colleges offer on-campus jobs that will pay part or all of room and board costs. Compensation packages may vary by the school and position, but a role as a student staff member in a residence hall could help you save money on the cost of living at college.

Get Creative With Your Meal Plan

Another expensive aspect of attending college may be the meal plan. Look to see if the college offers different types or levels of meal plans. There may be a lower-cost option that allows you to save money on dining hall meals. For example, if a college offered a meal plan that allowed you to eat two meals in the dining hall per day, you could opt to always eat lunch and dinner there, and make breakfast in your dorm room.

If you're living off campus, you may be able to skip the meal plan altogether. You'll need to go grocery shopping, and there are ways to save on that, too. Plan a weekly menu and take the time to pack your lunch instead of purchasing it on campus. You may want to consider starting a nightly dinner group with friends or roommates. If you cook one large meal and feed four people with it, it often costs less than cooking four smaller meals.

Leave Your Car at Home

If you have a car, you may be able to save money by living on campus without it. Colleges may charge you a fee to keep your car parked on campus, and then there's the added expense of needing to fill up your gas tank every so often if you drive the car. There are also monthly insurance costs, car maintenance, and registration fees. If you're not driving the car, you may be able to cancel those policies and skip paying those fees until you begin driving it again.


Many colleges offer student discounts on public transportation. Check the college's website to learn if there is a student discount on a monthly bus or train pass. There be other student discounts for other items as well, helping you save even more money while in college.

Look for Better Deals on Books

Textbooks for college classes can be expensive, depending on the course and topic. While many can be read digitally these days, via a tablet, laptop, or cell phone, some professors may ask students to buy a physical book still.

While spending on course materials has declined over time, it was still at an average of $339 per student for the 2021-2022 academic school year, according to research by the National Association of College Stores Student Watch.

Plan ahead and order used books online or see if there are students selling their used books on campus. You can also sell your old books and use the funds to put them toward the next semester's books.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are college living costs?

College living costs include any expenses you have to pay in order to reside at the college. These are separate expenses from tuition and application fees. They may include room and board, textbooks for in-person classes, and meal plans for the dining hall.

How much does being an out-of-state student cost per year in college living costs?

In-state vs. out-of-state student status can impact what someone pays to attend a college. In-state tuition may be different from out-of-state tuition, and there may be other fees, too. Room and board shouldn't differ, nor should meal plan costs, as those are typically flat fees for students. Of course, it'll all depend on the college, the student, and the financial situation.

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  1. The College of New Jersey. "Residential Education and Housing Staff Selection Frequently Asked Questions."

  2. National Association of College Stores. "NACS Student Watch Report: Course Materials Spending Dropped."

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