"More than half the cost of going to college isn't in tuition; it's in everyday living expenses," says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org and FastWeb.com, websites for insights on securing college scholarships and loans. "In addition to their room and board, that includes personal expenses — eating out, traveling back home and the rest. And all told, it can easily reach $3,000 to $4,000 a year."
Here are ways to get a leg up on campus life expenses. Warning: Some of them may provoke some resistance from that student of yours.
The average annual cost of college textbooks is $1,121, according to FinAid.org. But most students can save at least $500 a year on that expense, says Kantrowitz, simply by buying used at local stores and then reselling them back after the course is completed.
For possibly greater savings, your kid can buy new or used textbooks online. Websites such as bookfinder.com, addall.com, cheapesttextbooks.com and allbookstores.com can help lead you to the best deals.
Another option is to buy e-book versions of the textbooks, if they're available.
And students can save up to 85 percent over the cost of new books by renting books through websites such as bookrenter.com and campusbookrentals.com. Also ask about university-run textbook rental programs. For free downloads of select books — typically classics no longer under copyright — there's bartelby.com and gutenberg.org.
Your child can better avoid the Freshman 15 (the legendary weight gain of that first year) and you can avoid maybe $1,000 a year of costs by opting for a cheaper cafeteria meal plan than the full offering. Encourage your student to ask about little-publicized discounts offered by local eateries. "They may not advertise it, but there's somewhat of an underground network among local merchants in many college towns that offer discounts to students who show their IDs," says Doug Schantz, who runs cheapscholar.org and is director of student accounts at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio.
Is your kid a snacker? Encourage low-cost bulk purchase of foods and drinks, rather than constant trips to vending machines, coffee shops and convenience stores. (The same goes for school supplies. Don't buy pens and notebooks in onesies and twosies.)
With the Affordable Care Act, college students and other adult children can remain covered by your policy until age 26. So up to that age, there's no need to buy a campus-offered health insurance policy. In most cases, you can avoid this "requirement" by signing a waiver or otherwise proving coverage. However, expect to still pay a "health fee" that will give your student access to clinics on campus.
Does your kid absolutely have to have one? No doubt many members of today's younger generation feel they can't live without their own, but the fact remains that not all students have them; some use free machines in college computer labs.
Know that if your student does bring a laptop or desktop, the school may have minimum technical requirements for it. Most students don't need super-fast, high-resolution computers, which are really best suited for playing videos games and other diversions from studies.
Keep in mind, too, that many computer manufacturers and retailers offer discounts to college students. You may also save by buying through a college-run program.