Saving for College: How Much Will You Need?

Whether you’re heading to campus in two years or two months, there’s never a bad time to start saving for college. You probably know your budget should include tuition, but the cost of college is more than just tuition. Here’s what to include in your budget for college, plus ways to lighten your financial load.

College Tuition and Fees

Tuition covers the cost of taking classes at your college, while fees are the costs associated with things like activities, labs, and parking stickers. College tuition and fees vary greatly based on a number of factors, including whether you're an in-state or out-of-state student. According to The College Board, the average tuition and fees for attending a public four-year college amount to nearly $23,000 for an out-of-state student and just over $9,100 for an in-state student.

Karie Bedford, client relationship manager with Sallie Mae®, suggests defraying some of these costs by taking advantage of available scholarships, grants, and — if scholarships, grants, and savings or income don’t cover the entire cost of attendance —a Sallie Mae Smart Option Student Loan. Estimate what you might spend on college by using Sallie Mae’s College Cost Calculator.

Room and Board

Colleges typically offer a range of dorm options and meal plan packages for students who live on campus. Average room and board for on-campus housing at a public four-year college is about $9,800 per year, according to The College Board.

To reduce costs, you may be able to take advantage of your school’s resident advisor program, which offers reduced tuition or reduced room and board costs. If you attend school near home, living with your parents or other family is a great money-saving option. If you decide to live in an off-campus apartment, consider getting a roommate to reduce rent.

Books and Supplies

When it comes to supplies, you'll need the basics for class — such as notebooks, pens and pencils, and printer paper — in addition to textbooks, which can be pricey. The annual estimate for books and supplies for the average full-time student at a four-year public college is about $1,200, according to The College Board.

“Buying used textbooks or renting your textbooks are both good ways to cut costs,” Barnes says. If these options aren’t available at your campus bookstore, you can search websites for books, and either rent them or buy less expensive versions. Some sites allow you to sell your books back at the end of the semester.


Your transportation costs will vary based on how you travel and how often you travel. “If you bring your car to school, count on paying for a parking permit, insurance, and, of course, gas,” Barnes says. After looking at all these factors, you may find that it makes more sense to leave your car at home and take school transit or public transit, or walk to and from classes.

And don’t forget about holiday travel. If you’ll have to book a flight or take a bus to go home for the holidays, look into student discounts on travel costs.

Personal Expenses

Personal expenses can run the gamut to include clothing, dining out, and more. These expenses are typically variable, which means they can change from month to month. In addition to your variable expenses, factor in your fixed expenses, such as a cell phone bill or gym membership.

Variable expenses are often more flexible than fixed expenses, so look at variable expenses first when trying to cut costs. For instance, assess where and how often you shop for clothing, and limit dining out, especially if you’re on a meal plan at your college.

A lot of factors go into the cost of college, but planning and saving early can help ensure you have what you need when you get to college — so you can focus your time on learning and having fun.

Learn more about college expenses with this infographic, and compare your planned and required college savings.

Save for College by the Numbers Infographic Click to view personal


Save for College by the Numbers Infographic

This information is general in nature and is not intended to be legal, tax, or financial advice. Although Regions believes this information to be accurate, it cannot ensure that it will remain up to date. Statements or opinions of individuals referenced herein are their own—not Regions'. Consult an appropriate professional concerning your specific situation and for current tax rules. Regions, the Regions logo, and the LifeGreen bike are registered trademarks of Regions Bank. The LifeGreen color is a trademark of Regions Bank.

Regions Bank has selected Sallie Mae as our education loan provider and is compensated for the referral of education loan customers to Sallie Mae. We encourage students and families to supplement their savings by exploring grants, scholarships, federal and state student loans, and to consider the anticipated monthly payments on their total student loan debt and their expected future earnings before considering a private education loan.

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