What Does College Cost? One Family’s First Three Years of Expenses and How We’re Paying Cash for College.

Paying for College / Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

We’ve set a goal to pay cash for our daughter’s college education, and because I’m such a big numbers nerd, I’ve been keeping track of our costs down to the very last dollar.

Since her junior year is now in the books, it’s time for a update.

The Exact Breakdown

Tuition/Room & Board/Books: $10,143

  • Tuition = $3059*
  • Room = $2950
  • Board (Meal Plan) = $3800
  • Books = $334

*After scholarships

Fees: $1328

  • Required Campus Fees = $888
  • Technology Fees = $290
  • Sports Combo Pass = $150

Sorority: $2465

  • Dues & House Maintenance: $1032
  • Moms/Dads Weekends, Flowers, Musical Production = $1433

Total: $13,936

What’s Not Included:

Spending money – Lindsey is responsible for her own spending money so I don’t have costs for things like eating out, snacks, toiletries, school supplies, clothing, laundry, gas, etc.

KU Dyche Hall Flickr photo courtesy of ensign_beedrill

Junior year came in $765 higher than sophomore year. Room costs were $400 lower, books were lower by almost $300, and sorority expenses were $1400 higher, so that accounted for most of the difference.

Here’s our running total for the first three years of college:

  • Freshman year: $17,435
  • Sophomore year: $13,171
  • Junior year: $13,936
  • Total: $44,542

You can see the breakdown for freshman year here and sophomore year here.

Being a KU Orientation Assistant is a great summer job. Photo courtesy of Lindsey Mayfield

How Our Family is Paying Cash for College

We set an ambitious goal of paying for college without debt, despite the fact that we had very little saved for college going in. Here are the things that have helped us do that so far:

  • We chose The University of Kansas, an in-state school with affordable costs. KU also offers a four year tuition compact so that tuition costs are locked in for four years.
  • Lindsey earned academic scholarships, which brought the cost of tuition down even more.
  • Lindsey has worked during both the summers and the school year so that she can pay for incidentals. She’s also very frugal and a good steward of both her money and ours, which we appreciate.
  • A couple of years before Lindsey started college, I started setting aside my earnings from freelance writing/blogging into a account earmarked for her college expenses. Even though the amounts I receive are often small, faithfully saving each one and getting a slight head start has paid for a chunk of her college costs. The remainder we pay for out of our monthly cash flow.

So that’s a real-life look at one family’s first three years of college expenses. Anything surprise you? Are you saving or paying for college right now?

Note: Lindsey and I blogged for two years on the U.S. News & World Report education site. Our blog was about college from both a parent and student points of view. You can read our archived blog posts at  Twice the College Advice.

This post is part of Penny Pinching PartyWorks for Me Wednesday, and Fabulously Frugal Thursday.

24 Replies to “What Does College Cost? One Family’s First Three Years of Expenses and How We’re Paying Cash for College.”

  1. This is great info. I was JUST yesterday moving money around to prepare for paying for my son’s first semester. An in-state school with no scholarship is looking like ~7200 per semester (tuition/fees/room/board). I’m curious about your cost for books, that looks like a very reasonable amount. Any tips on acquiring books? Thanks again for this!

    1. Eileen, Lindsey rents a lot of her books, which keeps costs low. Also, she will tell you that she never buys/rents books before she goes to her first class each semester, because professors often change the books, give them tips on where to get them, etc.

      Hope that helps! Good luck to your son!

    2. I bought a lot of my books for college used. The bookstore sold used copies it had bought back from students, at a substantial discount, but sometimes I could get them even cheaper by buying directly from a student. My university had a computer bulletin board where you could post things for sale. I also sold a lot of my books this way when I was done with them and earned some money that way. I only kept books I was sure I would reread or use as a reference.

      Sometimes it’s possible to share books with a friend who’s taking the same course. I did this with economics where the text was very expensive; I shared with two friends and we had a weekly study-together time and each had two nights to take the book and to the week’s reading. I also did it for some history courses that had around 7 books per course and a syllabus listing exactly what to read for each session; my friend and I swapped the books such that we each got all the reading done.

  2. I remember visiting the city of Lawrence, it’s a quaint college town that I thought of attending eons ago. ;) (yes, I’m getting old!) You’re doing a fantastic job paying cash for college!

    1. LH, Lawrence is a great college town. It makes a lot of “best of” lists. I went to school there eons ago, myself. ;)

    1. Yes, sororities are costly, Leilani. And wait until you see my study abroad update at the end of the summer. Double gulp!

      1. Haha! I did do study abroad. :) Worth every single penny. The amount I owe on my loans is probably because of that semester in London, but I don’t mind. :) Do you think sororities are more expensive in larger schools?

        1. Our daughter is leaving for London on Sunday. Glad to know you had such a good experience. I have no idea if sororities are more expensive at larger schools. Good question, though.

  3. I’ve been following your blog for a few years and it really opened my eyes in having a clearer understanding of different cost associated with college. (tuition, board, meal, books, and incidental)
    My daughter received an academic tuition scholarship and one outside scholarship (4yrs) that will cover the balance of COA. Right now our expenses seem to be books and incidentals. Fortunately for me, she will only have to travel 40 minutes from home, so travel expenses will be minimum. I will definitely keep a tally of expenses for her college years; after all we have graduate school to consider. Do you have standard worksheet that you use to track the yearly expenses? Big thanks for sharing your college journey with me. It has helped my family immensely

    1. Judi, thanks for your nice words. And congrats to your daughter on her scholarships! Lindsey goes to school about 30 minutes from home, so we have no travel expenses either.

      I track all our expenses in Quicken, and I have a category for Education:College Expenses. Beyond that I just use the individual bills I pay to break down the details. If I didn’t already use Quicken, a simple spreadsheet would have worked just as well.

      1. Thanks Julie , I’m curious about Linsey yearly personal expenses. I’m wondering how much does a college student need to save in order to get through the year. I do realize each child is different , with different needs. Does LIndsey also track her yearly expenses as well . I would love to see how much she saved over summer and how she spent it through the year.

  4. I had no idea sororities were so expensive! Yikes! I don’t think I would have paid for that for my daughters if they wanted to be in one. That would have had to come out of their pocket.

    In Virginia, we are still looking at a $17,500 – $20,000 price tag for in state tuition and room and board. Two kids to get through 8 more years. I’m going to be broke!

    1. I hear you, Sharon. We could have required her to pay for it, but then we would have been picking up the tab on other things, so it’s kind of a wash. We actually supported her desire to be in a sorority and she’s earned some scholarship money via the sorority as well so it’s all good.

      Wow…higher education in VA is expensive. You have some excellent schools there, though. Just take it one semester at a time and you’ll be fine. You’re so good with budgeting!

  5. thank you for these posts! we are currently paying off a mountain of my husband’s student loan debt (my parents paid for almost all of my college). while i wish we weren’t paying back these loans, i do wonder how we would be spending if we didn’t have them at all! we got married right after graduation and celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary yesterday–there has definitely been a lot of financial learning going on in our house (we are trying to pay off our student loans early!). i hope lindsey continues to make wise financial desicions and that she has fun on study abroad!

    1. Happy anniversary, Kat! And good work for paying off those student loans early. Think how great it will feel when they’re gone, although I know it’s a drag when you’re going through it.

      And thank you for the nice comments. Lindsey is very responsible and frugal, especially for a college student, so we feel lucky. And I’m thrilled that she gets to experience London.

  6. Thanks for sharing this great information! I know so many parents who grumble that they can’t be expected to pay for college so they won’t even try…and it’s a real handicap to their kids, who either get loaded down with a huge debt or get less education because they can’t get the loans. These parents claim they’re doing their kids a favor by not “giving” them the money, but by setting the example of not saving or making sacrifices, they teach the kids poor priorities for managing money. I’m so glad to hear that Lindsey is very responsible with money. It certainly worked out well for my brother and me to have our parents (plus scholarships and inheritance from Grandma) pay for our education while we earned our own money for incidentals; we both started into our after-college lives earning very little but building our savings right away, and we’ve both been frugal ever since and reaped the benefits.

    1. That’s the plan here too, Becca. We’re trying to impress on the kids how many more options they’ll have after college (grad school, the ability to live in an expensive city, home ownership, etc.) if they don’t have big student loans to pay off.

      So glad to hear that you and your brother were able to save right out of college. That’s something I wish we had done (saved more at a younger age). You’re way ahead of the game!

      Thanks for the comment.

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