The end-of-summer-blues hit you hard as you step onto the pavement and look at your campus for the first time in person. The fall breeze whirls through your hair and you know with certainty that you entered school season. Now, you begin to enter a world of school lunch cafeterias, college drama and nasty professors assigning loads of work. A fun place! But you will also gain great experiences, make friends and experience independence. Always weigh the good with the bad.
At the center of college life lies the all too difficult to navigate budget. Many college students wonder what to spend their money on, and how to refrain from spending all of it in one sitting. The good news? We’ll help you manage that stress and try to take off a bit of the load.
Keep reading to learn about a The College of New Jersey student’s shift in budgeting strategies as she transitioned from online learning to dorming an hour away from home.
Major: Double major in Education of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and Psychology
College: The College of New Jersey
How do you pay tuition and monthly fees?
When I started my college journey from my room last year, I took out loans to cover the costs of tuition and dorming. Being a New Yorker, I am attending TCNJ out of state and unfortunately pay the additional costs that go along with moving to New Jersey. Since I spent the entirety of my freshman year in my childhood bedroom on Zoom, I luckily saved a lot of money and didn’t pay any dorming fees. Although TCNJ gave us the option to dorm in the second semester of freshman year, my future housemates and I decided to stay home and save our money for the future.
My mom and I try our best to put our income into my tuition costs. My mom teaches pre-K, and for the past year and a half, she’s taught her three-year-old students remotely, practically making her a superstar. We work extremely hard for everything that we own, and we continue working for my continued success in school.
What are your monthly expenses?
Besides obviously paying dorming and tuition costs, I would characterize food as my largest monthly expense. Luckily since I am dorming, I don’t have to worry about setting aside rent money every month. At TCNJ, the dining hall offers “per week” plans which start at $2,381.06 per semester for 10 meals per week. Even after purchasing the meal plan though, TCNJ’s alluring campus town always provokes me to spend more money on food. With a delicious fro-yo spot and an Insomnia Cookies around the corner of my dorm, I easily spend at least $25 a month on sweets. I also keep a stash of granola bars and light snacks in the drawer under my bed, which comes to around $30 a month at Target.
Three days a week, I drive 20 minutes to my job and occasionally drive home on the weekends. That adds up to around $60 a month for gas and tolls at a minimum. The beginning of the semester always takes the prize for the most money spent—I spent around $150 on textbooks, and God knows how much on other school supplies and essential dorm materials like bins, toiletries and decorations.
How do you pay these expenses?
Throughout the pandemic and my first year of college I worked part-time at Party City and accumulated a bit of spending money. I also picked up a job at the Grace Foundation over the summer, a non-profit organization working with individuals (children, adults, teenagers) with autism spectrum disorder. I enjoyed doing this job, as the work pertains to my future career within special education. Since spending money tends to vanish quickly, I recently began working as an assistant teacher at Over the Rainbow Child Development Center and received news yesterday that I will begin working as an ASL Conversation Leader next week! I love working jobs that will benefit me in the future, giving me the opportunity to brush up on my sign language skills or add to my resume as a future teacher.
How did you spend your money last week?
Sunday September 5:
My friend visited me for my first weekend away from home, and we went to Barnes and Noble to browse books for an hour and study. We then made our trip to Insomnia cookies, an essential part of any trip to TCNJ. You can’t buy just one cookie, so I wound up with four in my box as we left the store. After spending $12 at Insomia, my housemate met us for dinner and we visited the esteemed Mexican Mariachi Grill where we shared quesadillas and burritos (and, of course, homemade tortilla chips!) $14.50 later we ate our fill and decided to take a walk around the beautiful campus after a relaxing day. Then my friend drove me home that night so I could spend time with my family on Labor Day.
$12.00 Insomnia Cookies
$14.50 Mexican Mariachi Grill
Monday September 6:
I got to spend time with my mom, grandma, aunts, uncles and cousins for Labor Day which felt refreshing. I find myself feeling homesick while at school, as I am not used to living in my own space and being away from my mom and grandma for long periods of time. I really wanted to enjoy my mom’s homemade cooking once more before going back to campus. Then my mom drove me home after the rush hour traffic died down at around 8:00pm, and I spent the rest of the night in my dorm. The luxury of being at home—not having to pay for transportation or meals. I didn’t spend any money that day. Victory!
Tuesday September 7:
After a three-day weekend, one undeniably needs to drink some coffee. And so, I walked down to Starbucks to fulfill my need for caffeine. My $2.65 iced latte really hit the spot, and I began my days’ worth of work and classes. My housemates and I ate at the dining hall for lunch and dinner and giving into my sweet tooth we took a stroll to campus town for Redberry fro-yo for dessert. My $7.00 espresso fro-yo really hit the spot, and we walked home and watched the scary movie It until 1:00a.m. Let’s just say, I’m never watching a scary movie at night again.
Wednesday September 8:
After a late night of watching horror movies on my projector, I again felt certain that I needed some Starbucks again. I went with my usual $2.65 iced latte, then headed out for my day. I traveled to work at 2:00 p.m. after attending some classes and luckily still found my gas tank filled to the top from the previous week!
After traveling to and from work, I grabbed dinner at the dining hall and went back to my dorm to study. An hour or two later I took to Amazon to buy some crucial necessities for life—and no, I don’t mean food and water. I’m talking about my outfit for my two Harry Styles concerts in October, including Harryween, which wins as the most important purchase of the week. Yes, I put $85 into the universe, but I’ll receive fashionable pants and red heart shaped sunglasses in return. SO worthwhile. Luckily for me, I didn’t spend any more money that day.
Thursday September 9:
After another day of work (in which I still possessed a good amount of gas for transportation) and a long day of classes and homework, my housemates and I grabbed dinner at the dining hall. Afterwards, we took a trip to a nearby farm seven minutes from campus. There, we bought three pints of homemade ice cream for only $7.21, and must I tell you, the ice cream tasted like heaven in our mouths. I bought coffee and peanut butter chocolate, and my housemates and I basked in our glory.
As we licked our spoons, we watched the first Twilight movie on my projector. I never watched them before – still deciding if I am team Edward or team Jacob.
$7.21 Farm Ice Cream
Friday September 10:
Friday finally arrived! And with that, my housemates and I simply needed to celebrate. I again grabbed my ice latte that morning and went to class, completed some homework in the library, and went back to my dorm room. We decided to go mini golfing that night to decompress after the first almost full week of school. We first stopped at the dining hall to eat some cheesy burritos and then our friend Caroline drove us to the golf course. To my surprise we spent only $8.00 each to golf on the course, and while I unfortunately did not win, I did get a whole on one! I really enjoyed spending time with my housemates outside the classroom and dorm. That night, I drove to my hometown at around 10:00pm and prepared for the next day.
$8.00 Mini Golf
Saturday September 11th:
On Saturday my cousins and I visited a breakfast restaurant in my hometown where I spent $12.25 on a gooey Nutella waffle. Then we all gathered at my dad’s mass for his birthday and spent time with each other as my family always does on 9/11. We ate together at my house and I just relaxed with my mom and grandma for a bit, catching up with them on their lives and watching their favorite shows. I then did some homework and went to bed preparing to leave for school the next afternoon.
$12.25 Beans and Leaves
Food & Drink: $47.38
School Supplies: $36.89
Personal care: $27.34
How do these breakdowns influence your spending habits?
This breakdown truly showed me how much money I spend in Starbucks and on food. But I think I tend to spend money on the essentials—I need my coffee, but I think for the most part I am a practical spender. My spending money should be used on things like food, school supplies, dorm décor and the occasional $80 outfit for a Harry Styles concert. I don’t think you should feel bad about occasionally splurging… you work hard for your money, and sometimes you just need to live a little.
Load feelin’ a little lighter? See, other people spend $30.00 a week on Starbucks too. College life takes a toll, so never feel embarrassed to eat ice cream for breakfast or cry in the library. Like Pitbull, we “been there, done that.” Enjoy every experience before you go off into the real working world, where you can’t take a day off to watch season two of your fav show all day. That, along with mental breakdowns, debt, 3am nights and sleepy eyes in the classroom remains the sole purpose of college. Live your life!