How to Plan a Budget for College-Bound Teen: 7 Tips That Will Help!

by Melanie Studer
Talk with your teen about a budget for college|

We have had two sons in college, and the second time around was much easier because we knew what to expect! The biggest concern for us, and many others are all of the expenses. Here are some things that we learned the first (and second) time around, as we planned a budget for college.

Make sure that you and your senior are on the same page about all expenses.

There are the expenses that you know about. There will always also be some things that come up unexpectedly; those can be dealt with as they occur. *This post may contain affiliate links.  My full disclosure policy is here.

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Budget for college|

Living expenses on a budget

Living expenses are a big deal.

Where will your student live? There will be choices for housing from the actual dorms to the types of rooms. Will they have a roommate? Will you pay for the items that they decorate their room with or will they be expected to pay for some? Is there a set amount you are willing to spend for this? Another type of living expense is the meal plan.

Budget for college

Look at all of the choices and let your student know which of these is the one you are willing to pay for. There are usually tiered levels of dorms and meal plans which include different levels of amenities etc. These types of expenses can be crazy expensive even when you set limits.

My suggestion is to start with one of the least expensive, and see how that goes. If you teen needs more, you can add. But, remember that they will eat off of campus some, and probably snack in their rooms as well.

Know that the Cost of Attendance is so much more than the information below. Here is my YouTube video discussing what actual COA is for attending college, and the things to consider. Read on below for more details.

Tuition and Books on a budget

Tuition and books are the other biggie.

Tuition costs are set per hour. So, the cost is determined by the number of classes your teen takes. One option to look into is getting some of the gen. ed. classes taken care of at a local community college-these will cost so much less! Online is another option. Work with the school counselor to look into different possibilities.

Your student will need books. These can be rented or shared to save on the cost. Another way to save is to check out the library- many schools have their textbooks available there for students to use.

There are many websites that rent, including Amazon, which has worked well for both renting and purchasing for my oldest son. We sit down before each semester with both our computers open. He logs into his school bookstore, and I log into Amazon. In most cases the cheapest option is to RENT from Amazon!

There are a few exceptions, but know that the return policy for Amazon is super easy and user-friendly. (All of these links to Amazon in this paragraph will take you straight to the textbook rental portal.)

Here are some books that helped us so much! (I am adding their newest version)

The Ultimate Scholarship Book

College Bound

How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay

Admission Matters


Shop Amazon – Rent Textbooks – Save up to 80%

Day to day expenses on a budget

These expenses are for things like a meal off of campus, personal grooming items or school supplies that run out, and new clothing or shoes. What will you be willing to spend on these types of items? What will you expect your student to spend of their own money, if any?

Be as detailed as possible to plan the best budget for college for your teen.

A great way to plan ahead to make the most of all the time and money spent on college is to work with a college and career planner. This will take a lot of the guesswork out of the process. Here is  a great program for teens and their parents. There are assessments that your teen can take, and that will with some of the decision making.

Help your teen plan a budget for college!

Senior year in high school is the best time to start talking about a budget! Don’t wait until next year!

What do you spend now on your kid for day-to-day expenses? Does your child have a job? Should they get one? Are you planning on them working in college for their extra expenses? Either way, you need to figure out what the budget will be.

There are many ways of working this out with your kids. For our boys, we pay for school, housing with a meal plan, and books. Anything, else is on them such as meals off of campus, fraternity, and clothes. This means that they have worked since they were 15 during summers, and part time during school each year for their spending money.

Our oldest son was able to get a great scholarship package for his grades, ACT, BSA Eagle and Boy’s State. We aren’t really spending much on him at all.

Our second son will have a different situation, but we have already talked with him at length about this, and he knows what the budgeted amount will be. He also has his BSA Eagle, but not the other accolades. He will utilize the A+ program in community college.

A+ Program

Our state (Missouri) has a great program called the A+ Program. If a student shows good citizenship, has the required attendance, the required GPA, and with teacher supervision tutors a peer for at least 50 hours, then they graduate with A+ requirements on their record. (There are a few other items on the list, but these are the main ones.)

This is a great help for getting community college, and hopefully an Associate’s Degree, basically for free-except for books! The specifics are in the link above. You should check with your school to see about any type of program such as this for a student who does not excel in school or on standardized tests.

Discuss ALL of these expenses to plan a budget for college.

Look at the college website. Open all tabs on the website pertaining to costs and scholarships. (Look for all of the fees! There are things like parking fees, technology fees, health insurance fees…) Be open about what you as parents are thinking is a reasonable budget.

Listen to and encourage questions from your child. One thing that we have learned is that they don’t know what they don’t know. Spell everything out as clearly as possible.

Don’t wait until they are headed to college. Neither side should have to assume anything! You know what your budget is, so tell your child up front. Your child may have some expectations as well. This is the time to lay it all out on the table. I wrote another blog post on paying for college. Check it out here.

Some sample expenses for freshman year could be: car payment and insurance, gas, cell phone, fun money for going out, groceries (for dorm room, also toiletries as they run out), clothing, student loan payments, credit card…

What is your child responsible for now? Will it be the same when they are gone at college? If you would like it to be different than what it is now, then now is the time to change things!

Even the cat says, "Budget for college!"

Talk about future finances to help your teen with their budget!

Are you wondering what you should be teaching your teen about money? Saving? Investing? This knowledge is so important for our kids as they leave for college and/or beyond. I so wish that I had know all of this when I was their age!

I have found these awesome resources. One is called 5 Things Parents Must Teach Kids About Money. The other is  Millionaire by 51. The best gift that we can give our teens is financial knowledge and know-how!

Budget for college|

Need a plan for a budget?

Check out my budget planner for you and your soon-to-be college student to fill out together.

As you and your teen plan for this big event, be sure that you have a plan for their next four years. What I mean is, do you all know what the ultimate goal is besides graduating? With a good plan in place, a couple of things can happen.

First, your child can graduate in four years, which can be a huge savings! That extra semester or two can be an enormous expense. Second, by having a good plan in place, you and your child can be sure that the degree they have chosen is marketable, and that the chances of getting a job at graduation are greater.

Here is  a great program which will help your family with some of these choices. This can help you to figure out what degree will match your teen’s interests and make sure that they get on and stay on the right track. There are a few programs which can really help you all as you make plans.

Apply for scholarships.

One thing that I wish I had known with my oldest son, is that this whole process could be started in middle school. Many scholarships are available starting for students when they are 13! These are good ones to try for, because who knows this? No one that I have spoken with about this process has known.

As a parent, you need to set up a specific email just for scholarships, and so should your child–even if you are the only one checking them. Sign up for scholarship websites, and fill out the profiles. (These can be edited down the road as your child learns more about themselves and their likes and dislikes.)

These websites will start to send lots of emails about different scholarships that are available. They will be organized in many ways. Stay up with them and create a list of ones to try for. Many can and should be deleted. Don’t go crazy with this. Maybe try for one a month, more during the summer or over holidays.

How 2 Win Scholarships
Monica Matthews is a former teacher and a stay-at-home mom of three boys. She’s a mom who worked with her son to earn enough scholarships to attend college for free. I’ve signed up for her newsletters and she’ll let you know when to apply for scholarships. She always has up to date information on her blog. She has a parent guide and student guide as well as a really great online tool for keeping track of scholarship opportunities!

Planning a budget for college is so important!

All things considered, start these discussions SOONER THAN LATER. This can be a fun time to figure things out together, and to make decisions as a team. In fact, if you are reading this, and your teen is not a senior yet, all the better. Start now however old your teen is!

Good luck to you all! Let me know how this goes for you!

Related posts:

29 Ways to Prepare For College!

College Bound: Conversations to Help Your Teen Through High School,

Freshman Dorm Necessities,

High School Parent Toolkit, and

The Truth about College and Student Loan Debt

My Teen Is Turning 18! What Are the Legal Implications?

Best Year Round Posts for Parenting Teens and Tweens: 50+ Titles

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Hello! My name is Melanie and I love to encourage moms of teens and tweens!

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  1. This is great advice. Our 3rd Granddaughter is headed to college next fall, hopefully to college and not virtual.

  2. My oldest is a freshman but we are already starting to plan and think about scholarships. I figure you can never start too soon! Thanks for the reminders. We actually just recently got Monica Matthews book.


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