For College Students

College Spending Statistics

So, how much money does a college student need to survive? We found out.


Student loan debt is a disproportionately large part of America’s overall debt. And it doesn’t look like this trend is decreasing in the coming years. However, a key aspect of college that often goes overlooked is expenses unrelated to tuition, such as day-to-day living. This work will discuss the less-considered costs of higher education and how much a college student needs per month. It should be mentioned that how much a student needs is different from how much a student makes annually, although the latter will also be discussed. 

How Much Money Does The Average College Student Spend Per Month?

The average college student’s monthly spending varies based on several factors. The most prevalent factor is the type of institution. For comparison, a 2-year community college student needs approx $2,000¹. In contrast, a 4-year college student needs around $4,500 per month. The operative word is needs. Needs don’t just qualify the bare minimum needed to survive but encompass the minimal amount a student needs to thrive both in and post-college. This means the amount must include their bare minimum and other critical factors required to stabilize financial and mental health. There’s a proven link between the quality of life and money², but more applicable to this work is the connection between positive money choices and financial freedom. 

Many college students experience stress related to their student loan debt, credit debt, and the rising cost of living. There’s no easy way around these issues for individual college students. The most common option, working during college, contributes to poor academic performance, other money woes, and an inability to have a work/school balance.³ These factors compound for students from low-income backgrounds. 

Generally speaking, the financial needs of college students aren’t being met. Studies have shown that up to 71%⁴ of students have severe anxiety about their finances. And many of the causes of these worries are distinctly outside of their control. As mentioned, there is a strong connection between mental stability and financial freedom. Anxiety, depression, and other negative mental states cause an excess of white matter in the brain, making it difficult to think clearly, maintain a positive attitude, remember things, and study. The result is increasingly poor choices and general apathy toward higher education. 

The negative factors mentioned above cause a debt pipeline. A student becomes overwhelmed with school and financial anxiety that they drop out. However, the debt still exists, so the student enters the workforce. Traditional employment for those without degrees pays lower wages and often requires longer hours. Now the student is still in debt, working long hours, and has little to show for it. 

This begs the question – what can be done to increase college students’ wages while maintaining a healthy work/life balance? 

While the answer isn’t overly explicit, there is empirical data to draw from. 

For example, non-tuition costs, hidden fees, and the local economy play major roles in the equation. However, the biggest factors are the type of college attended and the degree pursued. 

A 2022 study reports that a 2-year community college is significantly less expensive than a private 4-year institution.¹ The average tuition cost for a community college is approx $10,400 vs. the $39,000 for private schooling—the cost of out-of-state community college averages $22,000 annually. 

Average College Student’s Spending by Category

Common spending categories for students include the following.


The choice between dorm and rent relies entirely on the local economy. In 2010, the average dorm room was $10,500 a year.⁵ In 2022, the same dorm room is valued at approx $12,500 or roughly $1,041 a month. Comparatively, the average rent is $1,300. However, rent prices can be halved, quartered, etc., with an additional roommate. An option that doesn’t exist for dorms. Factor in the new-found adult freedom, and apartments are an easy option for any college student. 


Utilities average $200⁶ a month, including electricity, water, trash, and internet. On the high-end, renters can expect to pay upwards of $300. 


The average monthly cost of food can reach as high as $440,⁷ according to recent surveys. Individuals with dietary restrictions can expect to pay higher monthly costs for food. While many college students live on cheaper foods like ramen, eggs, pasta, etc., they often compensate by putting money into other nutrition purchases like vitamins, shakes, etc. 

Additionally, those that don’t get a proper diet suffer from reduced academic performance and higher chances of negative mental states. 


Transportation costs for students average less than $100 a month.⁷ Additionally, students with cars often drive older model cars with no outstanding liens. Those that drive newer model cars have car payments made by their parents and typically come from more financially stable backgrounds. 

Hobbies and non-essential expenses

Non-essential expenses cost approx $350 a month. This includes subscription services, alcohol, etc. 


Textbooks, a quarterly expense for most college students, costs $150 on average. But students with advanced or specialized degrees can expect to pay $400.00 for hard copies. Additionally, the cost of textbooks has increased by over 1000% since the late 70s.⁸

Other Interesting Data Points

  • On the highest end, dorms can cost upwards of $17,000 annually.⁵ 
  • 30% of students state they borrowed as much as possible to afford college.⁹ Meaning they are as far in debt as individually possible. 
  • 33% of college students admit to skipping meals due to finances.¹º
  • Over 80% of higher educators state textbooks cost too much.⁸
  • The average student graduates with $30,000 in student loans.¹¹ 
  • Data taken from 100 US colleges report that 17% of students experienced homelessness.¹² 
  • Data from that same study states that 45% of students worry about whether or not they’ll be able to afford food. 

What College Students Can Do to Optimize Their Budget

Here are three quick tips.

Budgeting Apps

Budgeting apps can help a student get a broader perspective of their money. Modern budgeting apps work seamlessly with online banking, track recurring payments, and help save money. Plus, many high-quality apps offer a free version with all the essentials students need to get started. 

Financial Review

Reviewing bank statements can help uncover recurring charges that may have gone unnoticed. This includes subscriptions to streaming services, membership fees, excess payments, etc. It’s also a good idea to review the account for fees and inquire with the bank or credit union if another account may have fewer fees or yield more interest. 

Eat at Home

Making food at home is significantly cheaper than ordering or eating out. And those savings add up quickly. Assuming no dietary restrictions, students should aim for pasta, eggs, proteins, and other cheap food packed with the essentials. 

In conclusion, college is expensive, and many currently enrolled students can’t afford it. Financial concerns are all too common in academia. Simply put, some students don’t make enough money to save it. In those cases, budgeting can be the deciding factor in being able to afford even the basics.

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About the Author

Chadhurst Sharpe

Chadhurst Jainlett Sharpe spent over six years working as a personal finance banker. He's passionate about giving young minds the tools and resources they need to succeed with money.

Last updated on: July 8, 2024