How Much Does a College Student Spend a Month?

By Kevin Brouillard · March 11, 2024 · 8 minute read

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How Much Does a College Student Spend a Month?

Going to college is a costly proposition. On top of tuition and fees, you’ll also need to come up with funds for food, housing, and other living expenses. It can be helpful to develop a rough estimate of what expenses you can expect in college well before you head off to campus and come with a monthly student budget.

The question is, how much money do college students spend per month?

The answer will depend on several factors, including location, extracurricular activities, whether you’re commuting or living on campus, and lifestyle preferences. According to the College Board, students can expect to spend around $2,932 a month (or $26,390 for a nine-month period) on living expenses for the 2024-25 school year.

To break that number down, let’s take a closer look at how much college students spend on food, housing, and other expenses.

Financial Considerations for College Students

The first step towards creating a college student monthly budget is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This will give you access to federal financial aid, including grants, scholarships, work-study, and student loans. Colleges may also use the FAFSA when allocating their own scholarships and grant awards to students.

Financial aid is intended to be used for college-related expenses, such as tuition and fees, textbooks and supplies, and room and board. However, it may not fully cover the cost of attending college. To cover any gaps in funding, you may need to tap multiple sources of money, such as savings, summer jobs, and taking out private student loans.

To help students figure out exactly how much money they’ll need for college, schools typically post the average cost of attendance on their websites. These listings will usually include the average cost of housing, food, books/supplies, transportation, and personal expenses for students attending that school.

💡 Quick Tip: You can fund your education with a low-rate, no-fee private student loan that covers all school-certified costs.

What Do College Students Spend Money On?

Budgeting in college will look different for every student. Some college costs will get paid up front (like tuition, fees and, in some cases, room and board), while other expenses will need to be paid on a monthly or daily basis. To estimate how much spending money you’ll need, let’s take a closer look at what college students spend money on each month, and how much they typically spend in each category.


Food eats up about 30% of a college student’s monthly budget, according to the College Board. To build out a college student food budget, you’ll need to consider whether you’ll be on the school’s food plan, if you’ll do some cooking, and how often you’ll likely eat out.

On average, college students spend $670 on food per month, according to the Education Data Initiative. To break that total down further, students spend, on average, $410 a month eating off-campus and about $260 a month on groceries for cooking meals at home.

College students can choose to pay for a meal plan that provides an allotted number of meals from campus dining halls or restaurants. (Freshman are often required to purchase a meal plan). Meal plans have the benefit of being a fixed and predictable cost. The average meal plan costs $450 a month.


How much do college students spend per month on housing? Monthly housing costs will vary depending on location and whether a student lives on or off campus.

According to the College Board’s 2023 Trends in College Pricing Report, average room and board ranged from $9,970 at public two-year institutions to $14,650 at private four-year institutions for the 2023-2024 academic year. Note that room and board includes both housing and food costs, so let’s unpack the housing portion further.

The cost of living in a dorm or residence hall usually varies based on the occupancy per bedroom and number of people in a suite or apartment. You can expect to pay more for a single bedroom than a double or triple that you’ll share with other students. For example, the cost of a single occupancy room at UCLA was $15,114 for the 2023-2024 academic year; living in a double or triple cost $11,446 and $8,475, respectively.

How much students spend on off-campus housing is influenced by the cost of living by state and city, and whether they’ll live alone or with roommates. The average monthly housing cost in California ranges from $1,360 to $2,649 per month, while the average cost for Pennsylvania is between $872 and $1,259 per month.


From getting to class to traveling home for holidays and breaks, students need to factor transportation costs into their monthly budget. How much should college students spend a month on transportation?

If you’ll be living on campus, you likely won’t need to spend a lot, since classes may be within walking distance and colleges typically provide some form of transit services, like shuttle buses, to connect academic buildings. Students living off campus may require a car to get to class, which can significantly add to transportation costs. Filling up at the pump alone costs $164 a month for the average driver in the U.S..

Transportation costs will also vary by where you go to school — and how far away it is from home. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for example, students (including those living on and off campus) spend an average of $976 per academic year on transportation. At the University of Texas at Austin, student transportation costs run $1,682 per academic year on average.

Recommended: The Financial Benefits of Community College


Your monthly college expenses will likely go beyond the big categories, like food, housing, and transportation. Some possible miscellaneous costs you may want to including in your college budget:

•   Entertainment (e.g, going to the movies, concert tickets)

•   Cell phone plan

•   Cable/internet
Prescriptions/medical expenses

•   Clothing

•   Gym membership

•   Hobbies

•   Personal grooming

•   Gifts for friends/family

•   Travel for fun (such as weekend/spring break trips with friends)

To keep your miscellaneous and personal costs from getting too high, you’ll want to keep an eye out for student discounts and take advantage of free activities offered through your college.

Is College Worth It?

There are many reasons to go to college — exploring career paths, growing your social network, having fun, and learning life skills — but the return on investment (ROI) is a key consideration when comparing schools and programs. To determine your ROI, you’ll need to look at the cost of going to college and its impact on your potential future earnings.

For the 2023-2024 academic year, the average cost of tuition and fees for a public four-year college was $11,260 as an in-state student and $29,150 for out-of-state students. Meanwhile, the average sticker price for attending a private four-year college was $41,540.

When you multiply annual college costs by four years, the final tally is no small sum. And while graduates with bachelor’s degrees typically earn more than those without, you likely won’t recoup your investment right away. So is college worth it?

According to a report by the Institute for Higher Education Policy , for the majority of students (especially those attending a public institution), having a college degree leaves them better off financially in comparison to peers who did not go to college. Their analysis found that 83% of schools (serving 93% of undergraduates) provide an ROI within 10 years. That means that within 10 years, students recoup what they would be making with a high school diploma plus the cost of their college degree.

In short, college may well be worth it.

💡 Quick Tip: Would-be borrowers will want to understand the different types of student loans that are available: private student loans, federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans, Direct PLUS loans, and more.

Pros and Cons of Going to College Online

Online college and virtual learning opportunities have become more common following the Covid-19 pandemic. On a per credit basis, online college tuition isn’t always cheaper. However, a virtual college student’s monthly budget often has lower expenses for room and board than students who live on or close to campus.

Here’s a look at some potential advantages and drawbacks to going to college online.


•   Flexible schedule: Classes are often designed to accommodate students with work or family responsibilities.

•   Convenience: Students can learn from anywhere — no commuting or relocating required.

•   Lower living expenses: When attending college virtually, you can live anywhere (even at home), which can save money on housing.


•   Fewer majors available: Degree programs and majors that require hands-on learning like lab exercises are unlikely to be offered online.

•   Limited networking: Virtual students have less opportunities to engage with professors and classmates.

•   Increased screen time: A greater reliance on technology for lectures and coursework can mean a lot of time spent in front of a computer.

How Can I Increase My Chances of Getting a Job After College?

You can increase your chances of getting a great job after college by preparing for the job hunt well before graduation.

One key strategy is to complete a college internship either during the semester or over the summer. This can provide valuable work experience while allowing you to try out different careers and job sectors. Internships are typically part-time commitments during the academic year and may be full-time during summer break. Some internships are paid, while others count as college credit. Applying and interviewing for an internship is also an opportunity to hone your interview skills before entering the post-grad job market.

You can also better your chances of getting a good job after college by taking advantage of on-campus resources. College career services offices can often provide job leads, networking opportunities with alumni and employers, and assistance preparing for interviews. It’s also a good idea to ask a professor for a letter of recommendation — a common requirement for job applications — while still enrolled in school.

The Takeaway

A college student’s monthly budget will depend on multiple factors, including geographic location, whether they live on or off campus, the type of institution, and personal habits. After tuition and fees, housing and food often represent the largest budget categories for college students. Covering the cost of college often involves tapping a mix of funding sources, including scholarships, grants, savings, and loans.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.

Photo credit: iStock/martin-dm

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