An open book sitting on top of a laptop.

Going to college is a huge, life-changing event. All the excitement that comes with preparing applications, getting accepted, and learning which of your friends will be your next-door neighbors can soon give way to anxiety about the costs that come along with a higher education. Rivermark is here to help. Check out some common college costs, pitfalls, and money-saving tips:

Paying For College

Tuition and Fees: By far, the biggest college cost is tuition and fees. The amount you pay varies based on the school you attend and whether you’re going to school out of state or sticking close to home. On average, each year you can plan on spending $38,768 if you’re attending a private college, $9,678 if you’re staying in-state and attending a public college, and $27,091 if you’re attending a school out of state*. That’s a big chunk of change. Depending on your situation, you can offset some of those costs with Federal Student Aid. However, the amount you qualify for might not cover all of (or even some of) your tuition and fees, let alone other living expenses. Private funding can help you bridge that gap. It’s a low-rate loan, plus you can defer payments while you’re in school.

Housing and Meals: If you’re not going to live at home, you’ll need to plan for housing and food costs which can range on-average from $11,368 if you’re at a four-year public school, to $13,028 at private schools*. Smart spending can help keep these costs in check, particularly if you put together a budget and stick to it.

  1. Get a full understanding of how much your dorm or apartment will cost for the year (don’t forget utilities if you’re living in an apartment!), and factor that into the amount of funds you need via student loans or a job.
  2. If you’re choosing an apartment, you can offset some costs by living with roommates or finding an apartment off-campus. Off-campus living might be less convenient, but could reduce the amount you pay in rent.
  3. Understand the different meal plans offered through the dorms and select the one that works well for you and your budget.
  4. If you’re apartment-living, a good average budget for groceries and eating-out is about $250 per month, and remember: it’s always cheaper to eat in!
  5. The more you go out to eat, the higher your costs will rise. Reduce the opportunity to overspend by using cash. At the beginning of the month (or whenever it makes the most sense for you), take out the amount you plan on spending on food. Once you run out of those earmarked funds, resist the urge to put meals on credit.

Books: Textbooks can be a huge expenditure, but there are ways to reduce that cost.

  1. If the service is available, consider ‘renting’ your textbooks from the library for a quarter or semester. Or, check-out the book for several hours while you study.
  2. Purchase used books through the campus bookstore, or through online purchasing sites like Amazon, Craigslist, or Slugbooks where you can search for the appropriate textbook by school and course, and then purchase or rent them.
  3. You can also sell your books back to the institution for other students to use in future classes. You won’t typically get back the full amount you paid for the book, but you’ll get some money back!

Transportation: If you need a vehicle, there are several different ways to save money:

  1. Buy a quality used vehicle from a reputable dealer. Consumer Reports offers ratings on the most reliable used cars and armed with that information you can hunt for deals on sites like
  2. Get a low-rate auto loan from Rivermark. Your credit union is member-owned, so our rates are lower than most banks or dealership lending. If you already own a car, you can also refinance to a Rivermark loan to reduce your monthly payment.
  3. Shop around for the best car insurance deals and consider different options to reduce costs. For example, you can increase your deductible or reduce your overall coverage based on the age of your vehicle. Each of these options have pros and cons, so make sure you fully understand your liability in the event of an accident. Bonus: Rivermark also offers auto insurance!

Managing Your Money

Expenses: The best way to deal with all of your expenses is to create a realistic budget. Map-out all of your major expenses like tuition, housing, etc. and when funds for those expenses will be needed. Then, add in smaller recurring expenses like utilities, loan payments, groceries, etc. Putting everything on a calendar will give you a nice visual. Having a clear picture of what your necessary spending looks like will give you a better idea of how much you have left-over for things like eating out and entertainment. Putting together a budget is tough for anyone, but can feel especially overwhelming if you’ve never done it before. You can get free financial counseling from our Financial Wellness Coaches. Call us today at 503.626.6600 to get started.

Income & Gifts: If you’re planning on working while in school, try to set aside funds right after payday for specific purposes. Just like with setting a budget, take care of the necessary expenses first so you know exactly how much you have for the ‘extras’ like dinner with friends or a trip to the mall. You can also more easily manage your funds if you set up direct deposit, so your funds are ready right away. If that’s not possible, or if you’re getting a check from another source like a parent, then using mobile deposit allows you to quickly deposit your funds so you have them readily available.

If you’re getting a cash gift or funds from a loved one, look at those funds the same way you would income from a job. Earmark funds for a specific purpose—like textbooks, rent, etc—and set those funds aside. Always make sure necessary expenses are taken care of first and stick to your budget when it comes to unnecessary purchases. To make it easy to receive funds, you can use Rivermark’s Online Banking to Transfer so that the funds from your loved one can be funneled directly into your checking or savings account.

Where To Do Your Banking

There are a lot of things that will change when you go to college. The good news is that you can stick with Rivermark wherever you go. Here’s how:

Know Where Surcharge-Free ATMs Are Located: Even though you don’t see the Rivermark sign, you can use ATMs within our network as if it was a Rivermark ATM. Find free ATMs near campus so you can avoid surcharge fees. Our ATM network has over 28,000 ATMs across the country…that’s more than even the largest banks.

How to Bank Without a Branch: If you don’t have the time or the transportation to visit a branch, you can also take care of your banking online. Things like online and mobile Banking (which includes the ability to open a product online), mobile deposit, and video banking can all be used for free 24 hours a day. You’ll never be stuck without access to your funds or a way to check balances.

Avoiding Financial Pitfalls

Create a Savings Plan: There are a lot of little unexpected expenses that can creep up. A great way to protect yourself is to have some emergency funds. Start slow, and set aside just a small amount each month for emergencies or a larger purchase like a new computer, vacation, etc. Just $35 a month will get you a savings of $420 in a year. Having some funds set aside will help you avoid placing big-ticket items on credit cards. Naming that savings account can help encourage you as well…seeing your savings balance go up can give you the motivation not to touch those funds unless you absolutely have to.

Credit Cards: Despite what you might have heard, credit cards aren’t evil. In fact, using credit cards is necessary to build your credit. Where people get into trouble is by choosing a high-rate credit card, putting too much on that card, and not paying it off. First, make sure to set a budget and have a savings plan, but also put a small (emphasis on ‘small’) amount on a low-interest card. The trick is to pay that balance quickly. This way, you won’t get into debt but you’ll have a good credit history and score, both of which are important when you’re looking to finance anything (car, house, etc).

Banking Fees: When you use out-of-network ATMs or you overdraft, you can get hit with fees, and those fees can add up fast. Truly, the best way to deal with fees is to avoid them all together. Always use a free ATM, and set-up your checking account with Overdraft Protection and/or Courtesy Pay so you don’t end up with a huge fee from the payee because your check/payment bounced.


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