How Much Spending Money is Right for a College Student? Find out Here!

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How much spending money is a college student likely to need? This is a question most parents and soon-to-be college students ask themselves. College is expensive and in addition to tuition, there are several expenses that most parents and students do not consider. Planning how much money the student will need before they head to their first class is crucial and must be determined in advance.

Calculating How Much Money is Needed

In order to properly calculate how much spending money is needed, one should first determine what types of expenses a college student may run into. In order to properly calculate how much a student needs, the student must decide which purchases are considered spending money and which expenses are considered the cost of attending college. When determining a budget, it is important to figure out the budget for the entire school year.

What Expenses to Expect

The following things are often necessary for college students throughout a full year of college:

  • Clothing allowance
  • Food allowance
  • Cell phone
  • Money to buy gifts for family or friends (birthdays, holidays, etc.)
  • Textbooks and school supplies
  • Travel allowance (so the student can travel home on holidays and breaks and then back to school)
  • Entertainment allowance
  • Gas money or money for public transportation
  • Activity money for clubs, classes, the gym, or similar activities
  • Electronics (such as a computer)

Some of these expenses vary great, such as travel, because there are different prices for different flight distances or bus distances.

Amounts for Each Type

Some college students will need a large allowance for clothing, while others will purchase their wardrobe for the year prior to leaving for school and will not need to purchase clothing throughout the year. Students who take a lot of classes or belong to a lot of clubs will need more activity money than a student who does not participate in these things. The geographic region of the student’s school will also greatly impact their needed budget. For example, a student going to schools in large cities, such as New York City or Los Angeles will often need more money to spend on things like food and entertainment, while a student attending a rural school will need less money for these items, but more money for transportation. Students attending a school in a small college town can probably walk to most places and be around establishments that are not expensive, so they would typically need less money for both entertainment and transportation.

Sample Budget for a Single School Year

This is a sample budget showing the calculation of yearly spending money needed for one college student for a full year of college. Of course, each student is different and many factors could either increase or decrease any of these figures.

  • Clothing allowance: $500 to $1,000 per year
  • Food allowance: $500 to $1,000 per year when students are eating regular meals on campus
  • Cell phone: $350 to $600 per year
  • Gift buying: $100 to $500 per year
  • Electronics: $200 to $1,200 per year
  • Entertainment allowance: $500 per year
  • Transportation and car insurance: $1,200 to $3,000 per year
  • Activities: $100 to $1,000 per year
  • Books and school supplies: $400 to $1,200 per year
  • Travel: $0 to $1,000 per year


Terrell, B. (2004). Top Ten Student Money Mistakes. Retrieved on September 28, 2010 from Young Money:

College (2010). 118 Ways to Save Money in College. Retrieved on September 28, 2010 from College