The Hidden Costs of Going Back to School

by Kelly · 12 comments

in Living Frugally

Part of my process of planning to go back to school was calculating the budget: how much I would receive in grants every month, what part of the tuition we would need to pay ourselves, how to defer my student loans. But there were some hidden, forgotten costs that have appeared- out of nowhere it seems.

Photocopies and printing documents

I’ve had to make a few photocopies, for my student card and other administrative forms. I don’t imagine that this will be a huge expense, but I can definitely see needing to make five or six photocopies per month. Luckily, as students we get 25O impressions (printing or photocopying documents) although I have the feeling that most of those 250 sheets will go to printing out papers, presentations and more. Which leads me to

A Printer

I have steadfastly resisted owning a printer for at least four years now. I feel like we don’t have the space, nor do I want the added expense of buying paper and ink. But I think I may have to give in and buy one; there are just too many things which need to be printed out. Luckily this is not urgent, so we have time to put out the word on Freecycle or amongst our friends and family, or find a good deal on a new one.


This is not a hidden cost, per se, as I knew in advance that I would need a laptop. But it did not figure in our financial calculations when we were considering whether or not we would be able to afford for me to go back to school. After I knew that I had received my grant, we went looking for a affordable dependable laptop; we were able to pay cash for it, a first for a major expense like this.

Computer bag

If you have a laptop, of course you need a way to transport it. Enter my laptop sleeve. The materials weren’t that expensive (less than €10), but factor in the time to make it and it’s worth about €80. Buying a nice one would have been much more expensive, but it’s still a factor.

Tram tickets

I don’t drive to school- it’s across town and I would have to fight my way through traffic jams twice a day and pay for parking. Instead I take the tram, which is as good a commute as any, although not free. Each trip costs me €1, that’s €2 a day, €10 a week, €40 a month, that I didn’t consider when planning my budget. Gas and parking would be much more expensive, however, so I do think I am making the right decision. Not to mention that I actually get to read on the tram!

Things for lunch

Even though I pack my lunch, I’ve had to start buying special things to put in it. Hard cheeses, rice cakes, eggs for boiled eggs. Stuff that I wouldn’t normally buy, and which, although it doesn’t cost much, does add up.

Morning coffee

I drink coffee at home, of course. I would have a hard time getting out of the house without it! But once at school, the coffee machine calls its sweet siren Vanilla Latte song, and I have a hard time resisting. €.45 may not seem like much, but multiplied by at least once a day, five days a week and I’m spending a good part of my €20 monthly blow money on staying awake. A few girls in my class bring thermoses full of strong tea to class, and I’m looking for a cheap thermos so that I can bring my own coffee. I think I could recup the cost of buying it after the first month.

How do you save money in your daily routine? Have you found any hidden costs?


1 Lucie @ Unconventional Origins October 6, 2008

These are all SO true!

Parking passes at my school are ridiculously expensive (100+ a semester) so I ride my bike to school.

A big hidden cost (for law students at least) are supplementary books. Some of the classes are so dense with material it is a huge help to get the study aids. When I do my book budget (which even used is between 500 and 700 a semester) I leave myself 100 dollars for later in the semester in case I need to buy extra supplements.

Highlighters have been a major hidden expense for me, with all the reading I can burn through 1 – 3 a week! I buy them in bulk to cut down on the cost.

Coffee is killer though – why do those coffee machines/shops always look so tempting?

2 TightFistedMiser October 6, 2008

There are lots of extra expenses involved in going back to school in addition to tuition and books. I don't think they add up to much in my case. I probably save money on lunch because if I wasn't at law school I'd be tempted to go out for lunch.

Lucie- You should check out my post Advanced Strategies for Saving on Law Books. I'm in law school and spent less than $100 for books this semester. Plus I bought a couple of supplemental books for $10. I should be able to recoup about half that amount by selling the books at the end of the semester.

3 neimanmarxist October 6, 2008

we bring our lunch to school but coffee is something we both spend money on each and every day 🙁 For a while I was bringing my own in a thermos but since i take mine with milk the acid in the coffee would curdle the milk by the time it was time to drink it. I might start taking it black so that i can bring it in my thermos from home- saving on cash and calories! we walk to school rather than paying the parking. it’s 3 miles round trip, which is just a nice way to get exercise in the fall. but the winters here are frigid and that’s when it becomes a bit of a sacrifice.

4 Shevy October 6, 2008

I think there are always hidden expenses when you start doing something new (or restart something you used to do).

For my daughter, I figured I could afford her ballet lessons and I just gulped and bought her a leotard, tights and slippers all at once six months ago. But this session I had to buy her new tights because the other ones were with laundry that hadn’t gotten done at our other house ($10.45) and now I’m going to have to buy her new slippers because ONE has disappeared! I know the baby had it one day but we’ve looked everywhere we can think of and can’t find where she put it. Of course that makes it *my* fault, because I “should never have let the baby have it” even though it was my hubby who left them lying on my bed instead of hanging them up on the hook with the rest of her ballet stuff. We could bat the blame back and forth forever but I’m still going to be out of pocket about another $25. I wouldn’t be nearly as upset if she’d outgrown them! At least you expect that to happen.

For school, I’d say all kinds of office supplies in addition to highlighters. More pens or coloured ones, a ruler, paper, Postit notes for marking pages, binders, reinforcements, etc. Nothing that costs much, just little nibbles of expenses but they add up. When I did Residential Architectural Design I had to buy some templates or stencils (for drawing in things like toilets and door swings on floor plans) and vellum.

5 Vintage Mommy October 6, 2008

I think anytime you're away from home for extended periods of time you end up spending more money, whether it's the occasional coffee treat, a quick lunch, a magazine you see on your travels . . . sounds like you're paying close attention; that's half the battle!

6 Frugal Trenches October 6, 2008

What a good post, so very true. I think we so often forget those hidden costs!

7 Kelly October 7, 2008

I’ve bought my thermos (I found a great one at Ikea, hurrah) and I’m allowing myself one lunch at the student cafeteria per week (for €2.65). We’ll be able to go without the printer for a while longer, because I’ve discovered a special room with computers and an old printer where, if you bring your own paper, you can print stuff for free.

8 Amy @ My Daily Dollars October 7, 2008

Yes, there do seem to be hidden costs to going to school (or work!). I think you’ve done a great job budgeting for them. Like Vintage Mommy said, awareness is half the battle.

I’m impressed that you didn’t list clothes. Work clothes are a big expense for me. I suppose it’s easier as a student, but I’d think you’d want a few cozy sweaters or sweatshirts for studying.

9 FruGal October 7, 2008

God, I drank so much coffee at uni! I think I spent more time in the coffee house than I did in classes! Be sure to look for secondhand textbooks, too. I used to work in the bookshop of our university, and each year the textbook lists would come out with new editions, so most students would think they’d need to pay for the new one – but there’s hardly any difference between different editions of the same text books. 🙂

10 Nicole October 8, 2008

I’ve always hated those bogus fees included in tuition: student activity fee, lab fee, etc. Do you have those in France too?

11 Frugalized October 8, 2008

Regarding coffee, making it yourself and bringing it with you is the way to go. I just wrote an article on my blog about saving money by making your own coffee and bringing it with you. The savings over the course of a year is pretty high.

Regarding costs for going back to school, I second Nicole — look out for additional student fees that tend to be hidden and not covered in tuition. That might be a US thing. I’m not sure if schools in France work the same way.

12 Kelly October 8, 2008

@Amy, I already have my share of comfy sweatshirts for studying! My challenge is going to be finding nice clothes for job interviews after!

@FruGal, Luckily we only need to own five textbooks, out of about 20. The rest can be borrowed from the library for the year. I've been on the search for used, but haven't been able to find any, so I think I'm going to have to bit the bullet and order off of Amazon.

@Nicole, Things seem to be different here in regards to fees. I paid €200 at the beginning of the year (budgeted) and so far nothing else. Although I have to say that unis in Europe (or at least in France) have a very different set up than in the US- few sports teams, smaller facilities, no or little student housing etc.

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