Beyond Tuition: Helping Out With College Expenses

My sister starts college this spring and I've been thinking about options for helping her out with her expenses beyond trying to help her pay tuition. While I'd love to be able to just cover all her costs, the cost of attending college these days prevents that. Those of us who want to help out a family member when it comes to college aren't out of luck, though. There are some practical ways to help out a college student that don't involve writing a check to the university.

Housing and Transportation

I happen to live about 30 minutes away from the school my sister is attending and I'm able to offer her housing. It doesn't change my mortgage at all by putting her in the spare bedroom but it makes a major difference in the amount of money she has to come up with for school. Sometimes, I can even give her a ride to school. It took a lot of consideration to decide that I wanted to make the offer of living with me to my sister: not only did we have to be sure that everyone involved was comfortable with the arrangement, but my sister and I had to come to an agreement of what we expected of one another if she was going to get a place to stay for free.

Pick Up A Bill

One of my friends simply added her niece to her cell phone contract. She could get a better deal for a second line than her niece could get on her own and by paying for a cell phone, my friend has eliminated one of her niece's expenses while she's in college. There are plenty of other bills that a college student has, on top of tuition and board, and students generally can't get the best deals. If you've already established yourself with a company, like a cell phone provider or an insurance company, you can often get a better deal adding a relative to your account than that relative can get on his or her own (especially when you consider the minimal credit history most college students have).

Planning Ahead

If you've got a younger relative that you want to be able to help with college costs down the road, putting aside some money now can be useful. Even better, you don't have to be the parent of the student in question to use some of the tax-advantaged college savings account. With a 529 College Savings Plan, for instance, you can open a savings account for just about anyone. All you need is a Social Security number. Even a small monthly deposit can make a big difference if you've got some time to let it grow — maybe a much bigger difference than the amount you'll be able to write a check for when college actually rolls around.

See What Works For You

Every family is different. If you want to help a relative or a friend with college expenses, there are many options for doing so. It's a matter of seeing what's practical for you and the student in question. If you have any suggestions for other ways to help out a college student, please share them in the comments.


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Guest's picture

If you add yourself to a Upromise account for a neice or grandchild, specific purchases "kick back" a percentage into their account. We've found if the student can't accumulate the necessary monthly threshhold amount to open a 529, the money is still theirs to use for school expenses. It just not bearing interest. Recently we opened a Upromise credit card account. All purchses add something to our son's college account. Every bit helps.

Guest's picture
Stacey Marcos

First and foremost it must be asked...
Why, specifically, are you going to college?
Does it fit your life goals?
Are you going for your own reasons?

I know too many people that went to college just because it was something to do after high school. Something that was expected of them. They got a degree in a field they have little interest in and/or has nothing to do with their career today. All for the privilege of carrying a student loan in perpetuity or draining their parents savings.

Not making the mistake of college "for no good reason" would be the best savings of all.

Guest's picture

I agree that a student should go to college just because it's the expected thing for them to do. However, I also have many, many friends who are limited by not having an undergraduate degree or some sort (in many cases of any sort).

I know a number of men at church who feel called to the ministry and would greatly benefit from having a seminary degree. However they can not obtain such a degree due to not having an undergrad degree to start with (there are ways to get some credentials without the actual master's degree, but they are much more difficult and don't open all of the doors). Another few friends have had many troubles finding jobs, really just getting the interviews, due to not having some sort of undergrad degree. My brother-in-law faced that for many years before he finally finished his degree. All of these people are highly skilled in their fields and, with the exception of not having some sort of college degree, are well qualified for many positions. But just not having that piece of paper has held them back.

It's not the way our culture/country/work world should be, but, for now, it's the way that it is. And for that reason, I recommend that just about all of my high school kids (I'm a volunteer youth leader at church) should go to college.

Thursday Bram's picture

Stacey, I do agree that many people choose college for lack of a better option. In the case I'm talking about, my sister is passionate about persuing a career that requires a degree. There are plenty of situations in which college is a good option, after all, and making it easier on a friend or relative to get a college degree can be a good thing.

Guest's picture

My daughter just got accepted to college this morning and so this is very timely! She waited will she was good and ready, so I think her maturity will help her make good decisions about spending while in school.

I'll add a pro-school opinion: I agree that college may not be the best path for everyone, and is certainly costly, but I think it can be beneficial even if you don't know what you want to do with your life. Four years will pass anyway, so why not have a degree at the end? (and yes, likely some amount of debt) My experience in the workplace is that a degree, ANY degree, is better than none - the work is specialized, but my co-workers come from a variety of educational backgrounds. And college teaches much more than just the subject you're studying. It was the best investment I ever made - and yes, I'm still paying for it an embarrassing number of years later!!

Guest's picture

There is no getting around the fact that everyone needs some type of schooling after high school graduation. Just ask some of the thousands that were laid off after working for a company for 20 years. They are going back to school to get educated in order to get a job in a different field.
My kids are only 6 and 3, but i am adament that they will continue their schooling. I have begun saving now for that time.
But the most important thing to keep in mind, is that a 4 year college is not the only option. There are technical schools and apprenticeships. My ex-husband did an apprenticeship out of high school that was 5 years. When he completed the schooling and on the job time, he walked away making $40 an hour with full benefits and a great pension. He still had classes he had to enroll in that were once a week. He had the tuition, books, and other fees. Plus working and raising a family.
Back to main point...Some sort of schooling needs to be done after high school. Technical, 4 year college, apprenticeship, etc. And no matter what the choice, there are still loads of tuition, books, and fees that eat up their income. So any help to someone doing this, would be greatly appreciated.
In this day and age with everyone wanting instant gratification, those who choose to go to school should be commended. And helped along the way. Someday they will turn around and do the same for someone else.

Guest's picture

Planning ahead is the key, however not an option in this instance.

The only other thing I can offer is to tell her NOT to use the on campus bookstore to buy textbooks. There are about a million websites out there where she can get cheap, used textbooks. Also, she can use these sites at the end of the semester to sell her books again, rather than getting ripped off by the bookstore again.

Blue Rectangle comes to mind as one I've used before

Guest's picture

I am a junior in college, and I definitely love this article! My parents are paying for most of my school, but I have had to pay about 1 thousand to 2 thousand a year. I also pay for all living expenses while I am at school, including books. My only income is what I make over the summer and when I can babysit over breaks. But let me tell you, one of the best gifts to give to a college student is some barnes and noble gift-cards. I got four, each with $50 dollars on them, and it was so nice when I went to pay for books. I do buy the majority of my textbooks online, but when I can't, it was amazing to just whip a gift-card out and still have cash in my pocket. Another suggestion would be to send a care package or two of home-cooked stuff. I've only gotten two, one my freshman year and one my sophmore year, but they brought great memories of home and the people who sent them, and when I went home the next break I personally thanked them. Giving a little to a college student goes a long way in his/her life. Trust me.

Guest's picture

I think this is great advice, planning ahead and taking advantage of CDs and Savings Accounts is how to go!

Guest's picture

nice article . Hi, I am Sonam, housewife from from Bangalore. I am graduated in Science. I can teach English, hindi, Maths, Science upto 10th standard. I am looking for tuition jobs in bangalore