Revealing The Hidden Costs of Off-Campus Living: It’s More Than Just Rent

By Addison Fouts

The hidden costs of an off-campus living situation can be intimidating. Most universities require freshmen to live on campus for their first year. But what do you do when you have to make the decision on whether or not to remain on campus? The Education Data Initiative says, “At four-year public schools, on-campus students pay an average of $11,520 for room and board and off-campus students pay $11,365.”

You may be led to believe that choosing an off-campus option is the more financially sound decision, however in my experience that hasn’t been the case. Last year I had an apartment downtown, just steps away from campus. This year I have about a 5-minute commute. While I pay around $400 less on rent each month, I make that cost up in other areas.

As any significant life-changing event goes, you’re going to spend a pretty penny on apartment essentials. For your dorm, you only needed items to fill one room. Once you move into an apartment you have to account for several other rooms. You now have a laundry room, kitchen, living room, bathroom and a bedroom to be responsible for. These extra rooms require cleaning so you’ll need to stock up on household supplies. You would not believe how much toilet paper, tissues and paper towels you’ll go through. On average each American uses 50 pounds of tissue paper annually. You’ll also need to restock on laundry detergent and dryer sheets. To be more cost-effective I buy the reusable dryer balls because they’re a one-time cost and they last a long time. It’s also better for the environment so it’s a win-win. Additional costs to think about are aluminum foil, baking sheets, trash bags, parchment paper, a vacuum, mop or Swiffer, broom and any other cleaning tools you need. Each room seems to have an additional item for your grocery list each week. The list can start to feel endless.

You may also want to start investing in cookware now that you have a kitchen. In the dorm you probably had a mini fridge and a microwave. Now you’ll want to consider an air-fryer, blender and toaster. Most air fryers cost between $60-$130 but if you’re thinking about adding any appliances to your list this is a must-have. I use my air-fryer weekly for meal prepping and making easy dinners.

Now that I’ve mentioned appliances and groceries you’ll need to budget for them! The average college student spends around $410 a month on groceries. To help myself budget I try my best to meal plan for the week. It also helps me save money on gas because I’m not driving back and forth to and from campus to make myself lunch at home. Usually I’ll look on TikTok for an easy meal prep idea. Recently I’ve been making brown rice, roasted vegetables and a grilled chicken for my meal prep. Luckily there are microwaves on campus that I use to heat up my lunch. You could also do something that stays cool such as a wrap or salad. Unfortunately, some weeks are busier and I don’t get around to meal prepping. I’ll usually spend $11 on breakfast and about $15 on lunch. That’s $26 for the day which can add up when I’m having to make those purchases a few times per week.

One of the large areas of cost is Uber fees. Last week I spent $60 in Uber charges. Now that I live off-campus and I’m 21, Uber or Lyft are about the only options I have when it comes to transporting to the bars and restaurants downtown. With the rise of gas prices, Uber and Lyft fees have also gone up. The average price of an Uber rose 92% between 2018 and 2021 and 45% between 2019 and 2022. When I signed my lease for my off-campus apartment I was told that there would be a bus that would run from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. Thursday-Saturday nights. The bus was allegedly supposed to drop off on campus which was only a brief 2-minute walk to the downtown nightlife, but this bus route doesn’t exist this year. I thought I would save a ton of money on transportation fees so when I found out that option wasn’t available my budget took a hit.

Another high cost happens to be my car. If you’re living off-campus you’re going to need reliable transportation. Over the summer my 2008 Mitsubishi gave out and I had to get a new car. According to edmunds, “the average used vehicle transaction price in Q1 2023 dipped 6.4% year-over-year but is up 44% from five years ago.” This is a huge financial hurdle, especially for someone who works 10 hours a week with no pay for a degree requirement. That doesn’t even include the gas it takes to get to campus each day or the cost of my parking pass. The average price of gas in Missouri right now is $3.23 per gallon. I end up filling my tank about once every two weeks since I have to drive to classes, work and extracurricular activities. The parking pass is $127.50 per semester. All these costs could be saved by staying on campus and choosing to walk to class or other activities.

The next time you’re faced with the decision of having to live on or off campus, consider your options wisely. I would recommend trying to find an apartment within walking distance of your campus. It may be more expensive in rent compared to apartments further off-campus, but you’ll save on Uber, gas money and car maintenance expenses.

Fouts is a graduating senior at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

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