Reprinted by permission of the authors, Kyle Prevost & Justin Bouchard, from More Money For Beer and Textbooks. Copyright©2013 by Young and Thrifty Publications.
While living in residence might mean having the time of your life, and getting an apartment with a couple of close friends may be the experience you planned all through high school, the undeniable fact as far as your wallet is concerned is that your mom and dad are the best roommates in the world. Regardless of the glorious lifestyle that college movies depict, the statistics simply don't lie. The RateSupermarket.ca survey results mentioned in Chapter 1 vividly illustrate the huge difference that increased living expenses can make in the total cost of an education. The easiest way to save $45,000 while you're going to university, or $11,000 while you're at college, is simply to live at home.
We know this probably isn't what most of you want to hear: If you're lucky enough to live close to a decent post-secondary option and you and your parents can co-exist around each other without spontaneously combusting, it's hard to justify not living at home if your folks are up to it. Even if you have to pay a little bit of rent in order to sweeten the deal, chances are it's still a ridiculously good financial move.
Few students have any clue how much money their parents spend on relatively small individual purchases for the household and how quickly they all add up. Such things as toiletries, supplies for laundry and cleaning and the kitchen, food itself, and dozens of other incidental items that used to appear magically in the house when you lived with your parents can cost you a much bigger portion of your budget than you thought. This doesn't even take into account such things as borrowing the family car a few times a week instead of owning your own vehicle; using Mom and Dad's furniture, computer, and printer; and other one-time costs you'll have to figure out how to pay for if you move away.
We loved the independence we each experienced when we'd moved out of our parents' places for school. We believe the decision to move away from home and to live on campus played a large part in making both of us who we are today. At the same time, we didn't have much choice, because we grew up in rural areas too far from any campus to commute.
Still, you can't ignore the effect that your choice of where to live can have on your wallet. Remember, for living in residence, we're talking about at least $5,500 for an eight-month year: that's at least $687.50 a month, or at least $22.59 every single day, that you have to spend–or get to save–depending on the choice you make.
Ultimately, it comes down to your priorities and how much you are willing to sacrifice for them. "Complete" freedom and the experiences that can come with independent living are extremely attractive and valuable … but so is a stack of four hundred and fifty $100 bills (which offer another form of freedom).
On Campus vs. Off Campus
It's tough for us not to be biased when it comes to discussing student housing options. Although we both lived off campus at some point while going through school, we agree that living on campus was essential not only to the lives we enjoyed as students but also to our futures. We first met many of our lifelong friends while living on campus–and Kyle met his better half there. In fact, we could probably write a whole book just on the benefits of living in residence. But, in the interest of keeping things short and sweet (two things we are decidedly not), we'll simply refer you to Justin's blog, MyUniversityMoney.com, in case you want to take a more in-depth look at what makes on-campus living so special for many people (and what to avoid if you want to graduate at some point!).
Much of the debate about living on campus and living off can be quantified in dollars and cents. But there are several important considerations that don't show up on a balance sheet. Before we boil things down to the lowest common denominator (money), here are a few points to help you decide which type of housing is better for you:
1. Living with other young people is a fantastic experience–which you will hate about once a week. Being surrounded by hundreds of students at relatively the same stage in life is ideal for forming lasting connections and consistently having a blast. Being surrounded by hundreds of young people also requires a sacrifice of privacy, overall control, and noise standards. For some people, that sacrifice just isn't worth it. For us, it was a small price to pay.
2. Living on campus can really help you academically. You should miss fewer classes because you're just a ten-minute walk from anywhere on campus. Also nearby are the library and all the other technical support that a campus offers. Many studies state that, for the average student, living on campus makes the transition from high school to post-secondary study easier.
3. Living on campus can cripple you academically. Why? There is always a party somewhere on campus. Sunday night? Been there. Tuesday afternoon? What better way to celebrate the first Tuesday of the week! At some point, either you learn to organize yourself and balance out the opportunities for fun with a little TLC for your GPA, or you crash and burn before moving out of residence. The good thing is that this critical choice is entirely yours to make.
4. Some people believe that residence food is gross and that there is no selection. This was not our experience, and as a couple of big guys we appreciated the large serving-sizes. Another popular argument is that food plans are overpriced at universities. While this may be true (especially for smaller eaters), don't forget that when you live off campus you need to worry about food preparation and cleaning the kitchen. For those of you who tend to let food go bad, or who find yourselves often going out for fast food because you don't have the energy to make supper, this fact alone can make it worthwhile to live in residence.
5. In addition to the obvious monetary benefits of not commuting, there is also a huge time factor. We place a very high premium on freeing up our time and being efficient with our day–so spending a couple of hours every day waiting for and then taking a bus is not our thing. Think about the fact that all of that waiting adds up to over 700 hours every year–700 hours that you could be using on something productive or fun!
6. Living on campus puts you right at the heart of a diverse selection of extracurricular activities. There is no better place to be if you want to participate in a drama club, choir, intramurals, dance lessons, or the debate team. Most people who commute don't take advantage of nearly as many of these offerings, because it's just not as convenient.
If you find yourself saying, "Yeah, sure, all that stuff is fine and good–but which one takes a bigger chunk out of my bank account?" just read on for a summary of the financial differences between living on campus and off. While most people who are supposed to know about this stuff will tell you that living on campus costs more, that is not entirely true. Depending on your personal circumstances, one option might cost slightly more than the other; but overall we've found that they usually come out pretty close to equal. The University of Windsor has a very thorough cost comparison at uwindsor.ca/residence/comparing-costs. Here are the major considerations as we see them:
1. The monthly cost of on-campus housing will probably be higher than that of off-campus options, but by the same token many students don't want to live in the same area during the summer where they live during the school year. Many students move away in May to pursue lucrative work opportunities, and others move back home for various reasons. In those situations, the eight-month on-campus contracts are often the best option available. When you talk to landlords about drawing up a contract for only the eight-month school year, don't be surprised if they stare at you in confused disbelief. Rentals are almost always signed for twelve months at a time; and, given the lack of rental vacancies close to Canadian campuses, this isn't likely to change. So, when you're comparing costs, consider whether you will or won't leave town for the summer: if you will be gone all summer, ask yourself about the wisdom of continuing to pay rent for four months on an apartment you're not even setting foot in.
2. The question of how many roommates (if any) you're sharing housing costs with can radically affect your budget. If you choose to live with a roommate in residence, it will cut your costs down substantially (although we wouldn't recommend this to a lot of people). The same logic applies to various off-campus arrangements. Some of our pals saved tons of money by renting a five-bedroom house together and splitting the rent five ways. Other people crave the privacy of living by themselves or with one roommate with whom they are particularly close. Make sure to apply the relevant rates for your specific situation.
3. As we mentioned before, living off campus means increased transportation costs. If you go to a school where a public-transit fee is built into your tuition, this may not affect you much anyway. If you plan to use a personal vehicle, though, these costs can be substantial. You may need to compare specific parking costs for on-campus and off-campus scenarios at your school.
4. Many people claim that purchasing their own food and cooking for themselves saves them money over the inflated prices of student meal plans. We're not sure this should be as widely accepted as it is, but we've talked to many people who are absolutely sure about this. Maybe the two of us just aren't that good at grocery shopping and cooking.
5. Living on campus gives you access to a ton of cheap to free entertainment options. Just by being around so many young and energetic people and piggy-backing on their creativity, you can have a great time that doesn't involve a debit or credit card. One example is the crazy campus-wide games of Capture the Flag we used to play whenever someone got the motivation to round everyone up. If you haven't sprinted across your campus at full speed playing a child's game at one o'clock in the morning, you simply haven't lived.
6. Before we give you some tips on how to save money on furnishing a place (coming up in just a moment), don't forget that most residence rooms come fully furnished–and there isn't room to put anything else in them even if you want to. Although it might take you a few days to get used to the meagre square footage that you are allotted when you live on campus, there is no better way to practice this "minimalist lifestyle" that has become all the rage among personal-finance gurus everywhere. To put it simply, you can't spend money on furniture, 103 pairs of shoes, pets, and a big-screen TV if you don't have space for furniture, 101 pairs of shoes, pets, and a big-screen TV.
7. When comparing the costs of on-campus and off-campus housing, remember to "compare apples to apples" and budget for everything that on-campus housing charges you for up front: items such as utilities (monthly costs plus initial hookup fees), cable, Internet, parking-spots, and all the one-time costs (such as basic furnishings) that on-campus housing usually provides.
8. Once you've lived in residence for a year or two, you may want to try your hand at being a residence adviser. The standard deal for most residences is that every floor or two needs someone to show the new students the ropes and generally keep order. In return for taking on this gargantuan task, you usually get free room and board, not to mention a few other perks. In addition to the large monetary incentive, your having been a residence adviser looks great on your résumé.
Reprinted by permission of the authors, Kyle Prevost & Justin Bouchard, from More Money For Beer and Textbooks. Copyright©2013 by Young and Thrifty Publications