There is a good reason why careful, long-term financial planning and good money management practices are often vital to the college experience. Tuition and school-related fees can be quite expensive, particularly for students who qualify for little or no financial aid and who do not obtain any scholarships.
When researching schools, it is important to understand the total cost of attendance, including tuition, books, course fees, housing, food and other additional costs. GCU provides a degree program calculator so you can plan ahead and budget for your education-related expenses.
However, tuition and fees are not the only major expenses to consider when planning your higher education. You’ll also need to take into consideration your daily living expenses. It can be helpful to develop a rough estimate of what to expect well before you start packing your bags to head off to campus. So, outside of your college tuition fees, how much does a college student spend each month, and what do college students spend money on? Let’s take a closer look.
In This Article:
- Financial Considerations for College Students
- What Do College Students Spend Money On?
- Is College Worth It?
Financial Considerations for College Students
It’s tricky to answer the question, How much does the average college student spend per month? because there is no universal answer that applies to every student. A student’s expenses can depend on highly variable factors, such as:
- The cost of living in their geographic region
- Whether they live on campus or off campus
- Lifestyle factors and individual choices regarding purchases of food, clothing, electronics and similar items
Although every college student will budget a little differently (and may have varying levels of success in sticking to those budgets), some generalizations can be made. Let’s take a closer look at how much college students spend a month.
What Do College Students Spend Money On?
Although some students may spend more in one category than another, below are a few generalizations about student spending that you may find informative.
How much does the average college student spend per month on food, including meal plans, groceries and eating out? Of course, individual purchasing decisions are highly variable in this category. Some students have special dietary requirements, such as vegans, those who avoid gluten and those with food allergies. Such special dietary requirements may increase food costs.
The average monthly amount spent on food by college students will also depend on whether they purchase a meal plan, as well as which meal plan they buy. (Will it cover all of their meals, or must they still buy some meals outside the plan?). At GCU, you can choose from a variety of meal plans and dine at a number of venues across campus.
Collectively, U.S. college students spend almost $40 billion on food each year. The average campus meal plan costs $563 each month, and the average amount spent on food each month is $547. That figure includes groceries, meal delivery services and restaurants, but not meal plans.1
On average, college students spend $342 each month eating out at restaurants off campus. If they are coffee drinkers who do not brew their own coffee, they can expect their grocery budget to increase substantially. College students spend an average of almost $100 each month on coffee alone.1
Of course, the price of food and restaurant meals varies considerably from one geographical region to the next. New Hampshire boasts the lowest average grocery budget for college students: only $56 per month. Hawaii tops the list at $430 per month.1
Like tuition and food, the average cost of housing has risen. Students who choose to live off campus pay an average of $10,631 per year.1
Students who live on campus might pay different average amounts, depending on the type of school. At public schools, students spend an average of $987 per month on housing. At private schools, the average is $1,121.1 However, these figures do not take into account the type of housing option chosen, such as single or shared dorm rooms, or apartment-style residencies (with or without roommates). GCU has many options for on-campus housing.
How much do college students spend a month on transportation? This number varies and depends on factors like if you have your own car or take public transport to school. On average, a community-college student spend around $1,760 per year on transportation.2 However, this figure does not take into account that some students drive their own cars whereas others use public transportation. It also doesn’t take into account the fact that students who live off campus will likely spend more on transportation than those who live on campus.
A college student’s budget can be affected by items other than food, housing and transportation. On average, students can expect to spend about $158.98 on clothing and accessories per year, and about $164.38 on furnishings. Electronics are a more significant expense, at an average of $306.41 per year. Miscellaneous school supplies cost an average of $83.56 yearly.1
Is College Worth It?
Due to the high cost of college, some students may be wondering, Is a degree really worth it? College is more than an expense; it’s an investment in your future. For many students, attending college offers an invaluable opportunity to pursue passions, develop a professional network and learn how to live and behave as a newly independent young adult.
Beyond these intangible benefits, college can potentially offer financial rewards, as well. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a worker’s earnings can rise as their education level increases. Here are the median weekly earnings for 2022 by education level:3
- High school diploma: $853
- Associate degree: $1,005
- Bachelor’s degree: $1,432
- Master’s degree: $1,661
- Doctoral degree: $2,083
Grand Canyon University strives to make higher education accessible for all. View the estimated cost of attendance, which includes expenses beyond tuition and school-related fees, and calculate your projected costs based on our residence, apartment and meal plan rates. To learn more about our degree programs and get answers to your questions, fill out the form on this page to connect with a knowledgeable university counselor.
1 Raja, S. (2023). College student spending habits for 2023. Lexington Law. Retrieved Oct. 19, 2023.
2 Bray, J. (2023). Transportation Costs in Student Living Expenses. ACCT Now. Retrieved Oct. 19, 2023.
3 The earnings referenced were reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”), Education Pays as of May 2023, retrieved Aug. 23, 2023. Due to COVID-19, data from 2020 and 2021 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may also impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the BLS. BLS calculates the median using salaries of workers from across the country with varying levels of education and experience and does not reflect the earnings of GCU graduates as Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides. It does not reflect earnings of workers in one city or region of the country. It also does not reflect a typical entry-level salary. Median income is the statistical midpoint for the range of salaries in a specific occupation. It represents what you would earn if you were paid more money than half the workers in an occupation, and less than half the workers in an occupation. It may give you a basis to estimate what you might earn at some point if you enter this career. You may also wish to compare median salaries if you are considering more than one career path. Grand Canyon University can make no guarantees on individual graduates’ salaries as the employer the graduate chooses to apply to, and accept employment from, determines salary not only based on education, but also individual characteristics and skills and fit to that organization (among other categories) against a pool of candidates.
Approved by the assistant vice president of GCU Marketing on Sept. 29, 2023.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.