Living Off Campus: Luxe Life or Budgeting Bonanza?

Now that the housing lottery is over and the dust has settled, you know where you’ll be living next fall! That’s great news! I bet you’re excited, whether you’re a freshman on the quad or in Sue B., or whether you’re an upperclassman in Hill Court (AKA “Phase”), over in Riverview, or chillin’ in special interest housing. And what about those of you upperclassmen who are living off campus? Man, you must be really excited!

Because living off campus is going to be the luxe life, right? You’ll be eating steak every night, relaxing in your leather recliner while enjoying a glass of fine wine (if you are of age, of course), in front of a crackling fire with your bearskin rug on the floor. Turn on your flat screen TV and turn up the volume on your surround sound entertainment system. Now this is livin’!

No? Doesn’t sound quite right? That’s not the student life!

Never fear—Wallis Wallet is here to help you with the budgeting bonanza that is managing your finances while living off campus! And for incoming freshmen, this will be useful if you ever plan to live off campus later. Let’s get to work.

So, what’s in a budget?

  • Rent: Okay, so what are you paying in rent? Whether you’re living behind the medical center or over in the ward, try to have a roommate or two to split costs with! That’ll certainly help you save some money. If you shoot for about $500 per month, you should be in relatively good shape.
  • Utilities: Don’t forget about these guys! What are utilities? Well, that can include your gas and electric bill, heat, water, and more. Estimate how much those will cost, and don’t forget to include them in your monthly budget. This can cost at least $50–100 per month.
  • Cable & Internet: You may be able to live without one or the other, but make your decision carefully. If you have both, some providers will offer you a discount for bundling your services. Maybe you’ll only watch Netflix on campus, curled up in the Periodical Reading Room on the couch. Free WiFi rules. You can expect to pay at least $100 for the monthly expense of cable and Internet.
  • Groceries: Depending on how much you cook, this can vary too. A conservative estimate would be about $200 per month on groceries—that allows you $50 per week. You’ll need to think about which meals you’ll be cooking and/or eating at home, and which meals you’ll eat on campus or out. Coupons.com will be your friend at Wegmans and beyond.
  • Transportation: How do you plan to get to and from campus? The buses are one option, and they’re very reliable! You’ll memorize the schedules quickly if you decide to bus it! If you choose to have a car off campus, make sure you account for gas in your monthly budget. That can easily add up to at least $100 per month depending on how much driving you do every day. Be safe when you’re off campus—minimize the time you spend out walking alone late at night! Bring a buddy with you when you can, and always have your cell phone with you in case of emergency—there aren’t always blue phones within reach when you’re living off campus.
  • Commuter meal plan: The commuter meal plan will be included on your bill from the University. You’ll pay $620 for the year for $500 of declining to use on campus. This may not be an out-of-pocket expense, but it does work out to about $77.50 per month.
  • Entertainment: Last but not least—you’ll want to have some fun! Clearly you’re going to be pinching pennies, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time! Budget at least $40–80 for this expense, so you have about $10–20 to spend per week if you want to attend events on campus or in the Rochester community, or go out to eat every once in awhile.

And the grand total is…over $1,000. See how quickly things can add up? It’s important to be aware of what your expenses are and have an idea of how you’re going to cover them. Whether it’s working on campus during the school year or over the summer before you get to back to Rochester, make sure you have a plan in place.

If your financial aid exceeds your direct charges from the University (what’s on your bill), you will receive a refund check. This can then be used toward your other education expenses, whether it’s books and supplies or off-campus rent and groceries. Budget your refund check carefully, though—if you spend it all in one go, there’s no more where that came from! Use this neat calculator to make your refund last. Be sure to connect with your financial aid counselor to go over your financial aid for next year and your expected charges.  Remember that you aren’t guaranteed to receive a refund, so plan accordingly.

Once you’ve covered all your expenses, then it’s time to kick back, relax, and enjoy your Ramen cup o’ noodles and your shabby-chic secondhand furniture. Now that’s the student life!

About the author

Patrick Hennessey

I am an alumnus of the University of Rochester, and I've worked in the Financial Aid Office as both a student worker and now a financial aid counselor. While at the University I was an English major, history minor, and also was involved with Greek Life. When I'm not slaving away over a hot keyboard, I'm usually at home writing, reading historical fiction and non-fiction, and playing my guitar.

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