Updated on 01.15.15

Should You Live at Home to Save Money During College?

Would you be able to do this if you lived at home? Maybe not, but living on campus will cost a lot more than living with mon and dad. Photo: Aleta

Could you do this if you lived at home? Maybe not, but living on campus will cost a lot more than living with mom and dad. Photo: Aleta

What would you say to shaving off about $10,000 a year from your college expenses?

The average college graduate leaves school with more than $29,000 in student loan debt, but one common option to reduce that figure by thousands of dollars is to live at home instead of on campus.

The average annual cost of room and board is $9,500, or $10,830 at a private university, according to CollegeData.com. The cost of living with mom and dad? Maybe just your independence.

About 54% of college students live at home, according to Forbes. And that could be one of the reasons why the average amount families spend on college has declined in recent years, according to The New York Times. The most prominent increase in students living at home is among those from families with incomes above $100,000, according to a study by Sallie Mae.

Living at home during college can have both positive and negative impacts on your life. Most obviously, it can be a huge money saver. But it could detract from your social and academic experience. As with most big decisions, it takes some consideration. Consider the pros and cons, compare costs and gains, and make the decision on what is best for your situation.

Here are some things to consider:

Pros of Living at Home During College

You could save a lot of money on room and board, plus the cost of a meal plan. Other ways you could save include spending less on fast food, laundry facilities, new furniture or belongings for your dorm or apartment, and moving costs (i.e., moving in and out of dorms and apartments).

One way to think of it is that living at home now could mean you don’t have to do it later. Many college students who lived on campus need to return home after graduating because they can’t afford to live on their own.

Whether they’re dealing with student loan debt or simply unemployed or underemployed, many college graduates are moving back in with mom and dad instead of moving to an apartment. In a recent survey, 85% of college seniors said they plan to move back home after graduation, according to Business Insider.

However, if you lived at home during college to cut costs, your student loan debt might be less because you didn’t have to pay for four (or more) years of room and board. If you think living at home is difficult during college, consider being on your own for four years, then needing to move back after you’ve (hopefully) started your career.

Besides saving money, if your parents saved for your college education with a 529 savings plan, that money can continue to grow if you don’t need to use it to fund your college costs right away. U.S. News & World Report points out that if parents and students are able to pay for college expenses with a regular savings account and their income (or with scholarships and grants), it’s more time they can avoid tapping into that 529 plan. You can use it for the last two years of college or for graduate school instead.

You may avoid (to an extent) some common health issues associated with living in a dorm, or anywhere people are living in close proximity, such as meningitis, mono, colds and flu, athlete’s foot, and more.

You just might eat healthier. You’ve heard of the dreaded “Freshman 15,” where students gain weight upon going away to college. Studies show that it’s really somewhere between 3 and 7 pounds. This is often attributed to ordering fast food more often, all-you-can-eat dining hall options, increased alcohol intake, and not-so-healthy choices in the dining halls and around campus.

Odds are, there is less chance of distractions at home than there would be living in a dorm or apartment with roommates. This could make it easier to study and keep those grades up, possibly improving your odds of qualifying for scholarships and securing competitive internships.

Depending on your relationship with your parents, you may enjoy the emotional support or help. Living at home can allow you to share some responsibilities, making it easier for your parents, whether you chip in financially or simply help around the house.

Finally, you can still enjoy the comforts of home, including a washer and dryer down the hall, not sharing a bathroom with a dozen or more people, and having your own space.

Cons of Living at Home During College

Those who don’t favor living at home during college generally cite not getting an authentic college experience. Living in the dorm or even in a nearby apartment is definitely a unique experience. Many feel it’s harder to make friends if you’re living off campus, and you may be less likely to take advantage of campus resources.

You’re forgoing the benefits of proximity. If you’re on campus, you might be more likely to join clubs and participate in on-campus activities. A canceled class or school closure isn’t as big a headache as if you’ve already driven to campus. A course may require a supplemental activity, such as visiting an on-campus museum, attending a show, or spending time in the language lab on campus. This could be more difficult if you’re commuting.

Consider the financial costs of commuting. If you lived on campus, you could sell your car, forgo a car payment, insurance, registration, and other car-related costs.

It costs an estimated $8,876 annually to own a car without including the payment, according to AAA. Plus, a campus parking pass can cost you. Depending on parking fees and how far you travel, the cost of commuting to school could offset much of the savings of living at home.

Don’t forget to factor in the time and stress of commuting. Besides the cost of gas, how much of your time are you commuting every day?

Regardless of how independent you are at home, there is a level of independence you most likely won’t reach until you’re out on your own.

It may be a new, difficult experience to navigate with your parents if you’re living at home as an adult. You may be striving for adulthood while they could still be treating you like a child. If you’re on campus, you don’t need to answer to anyone, can do things exactly how you want them done, and have no curfew and few limitations.

Your parents, too, may feel like they are being held back, in a sense. If you’re away at school, they may feel more of an opportunity to explore their “empty nest” stage.

Making a Game Plan With Your Parents

If you decide to live at home during college, there should be a well-thought-out conversation between you and your parents. Even though you’re not leaving home, things are still changing, so it’s best to have a game plan. Here is what you’ll need to discuss:

  • Financial obligations: According to OnlineDegrees.com, a recent poll from ForbesWoman, and the National Endowment for Financial Education, 75% of young adults living at home still contribute financially in some way. Find out what your parents expect from you and what you can offer them. Even if they are generous enough not to ask for rent, you can still contribute to some of the bills or pay for groceries. This will not only help them and cover some of your expenses, but it’s a good way to start getting on a budget, learning responsibility and how to manage your money, and establish your role in the home as another adult.
  • Their expectations: The Wall Street Journal reported that more than a third of Americans between 18 and 31 live at home with their parents, so it’s not a unique issue. It’s important to know what your parents expect of you. Besides any financial obligations, what housework do they expect you to tackle? Do they expect you to continue to check in with them or let them know if you’re not coming home?
  • Your expectations: You’ll want to discuss your expectations as well. Are you hoping to eliminate a curfew? What’s the policy on having guests over? How do you feel about privacy? What are your expectations when you’re studying or doing coursework?

Tips for Living at Home During College

  • Try to schedule your classes appropriately. If you’re commuting, save money on gas by scheduling classes on the same day. Even more so, avoid scheduling classes where you’d need to be commuting during rush hour.
  • Make an effort to be more active on campus. Join clubs, offer to tutor, and attend campus events. Just because you don’t live there doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy these opportunities and experiences.
  • Have an open dialogue with your parents. If something is bothering you that your parents are doing or not doing, take some time to appropriately think of how you can speak to them. Don’t let emotions build up.
  • Make friends. A study by Misercordia University said making friends in college can boost academic performance. While the dorms are a go-to place to make friends for some people, it’s not the only opportunity. You can still take advantage of community resources and activities, which are great for meeting people. Do a little digging to find out which classes require group projects and a lot of collaboration so you can get to know people that way.
  • Don’t forgo learning independence. This can still be your opportunity to put yourself out there. As mentioned above, be active on campus. If you don’t already have one, take on a job. If you’re joining clubs or groups, volunteer for a leadership role. Your parents may be the type to still be willing to cook all the meals, clean, grocery shop, and do laundry, but don’t let them. Now is your chance to learn those skills, if you haven’t already, to become a more independent person.
  • Get a job on campus. If you’re applying for a job, why not on campus? Besides earning money, there’s a good chance you’ll also feel more a part of the campus scene and even meet people that way. This is especially pertinent if you’ve qualified for the federal work-study program, which would push you to find a job on campus.
  • Be smart with your money. If you’re able to save money by living at home, then actually save money. Don’t take advantage of your situation by thinking of it as just extra money to spend on going out and shopping. Whether you’re contributing financially or not, now is the time to establish a budget for yourself.
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