Like the majority of freshmen at K-State, my first year in college was spent in a dorm. The dorm life definitely had its perks — I didn’t have to cook, I only had a limited space to clean and I had an amazing time making new friendships.
After one too many nights of a drunken neighbor banging on my door at 4 a.m., however, I decided that the rest of my college life would be spent in the privacy of an off-campus residence.
Off-campus living is an interesting mix of privilege and responsibility. On one hand, you are your own master. As long as you are not trashing the place, you are free to come and go as you please, eat what you want, sleep when you want, have people over when you want and even have the privacy of your own room.
On the other hand, you are responsible for cooking your own meals, furnishing your residence, paying utilities and rent and just keeping your home relatively habitable.
While the freedoms of living off campus are definitely a must-have in my opinion, there are certain responsibilities that could become problematic, and expensive, if you don’t monitor yourself and your roommates.
Here are five expenses to minimize while living off-campus.
1. Utility costs
This cost of utilities is probably one of the costs most overlooked by students — until you’re hit with a ridiculously large bill. Doing simple things like turning off the lights when leaving a room or unplugging unused appliances can end up saving you hundreds over the course of the year.
Develop the discipline to watch how much energy, water and gas you consume. Talk to your roommates about keeping temperatures at a modest level, limiting shower times to a reasonable length and not overcharging electronic devices.
Watching your energy consumption doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t live comfortably; just don’t be wasteful.
2. Grocery costs
This is interesting because college students generally tend to go one of two ways with groceries. Either they live off of a case of Ramen a month or spend way too much on perishable items that eventually get thrown away.
Calculating how much food you need every week may be a trial and error process for each person. What does help is if you plan out meals ahead of time and make a point to stick to your meal plan. This way, you avoid unnecessary expenses.
Also, don’t be a brand snob with all of your food. I say this because, although I will eat only Jif brand peanut butter, it gets expensive to do that with everything you put into the cart. Pick a few things that you are willing to compromise on when it comes to branding.
3. Property damage
Maintaining a sense of cleanliness and order in your off-campus housing unit can help you avoid fees when you move out. Most landlords require a security deposit of the first month’s rent because when you move out, they can take out expenses for damage that you or your roommates have caused from the money that you have already given them.
Avoid being reckless in your home and you will get that full security deposit amount back when you move out. Also, be sure to record any damages, dents or otherwise faulty facilities when you move in; the last thing you want is damage done by previous tenants being pinned on you.
4. Legal issues
A big perk of living off campus is having considerably more space to host social events. Even if it’s having just a few friends over, however, this can get you into trouble fast.
Don’t get me wrong; I love having people over and throwing parties. But the risk you take here is on you. What you have to understand is that you and your roommates are liable for anything that goes on in your place of residence, which can get messy, especially if there are activities like underage drinking or anything else illegal going on.
According to city ordinances posted on the city of Manhattan’s website, the minimum fine for social hosting and/or furnishing alcohol to a minor is $1,000. A minor in possession of alcohol charge can lead to a minimum fine of $200 as well.
Whatever you choose to do in your own residence is, at the end of the day, your business. But be smart; don’t make it police business as well.
5. Transportation costs
The cost of transportation may seem insignificant to many students because of how close their housing is to campus, but it is surprisingly easy to rack up expenses with daily commuting. No matter how good your mileage is on your vehicle, it is always cheaper to walk or bike (not to mention healthier).
It’s a mistake I made last year as a junior; I drove everywhere. Part of this was because I worked late hours and didn’t want to walk home at 2 a.m., but still
I spent almost $100 per month on gas, an expenditure that I could have cut if I motivated myself to walk or bike. Finding ways to carpool also helps quite a bit.
All in all, controlling costs is not too difficult if you make it a point to do little things. Turn off the lights when you leave a room, make a meal plan and avoid doing stupid, reckless things; these are all things that anyone can do with the right amount of motivation and discipline.
Andy Rao is a senior in finance and accounting. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.