College Student Spending

College is a phase of transition in many ways. Most students go to college with hopes of acquiring skills and qualifications that would get them better jobs, thereby allowing them to lead better quality lives. From a financial point of view, this phase is peculiar, making college student spending statistics worth analyzing. A lot of individuals end up with significant debt as a result of going to college. This is also the period when a lot of students get their first credit cards and begin to have a lesser degree of checks on their spending. 

There are marked differences when it comes to financial independence as well. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research reported in 2018 that 51% of college students were financially independent while the remaining 49% received substantial funding from their parents. From the market point of view, college students are a distinct consumer segment with a considerable spending power of $593 billion. There are several stereotypes or preconceived notions about the spending habits of college students. But, a proper understanding of this is possible only with the help of reliable facts. 

Let us try to analyze this issue with such an approach and gain an understanding of college student spending behavior.

Facts & Stats College Students Spending Habit  

How much do college students spend? What do college students buy the most? How much of their spending is discretionary? Read on for the answers to such interesting and relevant questions.

  • The average college student spends $16,500 on Rent throughout a 4-year degree.
  • College students need to spend $1400-2100 monthly for the different expenses they incur.
  • Eating out costs college students $4,000 per year.
  • The average college student had five credit cards in 2019.
  • Spending on college course materials has seen a significant decline over the past decade.
  • 34% of college students find it challenging to afford food.
  • College students spend $5.5 billion on alcohol each year.
  • College students spend $2.4 billion on entertainment.

How Much Should a College Student Spend Per Month?

There are disparities in the amount of money that college students across the US spend monthly. However, having a basic idea about how much the average college student spends is useful to plan for college. The total spending by college students can be classified into two categories. The first one comprises essential needs such as expenses towards academic requirements, Rent, utilities, food, etc. The second category comprises non-essential or discretionary spending. 

1. Moderate spending can cost students more than $2,000 a month.

Students who choose to spend moderately will incur on average expenses of around $2,082 per month. This translates to about $24,980 a year. 

2. Restricted budgets can bring down expenses to $1,400.

Those who trim down their budgets can manage with around $1400 a month. This would entail cutting down on discretionary spending in a significant manner. 

Quick Look Into What & How Much Do College Students Spend Money on?

So where does all this money go? What do college students buy? The biggest expense for college students is undoubtedly the expense of tuition. 

For a 4-year college degree, this comes up to around $40,000. At a distant second is the expenditure on Rent which comes up to $16,000-17,000 during a 4-year degree.

 Students are required to spend on academic needs, the most prominent of which is to purchase books and other learning resources. Utility bills are a common fixture in the budgets of most college students. 

Spending is also incurred on transportation, entertainment needs, groceries, takeaway, and dining out. Socializing activities also require spending. These are the main ways in which college students spend money today. 

How Much Does the Average College Student Spend on Personal Expenses?

While thinking about college and budgeting for it, a lot of us tend to get too obsessed with the academic costs. While academic costs might demand the largest share of spending individually, the personal or day-to-day expenditure of college students which is divided into several subcategories is more often the most expensive part. 

An analysis of the spending habits of college students is incomplete without giving personal expenses their due importance. Almost every expenditure other than academic costs can be regarded as personal expenses for students. With the advancement in technology and changing lifestyle patterns and aspirations, the personal expenses of college students have also gone up.

3. Personal spending outweighs spending on academic needs.

An analysis of available data shows that throughout a 4-year degree students spend close to $53,000 on personal expenses. This is around 12% more than the average expenditure on academic needs during the same period.

4. Rent takes up the biggest share of this spending.

Spending on Rent is more than one-third of the total spending on personal expenses. About the overall spending by college students, spending on Rent is second only to the spending on tuition.

How Much Does a College Student Spend on Food Per Month?

The food bill is a common fixture in any budget. It forms a significant part of the average college budget as well. A 2018 study showed that college students cumulatively spent $65 billion on food. According to Peterson, the average college meal plan works out to $375 per month. This is the average cost of food per month for college students

Many students try to be frugal with food at times when they are struggling to manage expenses. At the same time, with peer pressure and social media pressure becoming a major player today, food bills have also acquired the tendency to inflate as students increasingly opt for fancy food choices. 

5. More than $4,000 per year eating out.

Students spent $4,097 on eating out or getting takeaway. This expenditure has recently seen an upward trend as students are being induced to spend more on fancy meals due to added social media pressure. 

6. More than 1 in 3 find it challenging to afford food.

34% of college students state that affording an adequate amount of food is a difficult task for them. This section of students is more likely to skip meals to save or reduce expenses.

How Much Does the Average College Student Spend on School Supplies?

There has been a general decline in the number of students spending on course materials and other school supplies. Over the years there has been an increase in spending on technology and a decrease in the spending on conventional school supplies. 

With the surging prominence of smartphones and gadgets, electronic study material and free learning resources have contributed to the cut in expenses on supplies. Data from the National Association of College Stores, in 2018-19, students on average spent only $415 on course materials and $108 on other supplies. During the same period, they spent $419 on technology. 

7. Spending on college course materials has declined.

Students spent only $415 on required course materials during 2018-19. This was $69 (14%) less than spending on the same during the previous academic year and $286 less than the spending in 2008.

8. Health majors spent more.

Students majoring in health-related fields spent the most on school supplies. During 2017-18 they spent $597 for such expenses. Business majors came second and spent $554 while mathematics majors only had to spend $357. 

How Much Do College Students Spend on Rent?

Rent is one of the major expenses incurred by college students. This is also an expense segment that sees a considerable degree of variation. The amount spent by the students on Rent varies depending upon a host of factors such as the type of accommodation, location, and distance from the University. 

Due to these differences, it is quite tough to compute an exact number to tell us about the average expenses that students might incur due to payments related to accommodation. Bringing down the expense of Rent is one of the best tactics for students to cut down on their routine expenses.

9. Paying Rent is the second-highest expense for college students.

The average college student is reported to be spending a little more than $16,500 on accommodation during acquiring a degree. This expense is second only to the amount spent on tuition.

10. There are wide variations.

The estimates about the average Rent spent by students in the US reveal a massive degree of variation. Even within the same county, the yearly Rent that students pay varies by $6,448. 

How Much Does a College Student Need for Groceries Each Week?

The food bill forms a significant part of the total expenditure of college students. For a great number of students, this expenditure is inflated due to the higher prevalence of takeaway and dining out. Opting to cook their meals is a cheaper and more nutritious option for college students. As such, the grocery bill forms a noticeable part of their spending. 

11. Food and groceries combined come close to $9000.

The combined bill for food and groceries comes up to $8,993 for college students who complete a 4-year college degree. There is a considerable difference between students when it comes to the shares of takeaway or dining out and groceries in the food and grocery bill. 

12. Official estimates put the value at $250.

According to government sources, the average grocery bill for college students is estimated to be $250 every month. Higher spending on groceries can have a positive effect by helping reduce spending on takeaway and dining out, which are always more expensive.

How Much Do College Students Spend on Alcohol?

College is a phase associated with a lot of revelries and partying. Unsurprisingly, college students are one of the most prominent groups when it comes to alcohol consumption and binge drinking.  

13. Billions are spent on alcohol.

Every year, college students cumulatively spend around $5.5 billion on alcohol. This number is projected to rise in the years to come. 

14. Binge drinking and heavy alcohol use is higher in college students.

Data from 2018 reveals that 36.9% of college students aged 18-22 showed the incidence of binge drinking, while 9.6% of them showed the incidence of heavy alcohol usage. The overall figures for binge drinking and heavy alcohol abuse among adults were only 26.45% and 6.6% respectively. The numbers for those of the non-college goers of the same age were also considerably lower. 

How Much Do College Students Spend on Transportation?

College student spending statistics reveal that transportation is an important expense for college students. The amount spent on this varies depending upon many factors. Many go to college outside their native states. For them, recurring travel expenditure is usually made to travel between their native state and their place of education during college breaks. But the most important factor determining the extent of travel expenditure is the distance from the student’s place of lodging to the campus. 

Many students might be tempted to rent a place that is a bit far off from campus due to lower rents. But this can very well backfire if transportation becomes cumbersome or transportation bills become large. 

15. Students spend $2,800 on transportation.

During a 4-year college degree, the average college student spending on expenses related to transportation is $2,806. This is also an area where students can cut down on expenditure by opting for greener and healthier transportation options. 

16. Students with dependents pay a lot more.

Students with dependents spent $1,296 during a nine-month cycle on transportation costs. According to the same estimates, this was almost twice the amount spent by students living with their parents and thrice the amount spent by students without dependents living on/off-campus.

What is the Average Entertainment Cost for College Students?

Spending on entertainment is a major non-essential or discretionary spending that forms part of the average college student budget. The number of college students spending money on entertainment is significantly high. The most common forms of entertainment spending by this group include DVD and on-demand movie rentals, getting tickets to movies or live shows, expenditure on music, and purchase of video games. Indeed, students do deserve some degree of entertainment. 

College life can get stressed due to academic, financial, and emotional constraints. As such, healthy spending on entertainment, coupled with prudent financial management, will be beneficial for college students. 

17. The entertainment bill costs $2.4 billion.

College students cumulatively spent $2.4 billion each year on their entertainment needs. This encompasses all the different forms of entertainment, such as video games, DVD rentals, music, etc. 

18. More than half of the college students spend on live music and media.

Data shows that 59% of college students spend money on live music. 57% of college students spend money on other forms of media. This makes it evident that spending on entertainment is quite popular among college students.

How Much Do College Kids Spend on Check Cashing Fees?

For most students, the period in college will be the first time that they have to cash checks and interact with the banking system. Over the past few years, the advancement in electronic payment methods and their increased adoption by college students have made the latter less reliant on conventional forms of payment. Still, students do end up having to cash checks for certain reasons. The amount spent on cashing checks varies depending on how students choose to cash checks.

19. A large number of college students do end up paying check-cashing fees.

A study shows that in 2014, about 646,000 college students receiving financial aid made use of check-cashing services. Today students have a far greater number of options for financial transactions. 

What Percent of College Students Use Credit Cards for Some Form of Educational Expenses?

The credit card culture has been deeply ingrained in our collective psyche. College is usually the first time most people get their first credit card. By the time they are out of college, most people have multiple credit cards and a considerable amount of debt due to these cards. 

Credit cards have become a staple for spending money for college students. The usage of credit cards among this group of the population has seen a steady rise in recent years. But the current generation of college students is also more financially aware, and thus, many financial experts are not much worried about their increased credit card usage. 

20. More than 1 in 3 students are leaving college with credit card debt.

Data from 2019 tell us that 36% of students leaving college have a credit card debt of at least $1,000. This is reflective of a growing tendency among the public at large to pay for even necessities using credit cards. 

21. College students have 5.2 credit cards on average.

In 2019, the average college student had about five credit cards. This is an increase from the numbers in 2016 when college students possessed only three credit cards on average. 


The detailed analysis of college student spending statistics done above helps us to identify the intricate details of planning for going to college. College students form a very important consumer group. Apart from spending on tuition and other academic needs, they also pour out large sums of money for non-essential requirements. Rent and food bills follow tuition expenses as the next most paid-for items in the budget. 

College students also incur several discretionary expenses. There is considerable room to cut down on many such expenses.

With a great deal of uncertainty now surrounding the future of college education and related expenditure, students and parents need to plan well in advance for the likely costs that they might be required to meet to get a college education.

Helen Vlasova
Helen is the co-founder of, a career guidance website for students and young professionals. She has a degree in English from the University of Michigan. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, reading, and traveling.

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