What Do You Really Need for College? Needs Versus Wants

What Do You Really Need for College? Needs Versus Wants

Expenses You May Not Need

Written by: Sharon Simpson for Student Choice

This past weekend a family member reminded me how much we overuse the word “need” in our society. I remark to a co-worker that I “need” a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte on the first morning of fall. My daughter reminds me that she “needs” a fancy pencil sharpener, despite the fact that we have five perfectly good pencil sharpeners lying around the house.

Starting college and living on your own for the first time can help you realize rather quickly that these items you think you “need” may not be necessities after all. Five dollar coffees may be relatively easy to cut out of your daily budget, but there are larger items that can cause ripple effects on your finances.


Do you really need to take your car to school?

My roommate was fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to bring a car to school with her our freshmen year. This resulted in:

  1. her constantly driving us everywhere
  2. increased gas money
  3. higher insurance costs (as she moved from a rural to urban area to attend school)

Luckily there were no accidents that year, but it is easy to see how there could have been with increased driving and an increase in passengers.

Sure it was convenient for her to travel home on weekends and run to Target or other off-campus necessities (there is that pesky idea of “need” again), but could she have done without it? Definitely. I didn’t have a car on-campus and I managed to do just fine. In fact, it probably helped me network more and plan ahead as I didn’t have a way to leave campus (at least not efficiently) on my own. The bus routes are notoriously long where I went to school, but in many urban areas public transit is quite easy to navigate.


Do you really need to use that first credit card?

I remember very clearly how aggressively credit card companies marketed to me when I began college. From having a presence on-site during orientation to direct offers in my mail slot, suddenly I found it was very easy to access credit. I opened my first credit card and was reserved at first about using it.

But over time, it became more and more tempting to order that pizza or pay for dinner out with a group of friends and let them put in cash for their portions – especially when I was waiting for a paycheck from my part-time job to hit my account. This type of occasional behavior can be fine – IF you pay off your balance in full each month. But what happens when you don’t or can’t do that?

Think long and hard before opening any line of credit. College can be a great time to begin building your credit history and show that you are a responsible borrower – but it can also be a time when debt and interest can spiral out of control.


Do you really need that fancy apartment?

(note from editor): I remember when my college roommates and I were juniors and seniors in college, and we decided we wanted to live off campus instead of in the apartments on campus (actually fairly affordable and billed into our on-campus costs/financial aid). We started looking at off campus apartments that were really nice, had spacious layouts and were, in some cases, well furnished with washers and dryers and great kitchens. What a step up.

But, that step up came with a cost. Not only were they more expensive, but came out of pocket – our financial aid would not cover the full costs, and we’d have to pay some of it on our own (which was important as some of them had scholarships and loans, and a few of us had jobs to rely on for payment). Long story short, after considering how much we could realistically afford, driving back and forth to campus, some of us going home (read, doing laundry at home) on the weekends, and our part time jobs, we decided it was a smarter choice for us to live in campus apartments. Now, had the prices been a little lower for the off-campus apartments, or had the quality of on-campus housing not been very high, we may have made another choice.

The important thing to remember is to prioritize your spending and your expenses so you can be as financially solid when you graduate and begin “real life” after college.

Re-prioritizing your spending or cutting back may sound painful at first, but making wiser choices now can save you thousands of dollars and unnecessary stress in the long-run.

Just ask yourself, do I really “need” that?




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