10 Unexpected Items You’ll pay for in University or College

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10  Unexpected Items You’ll pay for in University or College

10 unexpected items you'll pay for in University or College

I took on the challenge given to me by Heritage Education Funds to write a series of blog posts about my experience and plans for the post-secondary education of my three children.  Paying for university may not be easy, but there are ways to plan for the future.  You may find unexpected items you’ll pay for in university or college.  If you are seeking this step in life for your child or grandchild – that is, attending a post-secondary institution – you’d better start saving TODAY!  This endeavour is not for the faint of heart or the light of pocket;  it takes discipline (from your child to get the grades to get into university or college), determination (by said child, to convince her reluctant mother to let her attend school eight hours away from home) and cold hard cash/financial means  to pay for it all (savings with a Registered Education Savings Plan -RESP).

It’s not like we didn’t know this was the path she was going to take. We have been encouraging her to take this road since elementary school.  Both her father and I and most of her grandparents have a university education (3 of 5 went to McGill University).  I had my heart set on her going to McGill so that there would be three generations of my family that had gone to school in Montreal.  But alas, that was not to be (I have two more that I can work with clip_image004).  The question was never if she was going to attend university, but rather which university it was going to be.  Both her dad and I have said that we enjoyed our university years a lot; it was a rite of passage for our generation.  Today, we view it now as a ticket to a better job – hopefully, a lifelong career.  In this day and age there is no guarantee but we hope (like every other parent) for them to have a secure, happy life.

All these hopes and aspirations come at a price.  Like I said, this is not an endeavour for the faint of heart.  It is for those that know they have to make some sort of sacrifice to make it happen.  It means extra shifts, simple vacation plans and telling your kids “we just can’t afford that right now”. More importantly, it’s a lesson in financial planning: starting when they are young and keep adding funds through their childhood.

10 unexpected Items you’ll pay for in the first year of university or college

Scouting Road Trips

First, you have to decide where you want to attend school.  So you find yourself visiting different university campuses to see if you like the institutions.  That means side trips when you are on vacation, a visit to our local university (Western University) or a road trip to a school out of town.  You are paying for gas, hotel and meals that might not otherwise be part of a vacation stay. In our case, to make sure we were making the right decision, we added a road trip to Ottawa and stayed for two days.  Even with our reasonably priced stay at a University of Ottawa residence, including gas, meals and accommodations, it all added up. The total cost was $750.  It’s also important to note that we added a side trip to the University of Toronto while on that trip.

Application Fees

You have to pay to apply for college or university.  You don’t just write them a nice letter, send your transcript and hope for the best.  For the privilege of having three universities review your application, you pay an application fee of $140.  If you choose to take a safe route and apply to extra schools ‘just in case,’ you need to dish out an additional $44 per school.  We opted for two more.  So our total application fee was $228.


While attending the University of Ottawa this fall as a full-time student, our daughter will be taking five courses in the first semester and five courses in the second semester.  Her fall tuition will be $3,433.53.  Her winter tuition will be $3,250.71.  This includes courses and incidental fees (student activities, services and student federation and association fees, insurance and student services fees, health services, sports and university centre-related fees).  It also includes a city-wide bus pass.  Your fee includes health and dental benefits (that we opted out of because of my husband’s work benefits). Insurance: -$180

Books + Computer with Printer

You will need books for most, or possibly all of the wonderful classes they will be attending. In my daughter’s case, not one class had a book that was less than $100.  A few had multiple books. We also had to buy a computer and printer ($1,000) for her to use.  So an estimated cost would be around $2,500.


Housing can be either renting an apartment or, if you are a first year student, living in residence.  The University of Ottawa has a variety of options, from swanky to bare bones, but none of it comes cheaply.  It does, however, provide a roof over their heads and a bed to go home to every night.  On campus housing can range from $10,179 to $5,800 (plus tax).  We are both lucky and unlucky in her choice of residence (or should I say lack thereof). he had to go to a higher level to get the type of accommodations we thought would suit her needs.  This particular room option comes with three other roommates.  Her quad apartment will cost us  $6,600.

10 unexpected items you'll pay for in University or College - Kitchen @DOWNSHIFTINGPRO     10 unexpected items you'll pay for in University or College - Living Room @DOWNSHIFTINGPRO

Meal Plan

Every student must eat,  ensuring that they do means, choosing a meal plan. For our daughter, we purchased one for the first semester but not the second.  We opted for the lowest cost meal plan but you can have a hearty plan “for football players,” as the women explained, or the minimal plan ”to ensure she spends her money on food and not party supplies.” The cost for food plan is $1,350 and when you add $500 in flex funds that come to $1,850.

Apartment incidentals

Just because you live in residence doesn’t mean you don’t have to buy ‘stuff’ for your apartment.  We had to buy a few things for the kitchen so that she could cook basic things when she wanted a snack or on the weekends.  We had a wonderful time getting matching kitchen items but there were still small appliances, cleaning products, bathroom accessories, bedding and groceries for the first few days.  Incidentals: $500.


Just because she has a bus pass doesn’t mean she has a free ride. We took into account the cab rides we’ve asked her to take if she’s out late at night. We are willing to pay for that kind of safety and peace of mind. Cabs: $200.

We also have to get her there and back five times: fall drop off, fall reading break, Christmas break, winter reading week and of course bringing her home in the spring.  That includes two drives there and back and three train rides.  Estimated cost: $1,175

Hotel Accommodations

When we dropped her off, we stayed three nights at a hotel.  When we go pick her up at the end of the year, we will likely stay a minimum of two nights.  Although we got really great rates, we will be paying no less than $130 a night (including tax).  Estimated cost: $1000 ($650 for hotels, plus $350 for meals).

Pocket Money

Then there are the everyday incidentals that have to be taken into consideration.  Maybe it’s a movie, a fitness class, a sweater or a book from a second-hand bookstore.  Our oldest tends to be on the frugal side, so these expenses have been minimal but you cannot dismiss these small costs.  I have to say to be very conservative we can give her $50 a week.  I am certain some weeks will be more and some will be far less but we are going to average it out and exclude the weeks that she is home.  With 14 weeks in the first semester and 16 weeks in the second semester, that total will come in at approximately $1,500.


These expenses are what we have incurred collectively: all the fees, tuition, extra costs for travel and hotels.  This is only her first year.  Because she is in a co-op program, her second year will include a $600 fee to enter that portion of her program as well as additional housing because she must remain in Ottawa. Add to that expenses for food, transportation and trips home.  Now multiply that by three more years and you have a large amount.

For the first part of this blog post series on saving for university or college, I will simply add up the estimated expenses for her first year:

10 unexpected items you'll pay for in University or College - Budget @DOWNSHIFTINGPRO

In order to plan for the next four years, having a better idea of what expenses we’ll be incurring will help us budget better.  There are costs in this breakdown that are a ‘one shot deal.’  There are also areas we could trim back on (fewer stays, no meal plan for the second semester, used books). The most important part is that we still have time to add funds to her RESP and take advantage of provincial and federal funding programs.  She also received a bursary for being in French Immersion and for entering with an over 80% average.  These details will be discussed further in the second post.

In the next two instalments, I will be discussing how to save for your child.  I’ll talk about what exactly a Registered Education Savings Plan is and different options that are offered to make this dream a reality for everyone.  Make sure to follow along as I start planning for the next two children as they follow their big sister three and five years down the line.

Part II in November: 7 Ways to Save for your Child’s Post-Secondary Education #HeritageFunds RESP Saving Tips Series

Part III in December: taking advantage of tax savings and budgeting for the next scholar.

As an added bonus, Heritage Education Funds is giving away  $2,500 to be used towards a Heritage RESP.  From January 15 to December 31, 2014 you can go to the entry form for a chance to WIN.

clip_image010Disclosure: I have been compensated for the series of blog posts but all opinions are my own.
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Margarita Ibbott is a travel and lifestyle blogger. She blogs about travel in Canada, the United States and Europe giving practical advice through restaurant, hotel and attraction reviews. She writes for DownshiftingPRO.com and other online media outlets.

24 thoughts on “10 Unexpected Items You’ll pay for in University or College”

  1. Wow! I guess when I started college, I never realized all of those expenses. Fortunately, some schools will defer fees, provide reduced fees on books and transportation, and even provide plenty of jobs for students to get a little pocket money. But, of course, I should probably start early if I ever want to put any kids I ever have through college 🙂

  2. I forgot about the application fees. That’s kind of annoying. Maybe if they called it something else it wouldn’t bother me so much but for some reason having to pay just to apply bugs me.

  3. You are right, there are so many other little expenses too. I am going through all this. Education is expensive but important. So savings are must today. Waiting for Part II and part III 🙂

  4. Now that’s a huge amount, Expenses nowadays. It is better if you have a relative or friends to stay near at school. In my days, I use every cheap I can be at college. Books is worth it. Thank you for the share I will share this to a friend.

  5. Yes, it is much more expensive than the quotes that schools advertise. I worked through school and paid for everything myself, so I am very aware of the costs. But, am glad the experience taught me how to be frugal.

  6. College is expensive, but very doable. I worked my way through graduate school without loans, although I did have academic scholarships to help with tuition. College is a wonderful rite of passage, like you said. I had a blast during my university days! I chose to live off-campus rather than in a campus residence because it was cheaper. Keep saving as a family, and eventually the money will be there.

  7. I had no clue that the costs were so great. I must have been oblivious during my years in college to the tremendous expense. Although I’m slightly alarmed, I’m grateful you’ve highlighted all of the costs I hadn’t considered.

  8. Ouch! All those little things add up to be a lot. Thanks for writing this post and sharing, it’s great to be able to properly budget for school.

  9. Yes, college education is really expensive. But I guess there are ways to lessen the expenses and parents should discuss it to their children. 🙂

  10. Thank you for sharing this. It surely was a wake up call to my granddaughter and how she should start saving her money if this is the route she wants to take. Thank you very much!

  11. I is a very expensive adventure and I helped my parents by working atleast 2 jobs throught my university days so when I finished I came out with £11k from credit cards and not other things because My parents and I paid for them there and then and happy to say almost a year and half after finishing uni I am almost done paying off my £11k

  12. I definitely agree, as a college student you do pay for a lot unless you stay local and stay at home vs. dorming.

  13. This is fantastic information! I never went away to college, so I have no clue what to expect if and when my kids do! Thank you for sharing this!

  14. I just graduated college 7 months ago and while it was a great experience and I do miss my friends, I don’t miss all those fees! I always hated application fees. It’s crazy how fast things start to add up in college <3

  15. A secondary education is so expensive these days! And you’re right, the little things add up very quickly! My kids won’t be headed off to college for another several years (like over a decade) and I’m terrified to think about what the cost will be then!

    You were really smart to add a few college visits onto your vacations!

  16. Holy cow that is a big sum! We have 5 kids and luckily they will get free tuition if they chose to go to the technical college that my husband works at. If not, I can’t even imagine how much it will be. I’m hoping for grants!

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