When I got my ducks in a row and decided to head back to school, I did the math, and figured that I could really only go back to school if I commuted from home. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to afford it. But those calculations were really just guesses – I had no idea whether it would really save me money or not.
More than one year later, the question is: was I right?
The Costs of Commuting
Even though I saved money on rent by living with my parents, I incurred the extra cost of commuting 16 miles to campus. This includes the cost of gas, the nearly $800 in repairs that my car needed during the school year, insurance, and little things like oil changes, inspections, and new windshield wipers. I did manage to keep the cost somewhat low by crashing on friends’ couches now and then.
Car costs and miscellaneous from living at home: $2,177 for the 2007-2008 school year.
The Costs of Living On Campus
If I’d lived on campus, I would have probably lived in same apartment there that I’d been living in, in 2006. The rent for that apartment was $3,060 for the 2007-2008 school year.
So already, rent vs. cost of commuting, I’ve saved money. But it keeps going.
Food! I guesstimated groceries at $120 per month, based on what I was spending when I lived in the apartment before. That’s another $960 for the school year.
And, even if I’d lived on campus, I still would have had my car. I have no way of knowing whether or not my car would have still needed all those repairs if I’d lived on campus, so I included them as a cost as well. I assumed about $25 a month in gas – I didn’t drive much when I was living on campus, but I did go to the grocery store and such. Car costs add $1,692 to the cost for the year.
Total costs for living in an on-campus apartment: $5,712 for the 2007-2008 school year.
Case closed – I was right in the first place. Commuting saved me a boatload. In fact, the saving are even better than that: that extra $3,535 would have come from student loans, so I would have had to pay interest on that, as well.
One final note: although commuting can save a lot of money, I don’t necessarily recommend it for incoming freshman. Living on campus, on your own, is an experience that you can’t really put a price on, even with all this math. I moved back home because I absolutely had to.
If you can’t afford to live on campus, I would recommend picking a cheaper school before I would recommend moving home. That, unfortunately, was not an option for me.