College student spending habits: how money, food and parents may differ

DU students are spending money on living essentials, not items like electronics, which contrasts what other students are buying nationwide.

College students are spending more of their discretionary money on electronics than anything else, according to a 2009 study. However, DU students seem to be going against this trend, focusing their money more on food and tuition than anything else

According to WWD, a company that reports marketing trends, students were projected to spend $13 billion on electronics in 2009, which was more than double what they were to spend on clothes, $5.77 billion. Room and board expenses, which average about $600 and $180 per month, respectively, were so insignificant by comparison that they did not appear in reporting results.

Yet, University of Denver students seem to be spending more on food, rent and tuition than any other consideration. So exactly how much are DU students spending on these college necessities, and why aren’t they spending more on electronics?

Pioneering Prices

For a four-year undergraduate student who lives on campus in her first year, taking 16 credit hours at DU, the 2012-2013 cost of attendance is $54,304 – including $39,117 for tuition and fees, approximately 10 times as much as the average budget for tuition and fees in 2004; and $10,818 for room and board, twice as much as the average found by the Chronicle.

So how are University of Denver students affording, well, to live as students?

Three DU females, all of whom are enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts programs but are pursuing different fields, share one common characteristic when it comes to finances: budgeting more money for food than electronics, clothing or anything else – these three females don’t consider clothing even a top-five financial priority.

Arianna Roehrich, for example, spends her money on two things: rent and food – so it’s not quite a misconception after all. She lives with two roommates in a house off campus. She is also financially independent and doesn’t have the time to spend playing video games or consuming electronics unless it’s in a social setting.

“My parents sat me down before college started and we went through this list of things,” Roehrich says. “They were like, ‘Oh, you can’t really afford that. You’re going to have to take out loans.’ So I said okay and did.”

Roehrich later explained that becoming financially independent wasn’t as simple as she let on. In addition to a full 16-credit course-load, Roehrich works a part-time job, which allows her to pay her rent, her food – $160 per month – and part of her tuition. Roehrich was uncomfortable discussing how much she pays for rent monthly.

“Do I feel pressured to work while in school?” Roehrich asks. “Definitely – it’s not about money, it’s about work ethic. My parents expect me to work as an undergrad.”

DU student Molly Roberts works closely with her parents to keep an eye on her spending habits.

Family Finances

Roehrich’s parents, completely severing financial ties with their daughter, are the outliers in an otherwise consistent dichotomy between DU students and their parents. Take the parents of Molly Roberts, for example – they support her financially without spoiling her, Roberts says, because they insist that she focus exclusively on her studies while at the University of Denver.

Roberts’ parents pay for her book fees, food and rent – she lives in a three-bedroom apartment – and tuition, she says. Then Roberts stops for a second, before clarifying: “But I pay for gas.”

Roberts spends $150 for food monthly, which is Roberts’ biggest financial commitment as a student, along with paying for social activities like going to the movies or bowling. Her parents, however, regularly check in with Roberts and what she’s buying.

“Every month my parents and I will sit down and talk about my spending habits,” Roberts explains.

Roberts admits, however, that not being as financially independent as some of her friends, including one of her roommates is a point of contention in her family – both her older brother and younger sister have been allowed to work part-time jobs while in college but she has not.

“My parents want me to be comfortable without an income, but my roommate always points out how independent she is and how I’m not independent,” Roberts says, frustrated.

The Middle of Money

Like Roberts and Roehrich, with all of her other time commitments, Claire Delahorne, a senior, has little room in her schedule for anything besides studying, working, eating, sleeping and socializing – if she even has the time to juggle all of these.

However, unlike Roberts and Roehrich’s two extremes within the complex student-parent financial relationship at the University of Denver, there is also a middle ground. Some students, like Delahorne, pay for some aspects of college life, while her parents pay for others.

Delahorne’s parents pay for her rent – she too lives in a three-bedroom apartment – contribute to tuition and pitch for half of her grocery expenses. Delahorne herself funds all her social activities and book expenses, plus any last-minute obligations that may come up like transportation to her off-campus internship.

Delahorne explains the financial ties she has to her parents as a matter of favorable happenstance: “My parents told me I was going to have to take out loans, but then I didn’t have to. My mom got a raise and my dad pays what I would have to pay.”

While Delahorne enjoys the support of her parents, she also recognizes her own requirement to be cognizant of her expenses.

“The very first month I was in college, I wrote down everything I was buying and figured out how much I was spending. I’m glad I did,” Delahorne says.

Delahorne and her parents spend roughly $200 on food per month, but some of that includes the food that she shares with her two roommates, she says.

“I feel pressured to have my own income so my parents don’t have to worry,” Delahorne advocates. “They already have to worry about enough.”

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