With 1 daughter in medical school and another in law school, finding out her youngest son got into his top university choice was a huge moment of pride for Shalika Walji. There’s no question sending 3 children to university is a major accomplishment for any family. But it can come with a hefty price tag. And as Walji has discovered over the years, preparing for university is both an intellectual and financial journey. She has learned to plan ahead and plan well to avoid surprises along the way.

When budgeting for university, most parents and prospective students focus on the obvious expenses: tuition, books and housing. But many students end up paying for things they didn’t anticipate at all. Be sure to keep these 5 hidden costs in mind when building your post-secondary financial plan:

1. Beyond the books

Almost every course will require mandatory textbooks, but lab fees and specialized equipment for certain areas of study can hike up costs even more. Read course outlines or talk to past students and professors to see what you need and try to source it in advance. This gives you a chance to look for second-hand equipment at a lower cost.

2. Salsa, spinning and soccer

Joining a club or a sports team is a great way for your son or daughter to meet new people and discover new interests, but it’s important to prioritize and budget for the ones that he or she really wants to join — especially since many come with annual fees. “Imagine my surprise when I got a call from my daughter asking for $600 to join the drama society, the basketball team and the photography club,” says Walji. “I didn’t realize there would be fees involved, so I asked her to narrow down her activities to fit within our budget.” It’s wise to contact the student society or browse the university’s website to avoid surprises.

3. Staying connected

Students away from home for the first time might rack up larger-than-expected cell phone bills as they stay in touch with family and friends. Before the year starts, consider installing a land line that features free long-distance minutes, finding an economical cell phone plan or looking at alternative ways to communicate. “After dealing with my daughters’ high cell phone bills, I encouraged my son to use Skype and Messenger to save money when he starts university in the fall,” says Walji.

4. Dining dilemmas

Consider the pros and cons of on-campus dining. Are there a minimum number of meals you’re required to purchase? Is there any option for getting a refund on unused meal dollars? You may find great savings by encouraging your son or daughter to prepare his or her own meals — especially if he or she has allergies or dietary needs that may prevent the enjoyment of standard cafeteria fare. “My younger daughter is a vegetarian and so she opted out of her residence meal plan because it had very limited options for her and would have been a waste,” says Walji.

5. Medical insurance

Medical insurance is often wrapped in with student fees, but many parents don’t realize that they can save money by opting out if their child is still covered under their own plan. Most times, schools require proof of alternate coverage, but it is possible. However, if only one parent has medical benefits that cover the student, then it can be a good idea to keep the university coverage as well — that way, the portion of medical expenses not covered by their parent’s insurance would be covered by the university plan. To find out if your child is covered under your group benefits plan while attending university, contact your benefits provider.

More tips for university and college:

Planning for your kids’ future?

Learn more about registered education savings plans (RESPs). Not sure how much you’ll need to save? Get an estimate with our RESP calculator.