Formulas used to calculate financial aid awards consider many costs associated with going to school. Your financial aid package is designed to work in conjunction with your family's contributions to cover all of your expenses. This includes many items beyond direct school expenses, such as tuition, fees, books and supplies. If you get a financial aid check from your school, you can use this money for a variety of purposes.
Your financial aid is supposed to pay for your housing while you are in school. This might be on-campus housing in the dorms, campus apartments or off-campus housing. For off-campus housing, your financial aid can cover your rent, electricity, water, cable, sewer and trash bills. However, your financial aid should not be used to furnish your house. If you are living at home, the financial aid office adjusts your cost of attendance to reflect that you won't have to pay for housing.
You can use your financial aid to pay for your basic food expenses while you are in school. Most schools use the largest dining hall meal plan in the cost of attendance. If you do not participate in a meal plan on campus, you can use the financial aid money to buy groceries and purchase prepared food instead.
Your financial aid package may provide a travel allowance that will help you travel to and from school. The farther you live from school, the larger your allowance will be. You can use your financial aid money to pay for gas to get to and from school or airplane tickets if you live too far to drive. However, you cannot use the money to purchase a vehicle for transportation.
Most schools add a small amount for personal expenses when estimating your cost of attendance. The national average for the 2010 to 2011 school year was $1,989, according to the College Board. This money is designed for the student to use on basic living expenses that don't fall into the other categories. These include purchasing toiletries, paying cell phone bills, doing laundry, buying clothing to wear to school and purchasing food items beyond the basic meal plan. If you have enough financial aid, you can use it for personal expenses, up to the amount budgeted in your college's cost of attendance.