9 budgeting tips for college students

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College is often the first time that many students have to start thinking about how to balance their various expenses: books, groceries, even going out. And sometimes problems arise when your financial skills are still catching up with your new-found freedom. When there’s not much to stop you from going for a midnight pizza or buying that third (or fifth) home team sweatshirt, you can easily lose track of your spending. In no time, you can find yourself with an instant ramen diet after a weekend of pub crawling.

To help freshmen avoid these barriers, we asked academic staff, students, and financial experts to share their top budget tips for saving during the school year.

1. Start with the overview

Effective budgeting is not just a matter of math. “It’s about having long-term goals and a realistic plan that you are actively working on to achieve your goals,” says Basia Pozin, director of commercial bank accounts at TD Bank and founder of Money Matters, a course in online financial literacy for young people. .

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“Financial literacy is a form of personal empowerment,” says Lauren Keller, who began budgeting for a semester abroad before starting her Bachelor of Arts at Thompson Rivers University this fall. “Knowing your budget and your goals will help you make a plan. You may need to work throughout the semester or find short-term jobs during winter and summer vacation to cover your expenses, ”says Keller. “Having a plan cuts down on the time you spend worrying about how you’re going to pay for things, so you can focus on doing your classes. “

Once you know your goals, ask yourself questions that will help you understand your priorities, says Pozin. “Am I comfortable taking on more student debt?” Is it more important for me to leave for school even if I potentially return home after graduation? “

2. Spreadsheets are your friends

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You might have rolled your eyes when your mom told you to keep your receipts, but this is good advice – they can be really handy when trying to figure out where your money is going. “Students are surprised to learn that the laundry detergent their family uses costs $ 15 or that grapes are one of the most expensive fruits you can buy, it’s the little things that surprise them,” says Tracy. Hilpert, Lecturer at the University of Waterloo. financial literacy program.

Budget tracking apps, or good old Excel, can be a handy resource for recording how much things cost and how often you spend. “Spreadsheets are great because when you see your spending, you’re like, ‘Okay, I have to cut so many dollars in my spending,'” says Abhineet Goswami, a neuroscience and business student at the University. of Saskatchewan and Vice President of Finance. at the school’s student office.

Mobile payment notifications can also serve as handy reality checks. “If you just tap your card, you won’t really be able to see how much you’re spending until later,” says Goswami. While an app like Apple Pay gives you a daily reminder, helping you limit your spending when needed.

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3. Use student banking offers with caution

Students qualify for no-charge credit cards, which can be great, “if you’re in charge of the credit, of course,” says Anthony Kearl, a Bachelor of Commerce student at the University of Calgary.

Being careful with your credit starts with understanding how it works. “Understand the terms, when your payment is due, and always pay off your balance in full each month to avoid interest charges,” says Hilpert.

Keep an eye out for student benefits. Some banks reimburse a small percentage of your expenses for a given amount, saving you money while enjoying the benefits of a credit card and helping you build up credit for mortgages, car loans, and more. which you will need in the future, Kearl points out. .

And when it comes to opening a bank account, Kearl recommends shopping. Smaller or online-only banks often have lower fees and more benefits for students.

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4. Textbooks are just as good the second (or third) time around

Saving can be easier when you use student or community groups to buy and sell. “Textbooks can be a big expense, so be sure to look for OER (open educational resources) or used textbooks,” says Sophia Fabiano, a third-year biology student at St. Francis Xavier University. “You can also join your school’s used textbook Facebook group. “

And savings can work for you on both sides. When you don’t need something, sell it. “I paid for a lot of meals by returning second-hand books to the buy-back store 20 steps away,” says Martin Lee, an engineering student at the University of Calgary. The redemption is managed by the school bookstore; their website lists which books they want to buy back and at what price, Lee says. “The second-hand store is run by the student union separate from the school – it’s a simple consignment shop, mainly textbooks. Leveraging these two resources is like getting a two-for-one deal: you save money with one and profit with the other.

5. Work on campus

Having a steady source of income can help you balance your budget, but balancing work and school can be difficult, so finding a flexible employer is important. “Find a job through your student union or an on-campus restaurant,” says Brooke Abbott, vice president of financial and volunteer operations at Wilfrid Laurier University student union. “Most employers on campus will be very accommodating when it comes to class and exam schedules. “

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Talia Dixon, a student at the University of Alberta and vice-president of student life at the school’s student union, agrees. “Student union jobs are designed for students – there are many opportunities for professional development and they often have flexible hours. “

(Illustration from Sam Island)

6. Have fun, but not too much!

“As a freshman it’s easy to get carried away with the idea of ​​spending money to have fun, but it really isn’t,” says Nathan Szierer, a student from the University of Western Ontario and the school’s financial director. student advice.

Karen Brown, Coordinator of Student Grants and Financial Aid at the University of Regina, suggests looking at what’s available on campus. “Check out sports teams for games – they’re often free for students – join an intramural team or invite friends over for a movie or board game night. There are so many low cost options, ”she says.

7. Limit take-out and find discounts on groceries for students

While an Uber Eats here and a DoorDash there might not seem like much, you can be sure they will add up. “Food delivery services are probably one of the biggest discretionary expenses for college students,” says Szierer. “It’s because students often put cooking for themselves at the bottom of the priority list, and it ends with ordering food because it’s the easiest and fastest option. “

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Cooking is always cheaper than eating out on a regular basis, but grocery shopping can also be a big expense. “Check flyers for deals and find out which days grocery stores have student discounts,” says Fabiano.

Most universities in Canada have an on-campus food bank to help students in need. “While it may seem odd to access a food bank, students and alumni run services specifically for students. It’s basically a discounted grocery service for inexpensive fresh produce, ”says Dixon.

And if you’re still worried about your budget, Brown suggests considering living in campus accommodation where there’s usually a meal plan. “That way your costs are fixed,” she says.

8. Check your school’s optional fees

(Illustration from Sam Island)

(Illustration from Sam Island)

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Some schools have additional optional fees, such as health and dental insurance. With an opt-out system, the additional fees are automatically added to your tuition fees. It is up to you to contact your registrar and opt out if you would prefer not to pay for these services (for example, if you already have coverage).

9. Ask for help

Seek help if financial issues are affecting your education. “Most student unions know that students sometimes find it difficult to meet their basic needs and may have initiatives to make life a bit easier,” says Dixon. They often give discounts, can help you with taxes, and offer a handful of financial education resources. “Our [council] offers financial literacy programs throughout the school year, including an annual income tax clinic, to all undergraduates, ”Szierer said.

Remember to give yourself a chance to learn. “It’s okay if you don’t get it right the first time,” says Hilpert. “Budgets can be changed once you’ve spent time as a student and have a better understanding of what things are costing. The important thing is to “take the time to figure out your money and ask questions to see how it works.”


This article appears in print in the 2022 University Rankings issue of Maclean’s magazine with the title “Counting the Change”.


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