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How to budget as a student in Canada

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One of the key things to master when learning how to budget as a student is understanding exactly where your money goes. The majority of a student’s monthly budget typically gets eaten up by school expenses, but it extends beyond this. When you combine the cost of a meal plan or groceries with the money you spend on entertainment and clothing, it’s easy to quickly exceed your monthly budget.

Spending within your budget can be even more challenging as a student than for full-time working professionals, as there’s often very little time in your schedule to dedicate to earning an income.

Because of this, money is almost always tight. And when you’re just learning how to budget, all while adapting to your newfound independence, it can be a lot to handle. Fortunately, there are lots of resources out there for those navigating the student lifestyle.

In this budgeting for students guide, we share some helpful tips and resources to help you plan your student budget for this school year.

Figure out how you're paying for tuition fees

One of the biggest expenses as a student is tuition. Figuring out what financial support you may have from your parents or province, for example, the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), is a good starting point when figuring out your options for covering tuition costs. Planning out your repayment plan ahead of time can help you make your payments and avoid any late fees.

If you’re taking out a student loan to pay tuition, being aware of when your student debt starts accumulating interest can help with your repayment timeline. If the terms of your loan include an interest-free grace period where you’re not accumulating interest on the amount owed, it’s best to tend to other higher-interest debt first. You should also get an idea of how frequently you’re able to make payments. Paying more frequently can potentially reduce your student loan debt in the future.

If you’re eligible for scholarships or financial aid opportunities specific to your faculty, these can also be factored into covering the cost of your tuition. These types of opportunities can change every academic year. So, connecting with staff in these departments can reveal opportunities you might not have considered.

Use a free budgeting app to monitor your spending habits

One of the easier ways to manage your everyday expenses is to download a free budgeting app.

Budgeting apps allow you to track your spending in real time by connecting your bank account or credit card. These apps tell you exactly where your money is going, so you can categorize your everyday purchases and see how much of your budget is spent on costs like streaming subscriptions and food delivery services versus bills and groceries.

Budgeting apps are great if you tend to manage a lot of your personal life on your phone and are more visual when it comes to financial planning. The more you use a budgeting app, the easier it will be to see how much you spend on one-time purchases compared to fixed expenses.

Budget breakdowns vary from person to person, but as a student, the 50/30/20 rule can still apply. In other words, half of what you spend money on should be things you need, while no more than 30% should be spent on wants, and at least 20% should go into your savings account (if you can swing it).

Take advantage of student banking and credit card offers

Most banks in Canada have chequing accounts and credit cards that are geared toward students. The BMO CashBack Mastercard for students, for example, offers an excellent cash back welcome offer on practical purchases that students can benefit from. The Neo Secured Credit Card is also ideal for those looking to build credit, and currently offers up to 15% cash back on first-time purchases at participating partners.

Opening a bank account somewhere that offers a student bundle, like Scotiabank, which offers a Student Banking Advantage Plan, can also help you grow your money. Banks often provide a sign-up cash bonus for first-time customers, unlimited debit transactions, and unique freebies like free stocks and ETFs when using the mobile app.

A high-interest savings account can also help you earn more interest on whatever amount of money you’re able to save while in school.

Buy used vs. new textbooks

The cost of textbooks can add up pretty quickly. Fortunately, there are ways to save.

The first step to saving money on textbooks is figuring out which ones you will need as early as possible. Once you know what course materials you need to pay for, you can give yourself extra time to start figuring out the best ways to access them without going over your budget.

Clarifying what edition of the textbook you need, and if using an older, pre-owned edition of the textbook is possible, is another way you can save when buying textbooks.

It might also be possible to get a digital version of the textbook, which would still allow you to have the latest version of the textbook at a lower price. There are also websites dedicated to buying and selling used textbooks. If you end up having to buy a new textbook, you can keep it in good condition and potentially sell it to generate extra cash to put toward other expenses.

Search for student discounts

One of the benefits of being a student is that you rarely have to pay full price for things if you ask about student discounts. Subscription services like Spotify and Apple Music offer student discounts and there are also student phone plans that can lower your phone bill. Grocery retailers also offer discounts on groceries for students on select days of the week, typically around 10% off.

Regardless of your financial situation, reviewing your monthly budget to see if you’re getting the best deal on your subscription services and bills is important. Memberships like the Student Price Card are an easy way to access student discounts in one place, but calling your various service providers and seeing if they have any specials for students at least once a year can help you save money.

Peruse online buy-and-sell pages

Buy-and-sell pages on social media apps like Facebook and Instagram are an easy way to save money on both your needs and wants. Many universities have specific Facebook groups to find deals within the community on everything from pre-owned furniture and clothes to electronics and textbooks.

These pages are also a quick and easy way to make extra money by selling things to fellow college students when you no longer need them.

Consider opting out of your school's student health insurance

Many tuition fees often include healthcare coverage intended to cover things like dental and healthcare per semester. Depending on your personal healthcare coverage, you may not need a student healthcare plan. For example, if your parents already have health and dental insurance that extends to you, you may want to consider opting out of this service.

However, health and dental care is expensive so you should make sure you still have some form of insurance coverage before opting out.

Financial education resources for students

Spending and saving habits can be tough to foster, but ensuring you’re aware of all the savings opportunities available to you can take less pressure off of your finances while you’re enjoying the student life.

For more guidance on money management, the Government of Canada offers financial literacy programs for students and adults, including:

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