It’s back to school time, and if you’re a student starting post-secondary, congratulations! Post-secondary education is one of the best choices you can make for yourself and your future – you’ll learn to be independent, develop friendships that’ll last lifetimes, and grow more as an individual than you have ever in your life. With the countless opportunities and new experiences you’ll find yourself encountering in university, there’s always something new to see and do – but if you’re not careful with your money, you could find yourself broke halfway through the school year.
Your time in post-secondary is also a valuable learning experience. Besides the lectures and labs you’ll be attending, you’ll also be learning how to manage your finances. For many people, university is the first time you will actually have to take care of your money by yourself, and it can be easy to fall behind or lose track of your expenses. Budgeting and saving will be just as important as studying, so here are a few tips to be on top of your financial game this year!
Assess your income
It’s very likely that a steady income will be hard to come by while you’re in university. More often than not, students have several forms of income that will change throughout their time in school. Whether it’s the allowance you’re getting from your parents, a part time job, or financial aid, keeping track of your income is the first step towards creating a budget that works for you.
Create a budget
You can imagine a budget like being a fence around a piece of land. Inside the fence is where you stay – you can have all the fun you want in there, but you just have to make sure you don’t leave the fence. Different people will have different sized pieces of land, and that’s completely normal, because everyone has different financial situations.
Creating a budget is extremely important. It’s a way to make sure you aren’t spending money you don’t have, it sheds light on bad spending habits you may have had, and it can help you figure out your long-term financial goals and work towards them. Make a list of your monthly income sources, and then write down your estimated expenses for the month. It can be hard to guess your monthly expenses while you’re in university, but go ahead and give it a try – if you find that it’s not working for you, then feel free to adjust. Take costs such as school supplies, food outside your meal plan, personal care items, and laundry into account. Mint.com is a great website that lets you manage all your finances in one place and lets you create your budget for free, so go ahead and check it out if you’re struggling to find somewhere to start!
Separate your wants from your needs
Do you really need those shoes that cost $200? It can be hard to separate your wants from your needs, especially in university where it may seem like you’re low on clothes or other items. To help prevent impulse purchases, try waiting a couple weeks before buying something you think you want. After some time, most people find that they didn’t really need that item they wanted to purchase a few weeks back.
Instead, you should be focusing your money on your ‘needs’ while you’re in university. After a few months on campus and tracking expenses, it becomes a lot easier to distinguish wants from needs and put a plan in action. If you have a student loan, set aside all your money into a savings account, and then every two weeks. Based on your budget, pay yourself what you need to live. Writing your own paychecks is called the holding account method, and is a great way to deal with irregular income.
Take advantage of student plans
If you’re a student, you can take advantage of the student plans many banks offer. These plans usually include free chequing and savings accounts, which allows you to avoid fees on withdrawals or fund transfers. If you have a student ID card, simply showing it to different stores may score you some discounts. Apple offers special education pricing on their computers, select software, and third party products to post-secondary students. You can also have access to the entire Microsoft Office Suite for free if you are a student with their Office 365 Education plan. Different phone companies may offer better plans if you are a student too. There’s a lot of rewards out there for being a student – don’t be afraid to go out and reap the benefits.
Use your credit card, but don’t go overboard
Post-secondary is a great time to start building up credit, which is important for purchasing a vehicle, buying a home, and sometimes even landing a job. However, as we all know, credit cards are notorious for their lure and how easy it is to go into credit card debt. It’s important to understand the difference between building your credit and overextending. At the same time, if you are worried that you may rack up even more debt with a credit card, it’s totally okay to not use one throughout your university career.
Be a working student
Working a job while in school may be a tougher task to accomplish, but the rewards are very valuable. Finding a part time job that you can tolerate will allow you to build experience, make money, and reduce the time you have to spend your money on things you don’t need. Picking up a job is also a great way to reduce the amount of student loans you have to borrow, or you can use it to pay down student loans. Even small payments can make a big difference in the total amount you have to pay later down the road. It’s important to make sure that you don’t overwork either, as it can negatively affect your performance in school if you’re stressed out or spending too much time working. Be sure to find a job that suits your schedule and creates a nice balance in your life. Consider finding a job on campus – it can help save you money on transportation, and some on-campus jobs will be more willing to work with your schedule, as they know extremely well what students go through.
Shop for used textbooks
Textbooks are crazy expensive – in fact, they’re one of the biggest university expenses with some textbooks costing upwards of $300 for one class! Shopping for used textbooks is a great way to save some money. Consider buying a tablet so you can download your books – they are less expensive that way. Actively searching for books in used bookstores or online will help reduce your potential expenses greatly, and after you’re done with them, don’t forget to sell them!
What to take away
College can be expensive, but by creating a budget and sticking to it, you can help reduce your expenses and keep track of where your money should be going. By building up good spending and budgeting habits in university, you are setting yourself up for the future, when you have even bigger responsibilities. Make sure to actively find ways to save your money, and you’ll be able to happily graduate without a steaming pile of debt waiting for you at the door.
If you found this article interesting, don’t forget to check out some of our other posts!