Budgeting is pretty straightforward when you’re working full-time – you know how much money is coming in with each paycheque, and you do your best to ensure all your goals are met, your bills are paid for, and you still have a little bit of fun.
But managing your money as a full-time student is an entirely different ball game.
Most of the money you spend as a student is borrowed, which means everything you do or buy is putting you into debt. It’s (hopefully) the only time in your life when you’re in that situation, but it actually makes it a great time to learn how to budget and practice living below your means.
Since each dollar you spend as a student could be putting you into debt, you’ll want to be extra careful with your money, because the less debt you go into, the sooner you’ll be able to pay it off. And if you get used to living within your means now, any extra money you earn after you graduate should help you tackle your debt and savings goals. Sound good?
Here are our best budgeting tips for while you’re in school.
1. Calculate how much “income” you will get and budget per semester
By income, we mean any student loans you’re going to take on, any savings you have, and any scholarships you’ve received. And rather than write a monthly budget, the way you would if you had graduated and were working full-time, it’s a good idea to write a budget for each semester of school. For example, if you’ll have a combined total of $10,000 to spend each semester, subtract all your tuition, fees and book costs, then you can figure out how much money you’ll have to live on. Once you know that amount, you can divide it by 4 months and write 4 monthly budgets – but those budgets are still based on the total amount you know you can spend in any one semester, so that’s where you need to start.
2. Switch to student bank accounts
If you haven’t done so already, go into your local bank branch and find out what types of accounts they offer students. If you can’t get a free chequing and savings account with your regular bank, consider switching to a different financial institution, because you shouldn’t have to pay any fees for as long as you’re a full-time student.
3. Get a student credit card
To go along with that, if you’re the legal age in your province, you should also be able to get a no fee student credit card – you might even be able to get one that offers some rewards. It’s extremely important to only use your card to pay for regular expenses that you’ve already budgeted for, such as your tuition or books, and that you can pay it off each month, so you don’t wind up with credit card debt on top of your other student debt. By using one of the best credit cards responsibly while you’re in school, you can not only potentially earn some rewards, you’ll also be building up your credit, which will be a powerful tool in your personal finances after you graduate.
4. Don’t try to keep up with your friends
No matter how much money (and how much fun) it seems like your friends have, don’t try to keep pace with them if it’s not within your budget. Don’t spend your student loans on a vacation or a shopping spree or, worse yet, nights out at the bar. It can be tough to feel like you’re a starving student, but it will feel worse if you graduate and realize you’re going to spend the next few years just paying off all the “fun” you had – on top of the education you got. One trick to going out on a budget is to set a limit – say $30 – and take that amount of cash out with you. When the money runs out, you’re cut off.
5. Don’t be scared to ask for discounts!
Finally, if you’re worried about appearing “cheap” for asking for a student discount somewhere, try to get over it – because those discounts will save your budget! Clothing stores, drug stores, and movie theatres will typically offer 10% discounts (sometimes even more) to students who present a valid school ID. Think about it this way: You and your friends would probably rather go to a cheap happy hour than pay full price for drinks and appetizers another time, so why wouldn’t you also try to save on “stuff”? It’s in your best interest to save wherever possible!