How to Save on Everything at School


When I was in university, I saw back-to-school season as an opportunity for a fresh start. So naturally, I wanted new everything— new books, new clothes, and new school supplies. At the same time, I didn’t want to spend all of my hard-earned summer job money on “Principles of Economics: Fourteenth Canadian Edition”(after all, telemarketing is not easy).

Here are some tips that saved my wallet.

Textbooks are a significant expense for all students. My biggest tip is to get the reading list as early as possible – see if you can email your instructor before the school year starts. Starting early will give you the time to explore as many options as possible, so you won’t have to resort to buying a brand new book at the last minute to study for that quiz in week two.

After this, I found the most success when buying books from older students. This eliminates third parties, who need to make a bit of money themselves and will charge higher prices. My school had a Facebook group for the people in my program, where we’d post ads to buy or sell textbooks. If there is a specific group for the students in the year above you, you can request to join or ask a friend to post on your behalf. Older students can also provide valuable advice such as, “We never touched this book, so there’s no need to buy it.”

In absence of this, Textbook Exchange, and Textbook Rental are great alternatives for buying or renting textbooks. Be careful of “international editions”, which are created by publishers for other countries (and priced accordingly). Although the content is similar and the prices might be more attractive, most publishers do not authorize the sale of these editions in Canada. As a hint, the book cover will say “Not for sale in the US or Canada” – so be cautious.

Another option is your school’s used bookstore. Although prices may be a bit higher, you’ll be able to buy all of your books in one trip. On top of this, you’ll be able to look through the selection of used books to find the best quality one with the fewest markings.

Kijiji and Craigslist are great places to get cheap or free furniture. Try to bring a friend when buying — they can provide a second set of eyes to spot a hidden crack that you don’t initially see, give you a bit more security when meeting strangers who are selling their belongings, support you in negotiating a good place and help you carry the item home.

Next, talk to older relatives and friends. They may have extra furniture lying around in their basement or attic that they would’ve thrown out anyway, so don’t be afraid to bring this up at your next family gathering.

Bonus Tip: For those that prefer new furniture, IKEA’s “As Is” section offers an additional 40-50% discounts off regular list prices. As an added bonus, these items are also pre-assembled.

Trade Away the Old for the New

If you’re buying from a friend, but don’t have the cash to pay for something, don’t be afraid to offer a trade. You could have something lying around that is valuable in another person’s eyes. At the end of the school year, my friends and I traded all types of items – a toaster for a Swiffer mop, a skirt for an office desk, and even a wireless router for a ride back home. Don’t be afraid to get creative!

Also, many Canadian cities like Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa have a Facebook group called the “Bunz Trading Zone” which is a no cash trading zone for items like clothes, furniture and even food. Common trading “currency” includes subway tokens, alcohol, and plants (yes-plants!). All you need to do is search for the group on Facebook and submit a request to join.

Going back-to-school can cost a pretty penny, but not if you get creative with how you allocate your money. Use these tips to get a fresh start to the new school year while staying in budget!

About the author

Allison Tse is a marketing professional with three years of experience in the credit card industry. She currently works at CIBC, but started her career at American Express after graduating from the Queen’s Commerce program. Outside of work, Allison loves to cook and is currently pursuing a Culinary Arts Certificate at George Brown College in Toronto. Check out her profile on LinkedIn