Student Life: The Good, The Bad and The Expensive

Student Life: The Good, The Bad and The Expensive

Written by Caitlin Wood
Last Updated September 2, 2014

Being a student is expensive and while it’s almost impossible to avoid the majority of the costly activities, purchases and requirements there are lots of tips and tricks you can apply to your student life to make the financial part of the experience just a little bit more manageable.

There are of course endless factors that affect and determine how expensive your degree will be, the school you choose, the books you are required to buy, your living costs and transportation. And don’t forget the cost of having a great student life experience, meaning trips and vacations, clubs, extra activities and parties. While it can all seem quite overwhelming it doesn’t have to be, if you create a budget, stay organized and spend your money wisely you should be able to have the full student experience while being financially smart.

Make a Budget

Creating a budget should be one if your top priorities before the start of each school year, no it’s not going to be fun but it will allow you be financially responsible for yourself while in school.

  • Write it down: Make a list of all the expenses you can think of, don’t forget things like food, fun and the cost of going home if you’re going away for school. Seeing exactly how many things you’re going to have to spend money on might be a bit scary but it’s better to know now then to be surprised once it’s too late.
  • Identify your habits: Everyone has different spending and living habits, it’s a good idea to be honest with yourself and identify what yours are. If you know you’ll want to travel between home and school a lot then you need to budget more money for travel. If being social and going out is important to you then budget more money for fun.
  • Add it up: Now that you’ve made your lists and have all the information you need add it up and compare it to your income from your savings, job or student loans.
  • Review: Time to make sure your expenses aren’t more than your income. If this is the case then you need to review your expenses and decide where you can cut back. If you can make the decision now then you’ll be in a better position in the future and you won’t be stuck with no money half way into the year.

Stay Organized

Learning to stay organized while in school will be an invaluable skill, both now and in the future so make it a priority.

  • Keep Track: If you actually made a budget then you’re on the right path, just make sure you don’t forget about it and never look over it again. A budget is great but it doesn’t actually work if you don’t keep track of your spending to make sure you’re not going over budget. Keep all your receipts and write it down.
  • Organize it all: A whole filing cabinet is not necessary but a folder or two will make all the difference when you’re trying to stay organized. If you’re on financial aid or have lots of student loan papers then being organized is essential. Don’t throw every paper and recipe you’ve kept into one draw and forget about them because when you actually need something it will be a nightmare to sort through.
  • Have a bank account (cheque and savings): Having a bank account is essential and having two so you can tell the difference between what you’re saving and what you can spend is even better. Set up student accounts, most don’t have any fees so you won’t be wasting any money. It’s also a great idea to keep all your money in your savings account and then at the beginning of the month transfer the amount you need into your chequing account, this way you won’t be too tempted to spend it all.
  • Expect the unexpected: Your budget is probably already pretty tight but setting aside a little bit of money for an emergency or an unexpected expense is a good idea. You never know when your car might break down or when a last minute opportunity for a trip will come up.

Make and Spend Money Wisely

School should be your number one priority but having a part time job to help pay for books and activities will make you appreciate what you have a little bit more, plus a little extra cash never hurt anyone.

  • Get a job: Classes and homework do take up a lot of time but getting a job during the semester even if it’s just for a couple of hours a week can relieve some of the financial burden. Many students have to work part time jobs all year long to afford school, take a page from their books and find a job that fits into your schedule.
  • Avoid the campus bookstore: Try to find alternatives to the campus bookstore. Check online to see if you can rent your textbooks or find cheaper prices. Ask round to see if anyone you know took the same class as you and is willing to sell you their textbooks at a reduced price. Finally, buy any supplies like pens and notepads at a discount store, the prices at the bookstore will be double that they should be.
  • Don’t bring your car: If you don’t think you’ll need your car with you at school then don’t bring it. A car can end up being a huge expensive even if you never really use it, the price of parking alone could eat up a big chuck of your budget. Use public transportation instead.
  • Be particular about how you spend your “fun” money: There will be endless options for fun activities and outing when you arrive at school so make sure you choose wisely. It will be very easy to blow your whole month’s budget on nights out with new friends, so try to stick to your budget.
  • Take advantage of student discounts: Most places close to campus will have a student discount, it might not be a lot but it will help some. Check out your school’s student services for a list of all the places that have a student discount, that way you can plan your nights out or fun activities based on the places you’ll be able to save a little cash.
  • Scholarships: Apply for as many scholarships and bursaries that you can. Your school will have a list of all the ones available so take advantage of the ones you qualify for, even if they’re only a small amount any help is worth it.
  • Wants vs. needs: Finally learn to distinguish between what you really need and what you want. Unfortunately being a student isn’t very luxurious so more often than not you should go without, saying no will allow you to be more financially stable in the longing run.

Student life isn’t always easy and there are countless things to worry about on top of all your financial responsibilities. The most important thing for you to do is try to make your money a priority, there’s nothing worse than having to worry about financial problems during midterms and finals. Being a student is expensive and sometimes overwhelming, that’s why being organized and having a plan is your best bet for success.


Rating of 5/5 based on 2 votes.

Caitlin is a graduate of Dawson College and Concordia University and has been working in the personal finance industry for over eight years. She believes that education and knowledge are the two most important factors in the creation of healthy financial habits. She also believes that openly discussing money and credit, and the responsibilities that come with them can lead to better decisions and a greater sense of financial security. One of the main ways she’s built good financial habits is by budgeting and tracking her spending through the YNAB budgeting app. She also automates her savings so she never forgets to put aside a portion of her income into her TFSA. She believes investing and passive income is key to earning financial freedom. She also uses her Aeroplan TD credit card to collect Aeroplan points so that she can save money when she travels.

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