The student budget survival guide
The life of a student is not easy. Between classes, studying, work and your social life, budgeting often falls by the wayside. The thing we forget, is that good financial management can make life a lot easier. Here’s how to get an A+ on your student budget.
Where should you start?
The key to any budget is not underestimating your expenses. Make a list of everything you currently spend money on – do you have a weakness for fancy lattés that cost as much as your lunch? This is no time to lie to yourself. Then, estimate what your income will be. The closer your budget comes to reality, the less likely you’ll be to break out in cold sweats when you look at your bank balance. You can make this easier by using a home budgeting tool. It’s a bit like having your own personal accounting assistant to do all the calculations for you.
What can you cut?
There are two types of expenses. The first, fixed expenses, are easy to plan for: rent, Internet, tuition, etc. Be careful not to overlook the expenses that only come once or twice a year, like your driver’s license and registration.
In the second category are variable expenses. These are more fun – food! restaurants! going out! clothing! – and they can be drastically reduced if your fixed expenses eat up too much of your budget.
If after reducing your variable expenses, you still can’t balance your budget, try taking another look at your fixed expenses. You might be able to find a cheaper Internet package or an apartment with cheaper rent, for example.
Here are a few tips to help you trim the fat.
1. Organize mealtime
- Before going to the grocery store, plan your meals for the week and make a list of the ingredients you need. This way you won’t end up throwing half the contents of your fridge in the garbage.
- Buy no-name brands. They cost about 10% less than name brands and we dare you to taste the difference in a blind test.
- Practice seasonal cooking. Not only is this what chefs practice, but it also costs a lot less. No need to eat butternut squash the whole month of November, but maybe draw the line at over-priced strawberries in January.
- Buy in bulk and limit yourself to the amount you actually need. Plus anything looks cute in a Mason jar.
- Avoid prepared meals – they cost a lot more. Plus, ANYTHING you cook will definitely be better than frozen food, even that macaroni with soy sauce from your home economics class.
- Pack a lunch. If the idea of eating soggy sandwiches like you did in high school sounds too depressing, try leftovers instead. Eating out three times a week at $15 a meal comes to $2,250 a year. For that much, you could take a trip to Europe!
2. Cell, Internet
- ALWAYS use Wi-Fi instead of data, even if you have to force your friends to hunt down their impossible-to-remember passwords.
- Revisit your packages: Do you really need all that? Paying for data you don’t use is pretty much the definition of throwing money out the window.
- Bundle your cell, television and Internet services so you can negotiate a better rate with a single provider.
- Is your package available somewhere else at a lower price? Use that information to negotiate. If your provider doesn’t bite, it’s time to switch providers!
- Use your parents (that’s what they’re there for, right?). Some providers offer a rebate when there are multiple people on one bill.
3. Put your best foot forward, without breaking the bank
- Take advantage of sales! Fine, you probably figured that one out on your own, but remember: a cashmere sweater is twice as soft when it’s half the price.
- Avoid clothes that are dry-clean only. At $10 a cleaning, you’ll have paid for a $60 piece twice over after only six washes. That’s an expensive silk dress.
- Think “cost per use.” Don’t stress about paying more for a pair of jeans or a coat that you’ll live in all winter long. But there’s no need to invest too much in accessories that will be out of style before you can say millennial pink.
- Organize a clothing exchange with your friends, and get a wardrobe refresh free of charge! There are also Facebook groups for clothing exchanges and sales, where you’ll find great items for low prices.
- Get to know your local shoemaker. A new heel can help squeeze one more season out of those shoes. Same thing goes for your purses and backpacks. Once you’ve seen the miracles your new friend can work, you’ll want to invite them to all your parties.
4. Old covers, same content
- Buy used textbooks. You can find them in used book stores, or online on major booksellers’ websites, your student association’s Facebook page, or discussion groups for your school. A desperate plea on your own Facebook page works, too.
- Choose the e-version if there is one. Not only is it less expensive, but you’ll save trees. Richard Desjardins will (probably) thank you.
- Go to the library. Teachers often put aside a few copies of the books they teach; you can take them out for a few hours at a time. You can also study while you’re there, without being disturbed by your roommate the amateur flautist, or your neighbour and their expressive dog.
Too many expenses… Or not enough income?
Did you follow our advice to the letter, only to realize that your expenses surpass your income no matter what you do? That might be because you aren’t earning enough income. Now what?
You’ve got a few options. You can get a part-time job. Fifteen hours a week will help you cover a few fixed costs without getting in the way of your studies.
You can also look into government-funded financial aid programs for students, a student credit line, or a credit card; all tools that will give you access to short- or medium-term financing.
Be careful though, not to fall into the . Choose loans that offer more flexible repayment options and lower interest rates. Interest on loans and bursaries obtained through government programs are often lower, and the capital and interest only needs to be repaid once you’ve completed your studies.
Remember, too, that credit card interest rates are usually higher than for other loans, so use them carefully and for purchases you know you’ll be able to pay off easily.
Did your work hours get cut? Working on a new project? All these changes have an impact on your budget, which is why you’ll need to revisit it once or twice per year. And if you feel like your financial situation is causing too much anguish, meet with an expert. They can help you find solutions adapted to your situation.
To conclude, a good budget requires a significant amount of rigor and organization, but in exchange for your efforts, you’ll get a bit of peace of mind – plus you’ll know exactly how much you can afford to blow with your friends on Saturday night!
Edited on 30 October 2017