When I left for university, I had no idea what things cost. With a student loan in my hands, I bought whatever I laid eyes on: fast food, beer, music. I accumulated a gargantuan amount of debt that I’m only now able to pay off.
Debt is the last thing you want after post-secondary. Together with Laurie Campbell, executive director of Credit Canada, a not-for-profit charity that’s helped people deal with debt for over 40 years, we’ve compiled some indispensable tips to get you the most bang for your buck during your first year away.
1. Take stock
Figure out where your money will go. “Some students get student loans, but here’s the scary part: they get it in chunks in September and January. They’ve got to learn to spread that out,” says Campbell. “When a student sets their budget, they have to figure out their fixed costs: rent, tuition, books, the cost of food and transport.”
2. Get a job!
If while working a couple shifts a week on top of going to school might not sound so appealing, there could be benefits. “It really sets you up for what life can be like,” says Campbell. “If you learn to balance your life in that way, that’s a great skill!”
3. No charge
Avoid the credit card trap. It’ll help in the long run. “We see far too many young people ruin their credit rating before they’re 25,” says Campbell. “If you’re tempted to get one, and feel that it’s necessary, stick to one card with a limit of no more than $1000.” Another option might be to get a pre-loaded credit card for emergencies. At least then you’ll know when the party’s over.
4. Keep ‘em separated
If your money arrives in lumps, keep your “expense funds” separate from your “fun funds.” This makes it easier to monitor your expenses.
5. Campus living: on or off?
There are pros and cons to each. “It’s going to be cheaper living off-campus if you can live with roommates and you’re careful with your money,” says Campbell. “However, there’s a bit of a safety factor to living on campus: tuition fees and meal plans are usually paid in advance and you don’t have any transportation issues.”
6. Buy the book?
In my second year I bought a $200 history text for an elective that I couldn’t sell back because they weren’t teaching it the following year. This taught me a lesson: only buy the books you need. I saved $500 one year because I used the books reserved in the library. Of course, this isn’t ideal for everyone, so scour the school bulletin boards for used books, or even try online.
Hopefully these nuggets of knowledge have given you a little insight into making that first year on your own a little easier on the wallet.