Budgeting 101: Skills for university students

Going off to school this fall—or know somebody who is? Here are some key ways to make your limited college or university dollars stretch.

Post-secondary education is a significant financial commitment—one that grows larger with each passing year. If you’re a university-bound student, or a financial supporter of one, a combination of careful planning and basic budgeting skills can go a long way in helping you make the most of this important investment.


Tracking how you spend your money will help you pinpoint where it goes, determine what you can cut and create a realistic budget for the coming year. If you find yourself running out of money every month, CPA and financial consultant Robin Taub advises in her 2011 book, A Parent’s Guide to Raising Money-Smart Kids, to “remember the three Cs: create, convert and conserve.” Find ways to create more income (e.g., get a part-time job), convert existing assets into cash (e.g., sell your car) or conserve what money you have by cutting costs (e.g., coupons and cheap movie nights).


Do you buy a fancy coffee on your way to class every morning, or reward yourself with a new magazine every weekend? Financial expert and author David Bach calls these little indulgences the Latté Factor—small, recurring expenditures that, left unchecked, can add up quickly and have a big impact on your bottom line. Find your Latte Factor and eliminate it.


Not all debt (or credit) is created equal. Taking out a student loan to earn a university degree is one thing. Charging a new wardrobe to a high-interest-rate credit card is something else entirely. The former is an investment in your future; the latter is instant gratification at the expense of your future. Choose a credit card with low or no fees, keep the limit low and get in the habit of paying off the balance every month.


As a post-secondary student in Canada, you may be eligible to receive an income tax credit for money spent on tuition. If you receive a scholarship or bursary and move at least 40 kilometres closer to attend school, you may also be eligible for the moving expenses deduction. Check the Canada Revenue Agency website for details.


For most students, any income earned during your post-secondary years will likely be spent on tuition, textbooks and living costs. Any money that can be set aside should be directed toward a tax-advantaged savings vehicle like a Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA) or Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP), where it can earn investment income tax-free.


CPA Canada’s financial literacy program helps Canadians of all ages get smart about their finances through surveys, publications, worksheets and CPA-led seminars in communities across the country.

If you’re heading back to university or college in the fall, or getting ready to start first year, check out “Own Your Financial Future: Managing Debt and Making Credit Work for You”: a 60-minute seminar on how you can take control of your finances.

If you’re a parent with a university-bound child, check out CPA Canada’s book, A Parent’s Guide to Raising Money-Smart Kids, and “Are You a Good Financial Role Model?,” a 60-minute seminar on how you can improve your financial management and set a good example for your kids.


Any other budgeting tips for university students? Post a comment below.

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