Making Your Student Budget Go Further

We all know being a student can be a full-time job, and it’s often one that comes with full-time bills. Saving money can be difficult on a limited budget even when you’re following some common tips and tricks like packing a lunch, using public transit, or staying in on a Saturday night. These are all tried and true ideas, but sometimes it pays—literally—to try new strategies that can help you bring your “A” game to your finances.

Here are five ideas to help you elevate your financial game and make the most of your money.

  • Follow a budget — Write down your expected income and expenses each month. I recommend using the 50/30/20 rule for budgets whenever possible. This means setting aside 50% of your money for your needs, including housing and transportation, and 30% for your wants, including anything above and beyond your regular grocery budget or a night out for a friend’s birthday. Finally, set aside that 20% for the future, ideally in your bank savings account or an investment like a Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA). But not everyone is in a position to put their money aside. If you aren’t able to save, it can be important to put that 20% toward paying down any debt you have. Think of it as helping to set yourself up to start saving when the debt is paid off.

Quick tip: If you find it hard to budget, or are looking for more information on how to save, a CUA Financial Advisor can provide you with guidance and expertise to help.

  • Seek out student discounts — If you’re out shopping or signing up for a new service, ask if the business offers a student discount. Many do and you can often easily find discounts on everyday essentials and monthly services like banking fees. Simply asking the question can help you keep some of your hard-earned money in your own pocket.

Quick tip: Take advantage of CUA’s free myStudent Chequing Account.

  • Set goals — Set a goal for saving money with a timeline attached to it. For example, if you want to buy a car in a year, start setting aside money well in advance and make sure that your spending aligns with that goal. If, at the end of each month, you’re down to your last dollar, going into overdraft or maxing out your credit card, instead of scrapping the idea of car, look at what you’re spending your money on. Maybe you can take advantage of some of those tried and true tips (like packing a lunch) to help adjust your spending habits.

Quick tip: Your goals don’t have to be big — maybe it’s as simple as setting aside $10 a week so you can go out with your friends one Saturday a month.

  • Earn extra money — Sometimes, the numbers just don’t work. If you find yourself facing more expenses than income, look for alternatives to earn a little extra cash. Maybe your class schedule allows you to pick up an extra shift at your part-time job. Earning a little extra money could be the difference between having the money you need and relying on credit and paying interest and other banking related fees.

Quick tip: Babysitting, seasonal yard work and tutoring are flexible options for earning a little extra cash.

  • Build your credit (wisely!)  — As we get older, it is important to establish a positive credit history. We all know good credit helps when we want to eventually make a large purchase like a car or a home, but a higher credit score can make it easier to get a cell phone and even rent an apartment. If you don’t yet have a credit history, getting approved for a credit card is a great tool to start building your credit so long as you use it wisely and only spend within your budget. My number one tip for students applying for and using credit cards is to use only one, with a low spending limit, and pay off any charges as soon as your statement arrives.

Quick tip: Try to avoid paying for anything with credit cards that you don’t have the money to pay for (remember the budgeting tip from earlier?). Interest adds up quickly, costing you more in the end.

Money can be an emotional topic for many people and as students, you have plenty of pressure and stress in your lives. If you find yourself needing a little extra support or want to talk about the way you’re spending your money, we’re here to help. Make an appointment by calling 902.492.6500 and we can get started on your student budget.


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