Back to School Student Budget For College or University





Do you need a back to school budget? I always say yes but it’s up you what you want to do with your life.

I don’t think schools offer debt management degrees so either you buckle down or risk more debt than you can handle after school.

A school budget is essential for most students I’ve talked to but the hard part is getting started and I’m going to show you how today.


Back to school Budget


I get so many emails from students wanting to know how they can budget their money when they go to school. You may graduate with student loans BUT you don’t need to graduate with tonnes of consumer debt.

Budgeting doesn’t need to be stressful as it is fairly simple.Sometimes we put too much emphasis on not being able to spend money when we can IF we spend it wisely and budget our money.

Now is the time to prepare your finances if you are University or College bound. Some people make a budget look harder than it actually is but for some just starting a budget is the most terrifying part of the process.

A budget can alter someone’s life that is used to spending money and not being accountable for it. You may even need to learn how to say no I’m on a budget if you’re the type that gives in easily, especially to your friends or a shopping addiction.

It’s an important time in a student’s life and this is one area many graduates say they wish they had prepared better for. Spending money frivolously while you are in school will come back to haunt you so get a grip and start a back to school budget.


Step 1: Setting Goals


First things first… I will talk as if it was me going to school again. I’ve just graduated this year for the second time but the first time in Canada so I’ve learned along the way. So I’m sitting with my piece of paper and a pen so I can write my goals. You should set long-term, short-term and in-between term goals.

  • How long is my course?
  • How many hours a week am I in school?
  • What I hope to do when I am finished my education?
  • What are the odds of me getting a job in the area or would I have to move to get an apartment for work? You see living at home after school is helpful as most parents will help you to back on your feet to pay off some of the debt. In my case that didn’t happen so I rented a room.
  • I also want to know whether I want to work part-time or full-time while I am in school.
  • How many hours will I need to devote to homework,research,group work?
  • Do I want to start saving for a down-payment to buy my own home after I’m done school?
  • Do I want to buy a car?
  • When do I start investing in my future?
  • Do I want to go on any trips, concerts after school or during March Break?
  • How much money will all this cost? How will I go about saving for it so I don’t go into debt?
  • Do I really need a credit card?

Remember these are just random thoughts to get the brain juices flowing. You can expand on them later. It’s important to think about your life, this is the time.


Step 2- Where the money is coming from?


How much money will I have to spend every month while in school? Most people make simple budgeting mistakes that you can avoid if you prepare your finances. Money depends on your funding sources.  Most students get money from various places such as

  • Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP)
  • Summer Job
  • Parents, Relatives
  • Education Funds
  • Bursary, Grant
  • Gifts
  • Part-time or Full-time job
  • A Co-op Term or a Work term most times will pay but you won’t know what you will get paid until you are hired by a company.

Most students are in school for about 10 months in Canada so your budget will likely be structured for that time period. If you do not live on campus you may have to sign a 12 month lease and that may or may not allow you to sublet. I always liked to think 12 months that way it was a cushion for me in case of an emergency. You can easily use 10 months as your budget it’s up to you.

Example: So take all the money you will receive to go to school for the year.

  • OSAP-$5,000
  • Summer Job $3,000
  • Parents, Relatives $1,000
  • Bursary ,Grant $5,000
  • Gifts $1,000
  • Part time or full-time Job (Net income-income after taxes paid) $250 week x 52 weeks per year= $13,000 year or for 10 months per year $250 week x 43.33 weeks  is 52 weeks/12 months x10 months=43.33 weeks x $250 = $10,832.50 year

So add it all up (I’m using working part-time for 12 months with a made up income)

Yearly Net Income-$5,000+$3,000+$1,000+$5,000+$1,000+$13,000=$28,000 net for 12 months of the school year

So you have approximately $28,000 for the entire year to pay for everything you need to pay including school.


Step 3- What are my  fixed and variable expenses, categories and how much will it cost?


Education Expenses:

  • Cost of your education $5,000 Total All Academic Terms
  • Books for both semesters $1,000 total *Tip-Search online or at your school campus on-line forums or boards for students selling second-hand books. For the most part new editions have small changes or you may find just what are you are looking for. I sold all my school books on Kijiji for about half of what I paid. Try not to mark up your books to get best return. Sell them as soon as you no longer need them. Buy them as soon as you know what you need.
  • Tools for school, school supplies $200 total – Check local flyers and deals online for the best back to school supplies deals in your area.

Total $5,000+1,000+$200=$6200 for the year (I could be missing something but you get the idea in this example) Any education related expenses you will have in this category.

Yearly Net Income $28,000-$6200 (Education expenses)=$21,800 left for your fixed and variable expenses for the 12 months. Remember I am using 12 months and if you will only be in school for 10 months do the math according to the length of time you will need.

Monthly Net Income- $21,800/12 months =$1816.66 (keep in mind if you are terminated from your job,laid off, or quit you will have big problems if you don’t have a PLAN B as a chunk of your money is coming from your part-time job here)

If you don’t plan on working your OSAP loan may be higher unless you have enough saved for your education and living expenses. Don’t always assume you will get OSAP either.

If your parents make a certain amount of money you may be denied. It’s best to enquire about this well before school. Some students turn to financial institutions for a line of credit for students as well.

You might think $1816.66 is a lot of money but wait and see how fast it will disappear. I’m also using higher than minimum wage net income so students depending on where they work and their budget may have less or more to work with.

Now you know you have approximately $1816.66  per month to spend, so what do you spend it on? You need to break your categories into Fixed expenses and Variable expenses.

Tip: Hook up with a Student Price Card (SPC) for $11.00 for 2012-2013 for optimal savings at many shops in the mall and restaurants. It’s worth the money if you know you will be spending at these shops.

Tip: If you go to the movies with your friends hook up with a SCENE card to get points each time you go. You can then use your points towards free movies, snacks and discounts on Tuesday Tickets.

Tip: Shoppers Optimum Card allows you to save up points each time you shop. These points can add up significantly with redemption periods all year-long.

Fixed expenses are expenses that don’t change from period to period like your housing, insurance, car payment and cable bill. You know the exact amount will be relatively the same every month. These are also expenses you have to pay for each month but also can cut if needed such as cable.

Variable expenses are expenses that may go up and down depending on your spending habits, usage, inflation and cost. Examples would be utilities, groceries, gas, eating out, entertainment, gifts, health and beauty. These are expenses or areas you can make cuts to if you can’t balance your budget.

  • Housing-Will you be renting a house, apartment, room or living on campus? This will be one of your biggest expenses. I’ve seen rent for a 1 bedroom apt at $800 plus in our area. If you rent a room or share a place it may run you $300-$450 or more per month plus a part of the utilities. A good place to look is on Kijiji for the city your school is in, under real estate or school forums or housing depts. Pricing will differ everywhere in Canada.
  • FoodBudget for 1. Are you splitting food with roommates? Is a meal plan included with your on campus living? Do you pay as you go in the cafeteria?
  • Transportation-Bus, Go train, parking, gas, vehicle sticker, car insurance, license renewal, vehicle maintenance.
  • Clothes-School clothes, seasonal clothes, work clothes, shoes and accessories. How much do you need or can you afford?
  • Entertainment-Pubs,concerts, eating out with your friends, coffee, smoking etc (you need to think of everything you would do and put in this category)
  • Utilities- Gas,hydro,water- You may owe a part of this if you have shared housing or it may be included with your rent.  Ask your landlord for details.
  • Renters Insurance- Are you covered under your parents insurance plan when you are away at College or University? Take pictures of everything you own and keep receipts. In the event that something should happen your insurance company may need this information for reimbursement. You may also need your own tenants insurance.
  • Communications– Internet,cable,cell phone,home phone
  • Emergency Savings– Everyone needs to save even you! Saving as little as $5-$10 a month is better than $0. You will be happy you did.
  • Health and Beauty- Self explanatory
  • Dental, Prescriptions and Insurance– Who will be paying for this? Are you covered under your parents work plans or do you need to get your own student coverage through your education system?
  • Gifts- Will you be buying gifts throughout the year for friends, achievements, birthday, Christmas etc
  • Debt Repayment-Credit card or other debt. Do you owe money on your credit card or other debts?
  • Miscellaneous- Items that pop up that are not categorized that are not an emergency
  • Investments– If you already invest money you need to budget for it. ie: Adult student returning to school like I did. I was investing in my RRSP with money I made from working but now you can also invest in a Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA)as well.

Step 4- Putting it all together! Know where your money is going, balancing the budget and where to cut back

Add up all the fixed items or items you have to pay for and minus them from your net income. Whatever money you have left you now have to divide that money to your variable expenses.

You need to balance your budget and if you can’t you need to make cuts to your budget. Once you have all your totals you can total your expenses and minus that from your monthly net income.

If it doesn’t balance you need to make changes or make more money. So if that means no cell or no internet then so be it. If you spend more than you earn you will go into debt. Believe me you don’t want that if you can help it.

Note: You need to factor in expenses even if they are one-off payments per year such as vehicle sticker. If your birthday is in January and you need to get your sticker then for $75.00 budget this expense all year and save for it.  So $75/12=$6.25 per month.

That way when you need to come up with the cash you have it in your savings account. We call this our projected expenses and that’s all we keep in this bank account.

Our emergency savings sits in another account so we don’t mess them up. It’s up to you how you want to keep your accounts but we found keeping them separate was super helpful and still do this today.

If you want to follow our budgeting series on how we designed our budget I recommend starting here. You will learn everything we did and still do today.

You can also check out all my FREE downloadable tools but here are just a few to give you an idea what to expect.

  • Basic Budget Sheet
  • Overtime Tracking Sheet
  • Grocery Shopping List
  • Pantry List
  • Freezer Inventory List
  • Weekly Menu Planning

If you want to keep your grocery budget in check there are LOADS of grocery shopping tips on CBB under The Ultimate Grocery Shopping Guide. Hundreds of ways we’ve saved over the years and we’ve shared them with all of you. Lots of CBB readers wrote me asking How Much Should My Grocery Budget Be and we have the answers!

Earn Cash Back with EBATES CANADA when you shop online!! This is the best way to earn money back, trust me we love it!!!

Once you plug in the figures into your budget you will have a better understanding of how much you can spend. Use common sense when deciding on where to make changes in the budget if you need to.

If you buy coffee and a bagel every day at Tim Hortons can you not make coffee at home and buy bagels at the grocery store? I did a price comparison of 2 co-workers one who bought coffee and ate out for lunch everyday and the other who brought it. The results were astonishing and it’s no different if you are a student. If you don’t look out for yourself no one will.

My final advice would be to review your student budget monthly to see if you are on track or if you need to make any adjustments to your budget. Life always changes and so does the budget.


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  1. Linda Leroux says:

    Such great information!!! Just sent off my daughter to college (sniff, sniff) yesterday and learn a lot of helpful tips from your blog! Will get her to read this as well as there is a lot of helpful tips and information for her and her roommate!! Thanks Mr. CBB for all your hard work and research!!

    • Hi Linda…
      I know it’s sad to see your children go but they will be back… we all come back lol. I hope your daughter learns a thing or ten from the blog and tell her to introduce herself once she is here so I know who she is. Here’s to hoping her education doesn’t end up costing her a fortune… cheers MR.CBB

  2. Christine Weadick says:

    Our daughter ended up renting an apartment and busing to college. The college provides a reduced fare bus pass so she used that. She worked part time all the way through on top of her field placements. She always stressed about money but did it on her own for the most part. I think we had to pay one phone bill over the years for her. Having her own space she has had to learn to cook, and being vegetarian for years she learned to cook that way. I got a number of phone calls asking how to cook this or that. She was happy having her own private space and the apartment came in cost-wise pretty close to what one of those rooms did. Plus she was right on a bus route there. She was proud of herself for doing things so much on her own. She got her first job in her field out of college thanks to the great job she did at a placement, and moved to a different apartment that was with in walking distance of her work. These days she is at a different place that means she must drive to work. Today money is still tight, as she works in daycare which doesn’t pay well at all, she is a single mom to an almost 3 year old boy (Sept 15 he’s 3), the dad is a self centered twit that works part time while she works her tail off, she is listed as a program supervisor at the daycare and is in charge when the director is not there. She has taken on the job of making sure they are in compliance for numbers from day one. They have different ratios of child to adult according to age and heaven help them if they are out of compliance!!!We’re very proud of her!!! And very proud grandparents too!!!

  3. Christine Weadick says:

    Interesting article, we went through a lot of this a number of years ago when our daughter went to college. She worked for a year between high school and college, saving her money and picking up things on sale for her first apt. We wound up co-signing for a student line of credit for her as OSAP turned the kid down flat. She had a part time job and they actually told her she was working too many hours to qualify!!!! She was close enough to come home regularly to do her laundry here and cage a meal or two here. I usually took her home with some left overs to tide her over a day or two. She worked her tail off and pretty much paid her way. I think the only thing we paid for was a phone bill one month (not too many hours that time) and I ordered a book for her at the beginning. She went through as an Early Childhood Educator and needed a copy of the Daycare act just as they were bringing out a new edition. I knew how to get stuff like that direct from the gov’t so I got it ordered and sent to her address…. She was the first one in her class to get the new edition!!! Some of the ‘student housing’ we looked at were nasty!!! She had an apt while in school…. seriously it was not much more than one of those rooms that were rented out to students!!!!! What a lot of the landlords do is rent to the students, but they figure I want to make this much a year on the rental…. so because the college/university students are renting for 8 months of the year, they take that one year amount and divide it by 8 so they get a years worth of money out of the kids renting for 8 months!!!!!!!!!!!!! Her apt was about $50.00 a month more than the one room with laundry access we looked at, the woman renting it charged for the room plus another $50.00 a month for hydro!!!! For a small room……. I was so not impressed…..We had no problem co-signing for her first apt after seeing that kind of thing…..

    • Oh ya you have to be careful what you get. Living on campus could be misery for some as it can get pretty crazy. Renting an apartment may just as well be the same but you can chose who you live with and where. You have more options I believe. The food part is outrageous as far as I’m concerned unless they are banking on the fact that these can’t cook which is not true for all. What did your daughter think of the entire living experience?

  4. Teodorica Todas says:

    I found so much helpful advice in your blog. I have been planning to go back to school for a few years now. Over the two years I was preparing and I slowly built a stockpile of the non perishable necessities. I am also extremely glad that I live walking distance from the college. One of the scary things that I did not think of in advance is that I will have to move after school in order to get a job in the field I am studying. Now I am a little stressed about finding income to do this.

    • Hi Teodorica,
      Thanks for dropping in and becoming a Fan on FB! I wouldn’t stress out about moving for a job quite yet. You haven’t even started College yet. I would probably focus on getting your finances in order for the year and worry about long term in spurts. Once you write out all your goals you can prioritize them. You don’t know if you will find a job in town or not. What I would do is find out the areas you may want to move, cost of living ie:renting, and set up a mock budget. You will then see how much money it will cost you to potentially live. Don’t forget all the moving costs, first and last months rent, etc… lots to think about but that’s long term. Take it step by step and breathe along the way. I’m always around if you need anything. You can also email me at If I can’t find it, I’ll get someone who can! Cheers Mr.CBB

  5. iheartbudgets says:

    Wow, I love the detail here. In college, I didn’t work, but lived off savings. I learned a bit of frugality, but my one mistakes was NOT WRITING IT DOWN! Putting goals on paper, and then developting a plan off those goals is the ONLY WAY to stick to your budget.

    I would find myself doing well, being frugal and savings money on….OH HEY, PIZZA! And then I’d completely blow it. Having a plan helps you learn to say “no” and stick to it!

    • When I went to University the first time I really didn’t budget like I did this time around. I’ve always held my money close to my heart ( no pun intended ha) but in Canada I had a whole new life to learn. My finances are finally coming together but without budgeting while I was in school here it may have went a different way. Life has gone so fast since landing in Canada.. time to pick it up a notch! Cheers Mate Mr.CBB

  6. When I was a student, at first I was stupid. I didn’t make a budget despite having to pay for my college out of pocket because I worked full time and didn’t think I needed one. In my final three years I smartened up, made a budget, and followed it. It’s very important!

  7. Wish I had $28k to start with! I am getting a little money back via overpayments on my accounts…grants and scholarships are amazing. But a good chunk of it is going to books. BLAH.

    • Keep in mind this scenario is showing a student working part time all year long. This scenario could turn sour if he/she were to lose their job just like in the real world. Keep at it.. be positive and you will find the best route for you. It’s the students that fall off track that struggle. Keep your head on darlin! Cheers and thanks for droppin in! Mr.CBB .. back to cleaning apples meh..

  8. Wow! Very thorough! Where were you with this stuff when I was going into school?! I wish I knew/thought of stuff like this back then. I guess I was lucky my parents footed the bill for most of my schooling 🙂

    • I had to learn alot of this while going to school as I literally came off the plane and right into school. It was a great experience and I landed my first job simply volunteering. You never know who you will meet. I hope it helps some students out as I know if they are looking they are and will be smart with their money if they put their minds to it. Cheers Jen.. Mr.CBB

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