How To Graduate Without Adding Extra Consumer Debt
A school budget is the last thing you want to think about when you embark on your first adult journey but you should.
Higher education always comes with a price-tag and expenses you need to be prepared for every month with a school budget.
Do you need a back to school budget?
If you ask me the answer will always be a resounding yes because it’s the only way to track your expenses so you’re not overspending.
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 to budget the easy way.
My first words of advice are to avoid credit card companies and on-campus marketing at all costs.
You don’t need one and if you do apply for a student credit card use it wisely or you will find out the hard way how fast debt can crush you.
Creating A 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 when you are dealing with money coming in and money going out.
It is when debt is factored in that things can get tricky because now you are faced with paying for something you’ve already used.
There’s never a wrong time to prepare your finances if you are University or College bound.
Some people make a budget harder than it actually is but for newbies creating a school budget is the most terrifying part of the process.
A budget can alter someone’s life who may be used to spending money without accountability.
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 who will ask you to go out often to eat and shop.
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 and being prepared means you’ve won half the battle.
Step 1: Setting Personal Financial 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.
I’m sitting with my piece of paper and a pen so I can write my goals and consider all of my options.
You should set long-term, short-term and in-between term goals which cover the big stuff and the all the little things in-between.
- 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? Living at home after school is helpful as most parents will assist 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 your financial brain juices flowing.
You can expand on them later.
Step 2 –Where is your school budget money coming from?
How much money will I have to spend every month while attending school?
Most people make simple budgeting mistakes that you can avoid if you prepare your finances.
Money depends on your funding sources which all need to be factored into your monthly budget.
Most students get money from various places such as;
- Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP)
- Student Summer Job
- Parents, Relatives and other personal loans
- Education Funds
- Bursary, Grant, scholarship
- 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.
Net Income Example:
So take all the money you will receive to go to school for the year and add it all up.
- 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
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 – Other Educational Expenses For Your School Budget
- 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 getting an OSAP loan and will have to source a personal loan or bank loan.
It’s best to enquire about financial assistance well in advance of the school year even if you don’t know you are going to be accepted.
Asking questions at your local financial aid office or making an appointment with a banking officer is never a waste of time.
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 into your school budget.
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 budget categories into Fixed expenses and Variable expenses.
Saving and Earning Money For Your School Budget
Money-Saving Tip: Hook up with a Student Price Card (SPC) 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 and you have the SPC app for discounts.
Money-Saving 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 rewards points towards free movies, snacks, and discounts on Tuesday Tickets.
Money-Saving 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.
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You can’t earn cash any easier and it will help add money to your savings so you can free up the debt you’re working to get rid of or help increase your money power.
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Money-Saving Tip: If you grocery shop sign-up for Nielsen Homescan Canada where you earn points for grocery shopping and redeem for prizes such as gift cards.
What are Fixed Expenses?
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.
What are variable expenses?
Variable expenses are expenses that may go up and down depending on your spending habits, usage, inflation, and cost.
A few examples of variable expenses include utilities, allowance, 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.
School Budget Categories
Everyone’s school budget will differ based on need but the main budget categories below will give you an idea of what to include in your budget.
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, Campus rental boards or even Facebook Groups in the city your school is located in.
Rental pricing will differ everywhere in Canada but generally a room rental will cost around $450-$550 a month and a one-bedroom apartment varies from $700 to thousands.
If you live off-campus you will need to buy groceries and even students that have a school meal plan often visit the grocery store for snacks.
The key here is to understand how much your grocery budget should be so you know exactly how much to spend.
- Is a meal plan included with your on-campus living?
- Do you pay as you go to the cafeteria?
Bus Pass, Taxi, Uber, Go Train, Subway, Parking, Gas, Vehicle sticker, car insurance, License renewal, Vehicle maintenance.
School clothes, seasonal clothes, work clothes, shoes and accessories.
How much do you need or can you afford?
Second-hand clothing shops are always a great idea when you want to save money.
Pubs,concerts, eating out with your friends, coffee, smoking and so on. You will need to think of everything you would do and put in this category. You can always go back and edit your budget if you find something you missed which is why tracking your expenses is important.
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.
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 tenant’s insurance.
This includes your internet, cable, cell phone, home phone and anything else that falls under this category.
Saving as little as $5-$10 a month is better than $0. Ideally saving 3 to 6 months of your expenses is recommended in your Emergency Savings Account.
Health and Beauty
Anything related to taking care of yourself including toiletries, make-up,
Dental, Prescriptions and Health Insurance
Who will be paying for your dental and prescription costs?
Are you covered under your parents work plans or do you need to get your own student coverage through your education system?
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Gifts and Birthday
Will you be buying gifts throughout the year for friends, achievements, birthday, Christmas etc
Credit card or other debt repayment.
Do you owe money on your credit card or other debts?
Items that pop up that are not categorized that are not an emergency
If you already invest money you need to budget for it.
Adult student returning to school like I did might have retirement investments which they pay into.
Step 4 – Finalizing Your School Budget
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 into your variable expenses.
You MUST always balance your budget and if you can’t you need to make cuts to expenses you can’t afford.
Once you have all your budget totals you can total your expenses and minus that from your monthly net income.
If it doesn’t balance you need to make further changes or get out and earn more money.
Slicing expenses might mean no cell phone, limited or no data plan, no home internet, buying second-hand clothes and less eating out.
If you spend more than you earn you will ALWAYS go into debt.
School Budget One Time Expenses
What about One-Time Payments or Expenses?
You need to factor in expenses even if they are one-off payments per year such as vehicle stickers.
If for example, your birthday is in January you will need to get your vehicle plate sticker for $75.00. What you do is budget this expense all year and save for it each month in a separate bank account only for projected expenses.
So $75/12= $6.25 per month that you need to save so the money will be there when you need to pay that bill.
We call this our projected expenses and all of the money sits in a bank account specifically for this purpose.
Besides, it’s too easy to mix up money if you keep it in your regular savings or chequing account.
Our emergency savings sit in another account so we don’t mess them up or get tempted to spend it.
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 to keep our debt and stress-free from financial worry.
Free Budget And Budget Printables For Your Budget Binder
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
There is no easy answer to this as it depends on how much you can afford. A budget will always give you the answers you need.
If you want to keep your grocery budget in check there are hundreds of Canadian grocery shopping tips in The Ultimate Grocery Shopping Guide.
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Once you plug in the figures into your budget you will have a better understanding of how much you can spend and where you neet to make changes.
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.
My final advice would be to review your school budget every month and make adjustments to your budget as-needed.
Life always changes and so will your school budget.
Discussion: What other financial worries do you have as a student? Leave your comments below.