University and college is an exciting time for many young adults (and even some older learners trying to get into a new career). But life at school isn’t all studying and parties—there’s a lot to learn about your own budget while you’re getting an education!
Student loan debt in Canada has proven to be financially challenging for many, making it harder to set aside money for the future, buy a car, and meet other financial goals. Managing this debt can be even more challenging than it has to be when students find themselves spending more than they need to during their time in school.
To help make student debt not so scary, we’ve put together this student money guide with tips on some bad student spending habits to avoid and some good habits to build. Read on for useful tips and advice on how to curb student debt.
A Quick Peek at University and College Student Spending Statistics
Before we dig into student spending habits (both good and bad), let’s take a look at some student spending statistics that could help highlight why it’s so important to build the right habits.
The Cost of Accommodation
In many cases for students living on or near campus, accommodation is their single largest expense—often accounting for 40% of a student’s budget. Students living at home or with roommates in an apartment further away from campus might be able to reduce this cost, but they could also incur transportation fees instead.
The actual cost of accommodation varies depending on whether or not you'll be living on campus or renting off-campus, the city or town you'll be renting in, who owns the property, the number of roommates you'll be living with, the cost of utilities, and more.
What Do Students Buy the Most?
Pursuing post-secondary education in Canada is expensive, and students are faced with a variety of different expenses, such as transportation costs, groceries, and buying prepared food on campus. But one of the largest expenses for students is the cost of their course materials, such as textbooks, which can range between $500 and $1,000 per semester.
However, many of these are just one-time purchases, and some savvy students can get some of their money back by reselling their used textbooks online or buying used books from students who took the same courses in previous semesters.
How Much Does a Student Spend on Food Per Month?
Considering that almost every student spends money on restaurants, just how much does the average university or college student spend on food every month? Estimates for this cost will vary depending on the student’s eating habits and where they’re going to school.
Students studying in high cost-of-living areas will, naturally, end up spending more on food per meal than students studying in areas with a lower overall cost of living.
Additionally, students who eat out a lot will end up spending more on food than students who cook their own meals—in fact, you might be able to cook yourself several meals for the cost of a single trip to a restaurant!
Some campuses offer meal plans for their students which allow them to frequently visit the campus cafeteria for meals—which can be useful for setting a budget for your food expense. However, it’s easy to get sick of cafeteria food (especially if the menu doesn’t change much), so many students will opt to supplement this with dining out.
Some estimates put the monthly cost of food and groceries at $300 (or $3,600/year), while others may put it higher or lower, depending on the city or town the student is living in and their eating habits.
Bad Student Spending Habits to Break
What are some of the bad student spending habits that you should work on breaking as soon as you can? Here are a few things that you might want to avoid doing as a university or college student if you want to minimize your student debt when your education is complete:
1. Taking Out More Student Loans Than You Need
It’s really tempting for students to take the maximum student loan amount offered to them. However, it may be smarter, in the long run, to determine exactly how much money you actually need to pay for your basic expenses and to return or refuse any loans in excess of that amount.
While having the extra cash available sounds nice, that’s money that you’ll have to pay back later—with interest!
Additionally, if you get used to having a bunch of extra cash, it might be more difficult to exercise control over your spending while in school. This can lead to racking up even more debt.
So, it’s important to avoid the habit of just taking the maximum loan amount if you don’t really need it. Alternatively, if you have trouble estimating how much you'll need, consider setting aside any excess funds after paying for your basic necessities into an account you can't easily access, that way you avoid the temptation to spend more than you need to.
2. Buying Takeout All the Time
School life is often busy, and you may not always have enough time to cook your own meals and take care of yourself. So, it’s all too easy to fall into the habit of stopping by a food stall or takeout restaurant on or near campus to grab a quick bite to eat. However, this matter of convenience can quickly become a costly habit.
Eating out once or twice a week isn’t the end of the world. On the other hand, if you find yourself making a habit of going out to eat for every other meal, you could find yourself spending more than you bargained for. Depending on where you go, you could easily spend between $7 and $80 (or more) on a single meal. Breakfast and lunch tend to be less expensive, while dine-in restaurant dinners tend to be the most expensive.
To simplify the math, let’s assume you eat at less expensive places and spend an average of $10 per meal. If you eat out just once a day, that’s $70 a week, or about $3,640 a year. If you eat out ten times a week, that’s about $100/week or $5,200 for the year.
If you replaced some of those fast-food trips with home-cooked meals that cost between $2 and $5 to prepare, you could save thousands of dollars each year.
3. Excessive Shopping
Sometimes, the student lifestyle isn’t as glamorous or as fun as TV shows and movies can make it out to be. There’s a lot of time where you might be stressed or bored in between class assignments and work—which can lead to the temptation to do a little shopping.
However, giving in to the desire to shop just because you’re bored or stressed can lead to a shopping addiction—especially with online shopping making it so easy to browse countless new products you might not be able to find elsewhere. Excessive shopping can blow your budget and lead to debt.
This isn’t to say you should never shop—it’s just important to avoid shopping as a means of dealing with stress, boredom, or frustration. Instead, create shopping lists of things you need or set a budget of exactly how much you can afford to spend on any given shopping trip. You can also consider buying gift cards for yourself to your favourite stores, that way you can set a limit to how much you spend.
It’s also important to avoid going overboard with “buy now, pay later” purchases—just because you don’t have to pay upfront doesn’t make it a good financial decision for you.
Good Student Spending Habits to Start
Now that we’ve covered a few bad spending habits to avoid as a university or college student, what are some good habits that you want to develop? A few things include:
1. Getting into the Habit of Making a Monthly Expense Budget
How much money can you afford to spend on different items based on your income? Setting a budget for yourself is a vital first step in controlling your spending and avoiding building up debt. Consider each spending category—like tuition, rent, school supplies, and food—and arrange them in order of importance, so you can focus on the necessities first.
2. Start Saving Money Where You Can
Get into the habit of setting aside as much money as you can afford to. If you don’t have any outstanding debts, consider putting some cash into a tax-free savings account or a long-term savings account that has some kind of tax advantage, like an RRSP. This can help you prepare for the future.
If you do have outstanding debts (like credit cards), put any excess money towards those debts first so you can pay them down sooner rather than later and avoid interest charges.
3. Consider Using Shopping Apps to Look for Deals
When you shop, consider using shopping apps to see which stores have the best deals on the products you need. Some stores will price-match if you can show that the same product is selling for less at a different store. You can also go retro and look for coupons for the stores you normally shop at or check out your local paper for deals.
When you’re out shopping, consider switching to unbranded or “value” versions of popular products. They’re often less expensive while being nearly identical to the big-name brand versions.
4. Look for Help from Others
Odds are you know someone who’s been in the same situation as you. Asking for money-saving advice from friends or family can be a lifesaver for your student budget. For example, your parents, cousins, or classmates might know a trick or two for saving money while in school—like a cheap alternative source for textbooks aside from the (often overpriced) new books at the campus bookstore, or working at your campus cafeteria so you can get a discount on food.
Other resources, like Canadian credit counselling services, might have a few tips you could use as well. Non-profit credit counselling services are free, which means you can speak to a certified Credit Counsellor as many times as you need to help you budget, pay off debt, and build a spending plan you can follow.
Need Help with Student Debt?
If you’re looking for debt help because of student loans or other forms of debt, we’re here for you! Credit Canada’s experienced and knowledgeable Credit Counsellors have helped thousands of people find the best debt relief solutions to meet their needs—and stay out of debt!
Reach out to us to get started!
About the Author