If you know one thing about college students, it’s likely the stereotype that they’re always broke. Unfortunately, this is true to a shocking extent, as 40% of Canadian college students are food insecure.

While every college student’s financial situation is different, there are still some ways to build a healthier budget. Let’s talk about some basic budgeting tips to help you stay afloat during your college years!

Break Down Your Expenses

Take a look at your expenses and see where that money is going. How much is going to savings, how much is going to bills/college expenses, and how much is going to leisure and personal expenses? By breaking down your expenses into these categories, it becomes much easier to develop a balance between them.

Maintain a Balance

For most adults, a common budgeting strategy is to break their expenses into the “50/30/20” method. This is when they put 50% of their income toward their needs, 30% toward their wants, and 20% toward their savings and investments. For many, this is too complicated, so let’s stick with some more basic budgeting.

However, college students may have trouble fitting into these brackets so precisely. You may or may not have recurring bills such as car payments, rent, or utilities. You may not even have too much of an income.

No matter what your current financial situation is, do your best to break it down and understand your expenses. If you use a credit or debit card for everything, carefully read through your statements and see where your money is going. If you discover that you’re spending too much on a recurring subscription or regular purchase, then it should be easy to adjust.

Over time, work on building these financial habits so that you don’t need to double-check. By simply monitoring your expenses closely for a couple of months, you’ll get a feel for it. If you’ve ever counted calories in your diet, it’s very similar to that!

Watch Your Spending

By looking at your spending, you remain mindful of the expenses that are draining your account over time. If you spend a lot on shopping, food, or entertainment, then that’s something to pay close attention to.

Coffee and eating out are very common culprits for college students’ budgets. You should either use your meal plan at school or buy groceries as much as possible. Groceries are the most affordable way to make your meals.

Eating Out

A $5 cup of coffee every morning and afternoon means you spend $300 a month on coffee alone. Add a $3 bagel in the morning and the grand total is $390. It may seem small on its own, but it quickly adds up.

Takeout food is even worse, as $13 a day is on the low end for takeout food, especially if you have it delivered. Using apps like Doordash and others requires a delivery fee, tipping the driver, and the already expensive cost of eating out. $25 to $40 for a meal will add up quickly.

Subscriptions

Also, subscriptions are a big concern for college students. Netflix, Spotify, and others may not seem like a lot on their own, but they can quickly add up. If you find that you aren’t using one or two services often enough, consider canceling or pausing your subscription.

Think about it this way: if you only watch one movie a month on a particular streaming platform, then you’re renting that movie for $10 to $15. Would you spend that amount if you rented it online?

Leisure

Finally, learning how to say “no” is an important skill for life, especially when it comes to your budget. If you have friends that are constantly trying to go out and spend money, it’s okay to go and have fun with them, but say no when you need to. You can suggest free activities when needed, but try your best to set clear limits.

Save on Necessities

It isn’t just our leisure and guilty pleasures that drain our wallets. College students have plenty of expenses to worry about. Buying textbooks secondhand can save over $100 each, which will add up every semester.

Also, take advantage of student discounts. If you have bills such as utilities, rent, or more, you may be able to save money on these. You could also save on groceries and other necessities by looking for coupons or loyalty rewards programs.

Also, with fuel prices at all-time highs, it’s best to limit your driving as much as you can. There are apps that can help you find the best prices in your area, loyalty rewards programs, and more. We recommend using these as much as possible.

Start Investing

We’re not suggesting you become an expert in stocks while obtaining your degree. However, it wouldn’t hurt to start investing in stocks, bonds, REITs, or even retirement funds. If you’re 20 years old, starting a retirement fund now could solidify your retirement later in life, which is something most Canadians can’t afford.

Focus on saving money, no matter how small it is. You never know when you’ll need it

Even if you can’t follow a strict budget as we mentioned before, finding money to put away is important. There are plenty of strategies for this, including the following:

  • Saving tips from your job
  • Saving up pocket change or small bills
  • Rounding up expenses to the nearest dollar
  • Investing cash from odd jobs

The list goes on, and there are plenty of different strategies that work for different people. Regardless of what works for you, small steps add up.

As a young college student, you have one greatest asset: time. These small steps may seem insignificant now, but you could look back on them as the greatest decision of your life years from now.

Build an Emergency Fund

Separate from your long-term investments, an emergency fund can come in handy at any moment. Rather than dipping into your hard-earned savings, keep a separate fund for emergency use. The last thing you want is to see your savings depleted due to your car breaking down.

Not only will this hurt your savings account temporarily, but it could also hurt your morale for savings. Too often, people give up after hitting a bump in the road like an unexpected expense. Keeping a separate fund for these expenses can help.

Over time, put a few dollars into your emergency fund that you wouldn’t even think about. If you come home from the store with a few dollars in change, put it in the fund. Small deposits will add up more quickly than you’d think with enough consistency.

Increase Your Income

Sometimes, limiting expenses isn’t enough. In that case, increasing your income could go a long way to taking the stress off of your budget!

Fortunately, there are so many options to increase your income by any scale you desire as a college student. Here are just a few examples:

  • Getting a part-time job
  • Asking for more hours or a raise at work
  • Paid internships
  • Odd jobs
  • Gig work

The list goes on, and you can try whatever you want. If you have a car and a license, you could deliver food or drive passengers with many popular gig platforms. Even if you want to earn a few extra dollars with odd jobs on the weekend, a little goes a long way, especially when you save that money!

Get Help

If you find yourself in a bad financial position, it’s okay to ask for help. Some of you can talk to your family, but otherwise, you may need help from professionals. Even if you don’t have established credit, you can get a no-credit loan and pay it off over time, especially if you need to make a larger expense or pay off your credit cards.

For most college students with newer credit, credit card interest rates are sure to be close to 25% or higher. That means that if you’re making the minimum payment on a $10,000 balance, you’ll owe at least an additional $2,500 after only one year. Paying that off with a low-interest installment loan could save you a lot of money.

Put These Basic Budgeting Tips to Use

Now that you know some basic budgeting tips, put these ideas to use and start saving. College is known as the time of our lives when we’re the most broke, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With the right tips, you can leave college with a surplus and get a headstart on your life.

Stay up to date with our latest financial tips and feel free to contact us with any questions or for help with your budgeting!