University Budgeting 101

When it comes to managing finances in university, everyone’s situation is different. Maybe you only have to look after your day-to-day expenses, or maybe you’re single-handedly funding your degree. Whatever the case may be, consider if you’ve ever experienced ‘the moment.’ The: oh-my-god-why-did-I-buy-that-cardigan-now-I-can’t-have-dinner-moment.

If you know what I’m talking about… keep on reading.

I am a little ashamed to admit the number of times that I have asked myself this very question (exchange ‘cardigan’ for about 1000 other items). However… you have come to the right place! After much trial and error, here is my personal guide to keeping your wallet shut this semester.

  • Tip #1 – Keep track of your spending

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One of the best things I did for myself this year was downloading a few budgeting apps on my phone. My budgets and reminders keep me in check throughout the day, reminding me that no, I cannot buy more three-wick-candles from Bath and Body Works. I like to use ‘Mint’ for general budget checks, and ‘Cleo’ for active daily use. Cleo works like an assistant–I get reminders throughout the week of how much of my weekly budget I have left, where most of my money went that week, and *gulp* when an impulse purchase set me over the edge. Take accountability into your own hands!

  • Tip #2 – Know your impulses

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It’s different for everyone. Personally, I feel like I’m funneling money into various coffee shops as we speak. We all have a weak spot–maybe when you walk by H&M you just can’t help from going inside, or you need your daily dose of bubble tea to get you through the day. Once you’ve figured out the thing (or things) you spend the most money on, you can start to budget realistically. Let’s use me as an example…

Can I afford to buy three cups of coffee a day? No. Okay. Time to brainstorm:

What if I buy one large and make it last?

What if I hang out at Starbucks to study so I can get a refill?

What if I lower my budget in another sector (say, eating out) to accommodate my coffee spending?


  • Tip #3 – Fun money

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Personally, I’m the type of person to jump on the bandwagon when I’m invited places. Dinner? Coffee? Eaton Centre? Frozen Yogurt? Movie theatre? I’m there. After all, it’s fun to be impulsive, and it’s nice to spend time with your friends doing something fun and different. That being said… this is also the method by which I have found myself asking that very question we began with. My answer to this lifelong problem is ‘fun money.’ Your fun money is up to you– If it’s weekly, bi-weekly, monthly; you can even save it from one month to the next. Whatever the amount and timeline may be, make sure you always have a little bit tucked aside for those in-between moments. Because fun is important… but so is buying toilet paper.

  • Tip #4 – Separate your school and life expenses

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When I started at Ryerson, I opened up a new savings account where I could collect OSAP, scholarship and bursary funds; family help/donations; and any extra money I accumulated. All of this was being used exclusively for tuition, residence, and other school-based fees. If you are a student who is managing their own finances in university, I cannot recommend this enough. I wanted there to be a distinct line between money I had for food, life, and coffee, and money I needed for school. It’s simply too easy to blur the lines of, “oh, what’s another fifty bucks to go clubbing?” this way, if I don’t have it in my personal savings, I don’t have it at all–and I’m not tempted to blow the money I need for school on frivolous things.

  • Tip #5 – Be honest

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For this one, there are a few different subsections…

Being honest with YOUR PARENTS – Talking to your parents about money woes can be really hard, especially if you are financially independent. Even if you’re not asking for anything, I’ve found that honesty is the best policy. Telling your parents when you’re in a pickle, and just keeping them updated is good for your mental health (and theirs). My parents can’t always help me out in big ways, but my mom will always send me home with a bit of food for the week, my dad will give me a pound of coffee, and they’ll give me a big ol’ reality check hug. Often laced with good advice.

Being honest with YOUR FRIENDS – This one is the hardest, in my opinion. Saying ‘no’ to dinners out, walking around the mall empty handed– it’s hard, especially depending on who you’re friends with. But if your friends care about you, I know they will understand that sometimes you really just can’t swing that extra $20. If you aren’t honest about these things, you can put yourself into some pretty dangerous situations. I know when it comes to birthdays and group events it can be really hard to set a budget for yourself and be honest with your friends about it. But in the long run, it’s better to be upfront about what you can afford. They WILL understand.

Being honest with YOURSELF – Okay, I lied. This one might be the hardest to overcome. At some point, you have to just take a minute to look at yourself and say, “Self, you’re kinda broke. I need you to stop buying purses so you can pay your hydro bill. Okay?” Don’t be surprised if you catch an eye-roll. Yourself can be soooo rude.

Jokes aside, the point here is that financial health starts with YOU. Don’t blame the corporations, or university, or inflation. You can blame capitalism a little bit, but only for ranting purposes. Your financial health is not the same as anyone else’s, and it’s no one’s business but yours. Which means… it’s also your responsibility to keep yourself afloat.

My final words of advice?

Be realistic. Think ahead.  Keep your budgets tight, and your purse strings tighter.

Oh… and buy a sewing kit for those ripped jeans. Trust me, they CAN be salvaged.

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