These days a student budget isn’t just a good idea – it’s a necessity. Being flush with cash at the start of the school year can be deceiving. You may have a full bank account from your summer job, scholarship money and payments from an RESP, along with the hope this money will somehow stretch the entire school year. But without a budget, that money can disappear quickly, often within the first semester.
A far better strategy is to follow a financial road map. Similar to driving a car, you need to know when and where the gas is coming from (the money) and where the toll booths are along the way (your expenses). Plan this ahead of time and you increase the certainty that you will make it to your destination (end of school) without detours and delays.
Here’s how to get started with your student budget:
1. Map your spending
Using a simple spreadsheet, set up columns for each month – one for expenses and one for resources. You can also use this online cash flow calculator. Alternatively, there are lots of personal finance apps to choose from.
2. List your expenses for the school year
Track your monthly expenses, such as rent, utilities, food, entertainment and transportation costs. And be sure to account for infrequent or one time expenses such as books, supplies, clothing, a return flight home for Christmas and a year-end flight.
3. List the cash flowing in
Ensure you map out summer earnings, scholarships and grants, and student loans at the start of the year. Also earmark those easy-to-forget cash infusions: that maturing term deposit in November, the quarterly GST credit, or a cheque from grandma in December.
4. Look for shortfalls
Once you’ve listed all of your expenses and all incoming cash, total each of them up by individual month. Compare the two. Is there a shortage of cash during certain months?
5. Figure out how you can make each month balance
Decrease some expenses. Can you reduce your entertainment budget? Can you bike or use the bus to cut transportation costs? Or perhaps you can increase your resources by working 8 hours a week on campus and applying for additional bursaries? This approach is far better than realizing you are flat broke in February and having to scramble for money. Working 20-30 hours a week at the very end of term when projects are due and exams are approaching (or making the mistake of having to take out cash advances on your credit card) would be worse.
For more student budget tips, read Student budget tips – part 2.
And now for a fun disclaimer: