How to Manage Your Student Piggy Bank

Coins spilling out of a jar

By Ruqayyah Shabbir, 4th Year Honours Finance 

Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash

Managing your finances as a student can be hard, it’s something a lot of us are not responsible for until we begin undergrad. With the chaos that comes with university, we often forget that almost everything we need or want has a price tag. There are so many ways we can ensure that we are making financially responsible decisions and keeping up-to-date with our financial situation. Today I’m talking with a student that has mastered the art of budgeting as a student, Natalia Rodriguez.

Q: How would you describe your financial situation during undergrad?

A: During undergrad, I counted on three sources of income. Firstly, I rented out rooms in my house to other students in order to cover my housing expenses. I also worked part-time (approximately 15 hours a week), which covered all my monthly expenses (food, leisure, etc.). Lastly, I had prior savings I had built up before going to school, which covered my tuition costs and any additional large expenses. Although I had a lot of expenses as a student, I had to decide what was important and what expenditures would be the most beneficial for me in the long run.

Q: When you first started university, would you describe yourself to be financially responsible?

A: Yes, I consider myself to have been financially responsible prior to entering university. By the beginning of my undergrad I had already been working full-time for around 5 years, which allowed me to save enough to buy a home and cover my tuition fees. I also had a solid financial plan (see question no. 1) to get me through school financially sound.

Q: How did you manage your finances as a student?

A: I managed my finances by budgeting and organizing my different sources of income in such a way that they each had a specific purpose. As a student with limited income, I limited my spending habits and tried to save whenever possible. I only kept on my checking account what I was going to spend, and the rest in my savings account or “house expenses” account. By assigning every source of income a purpose, I was able to project future expenditures and keep myself in check. This helped to reduce spontaneous and unnecessary purchases.

Q: Are there any campus resources that you used during undergrad that you would say were helpful? (ie. OSAP, scholarships, Work Study)

A: I applied for OSAP, but accepted only the grant portion that I did not have to pay back. Fortunately, I did not have to borrow from OSAP, but I would have if I had needed to since it is the best borrowing option available to students. I also applied for merit-based scholarships. It’s important to seek out scholarship opportunities and take the time to apply, because you never know which one you may end up getting, or if other students are even applying. I didn’t personally apply for the work study program, but one of my friends did work study and found it very useful. Because all work study positions are mainly on campus, it was easy for her to go to classes, and work during her breaks to take advantage of that extra time to earn some income. 

Q: Is there anything you would recommend to incoming first years in regards to being financially responsible?

A: I would recommend to start budgeting from the very beginning before their spending habits get out of hand. Also, if they receive funds from OSAP or scholarships and grants, assign a specific purpose to those funds (tuition, books, emergency fund) and separate them from their spending money. I would recommend to always plan ahead. This includes setting a weekly/monthly spending budget, and only keeping this allowance in their spending account. The rest should be kept separate. Also, if they can, don’t miss out on grants and scholarships that can be applied for every year both on a need basis and merit basis.

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