While our campuses remained closed to most students/staff, many services and supports are offered online via our COVID-19 Information Centre.

Home Centennial College Blog 2015 June 22 How to manage your money in college

How to manage your money in college (and why you need to)

Picture of two Centennial College student sitting on the bean bag chairs in the Story Arts Centre Library on their laptops

I’ll admit that I wasn’t good at saving my money when I first entered post-secondary education. It was the first time I was really financially independent, and I wasn’t used to it. I worked part-time, and didn’t live on residence, so in my view, I was making money to spend, which was a big mistake. It was only a few years into school, when my bank statement was looking pretty dire, that I started examining my habits, and what I could fix.

One semester is ending, and another will soon begin, so if you’re hurting financially, now’s the time to re-examine your own habits, and start fresh. There’s been a lot written on this subject, with sites like Thought Catalog and Fast Web weighing in on how students can manage their cash. Really, this list is about which of those suggestions actually worked for me.

Give yourself a weekly budget

This will be tough at the start of a new semester, when you need to purchase school supplies, books, and otherwise have a bunch of “I need one of those” moments, but it’s worth trying to establish a budget a week or two into classes.

Basically, figure out an amount of money you’ll be spending each week, and go the entire week only spending that much. If you need to, make a list of what you’re going to require, and what your expenses will be. If you’re working and earning cash, try and make it so that you’re not spending more than what you earn. It may take a bit of time to get it right, but you’ll soon arrive at a figure you can avoid going over.

Similarly, keep track of your bills, and make sure to pay them on time and in full, to avoid interest and getting a bad credit score, which can and will follow you around long after college. Speaking of college…

Use what the college offers

An important aspect of budgeting is being aware of what you can get on the cheap, and this includes what’s available at Centennial College. For one thing, you can get into the gym for free. But there’s so much more offered. I’ve written about free and inexpensive services Centennial College offers before, including business clothing, medical prescriptions, and legal advice. Most critically, though, the Student Association offers something called the Good Food Box, which provides you with a bundle of fresh, healthy food at a good price. Speaking of groceries….

Never buy anything new (except for groceries)

In the case of textbooks, you can always have a look on Amazon, or the secondary market. You can even check them out from a library, if they have it. The extra time is always worth the saved money, particularly since we’re potentially talking about hundreds of dollars.

As for clothing, while you’ll want at least a few articles of business-professional clothing, for day to day life you don’t need to dress formally, and there’s no reason not to shop at Goodwill or a thrift store. It’s not beneath you. As a student, you’re one of the target markets.

Finally, the grocery situation. Essentially, you want to avoid eating out. Groceries are always cheaper, and always healthier for you. It can be difficult when your friends are always going out for meals, but as long as you have at least a few home-cooked ones, you’re doing well. Also, make your own coffee if you can. Tim’s may be good, but your own brew costs less, and those costs add up over time. And “over time” is important, because…

These plans will work for life

College is the time to figure out how to manage your money in a controlled environment, so it’s a skill for life. Learning to budget, shop frugally, and not have a lifestyle you can’t afford are essential life skills. College may be the first time you’re managing money on your own, and it’s the perfect little laboratory for figuring out what sort of saver you’re going to be for the rest of your life. 

By Anthony Geremia