With the first week of university just around the corner, it’s a good time to talk about how to get by on a dime. One of the biggest lessons university life offers – and it’s something you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life – is how to get by on next to nothing. It’s an art form and, believe it or not, it can be fun! Here are some of my best tips for managing finances, eating on a shoestring budget, and a little fun thrown in there too:
Smart Money Management
- If you’re taking out a student loan, don’t go the maximum if you don’t need it, and only borrow for school related expenses.
- After you’ve paid for everything up front, set up a monthly budget and stick to it. Know how much you need for bills and how much you’ll have left over for entertainment.
- While having a credit card on hand in case of emergencies is always a good idea, don’t use it for anything other than just that. In fact, lock it up somewhere safe. When you do need to pull out the emergency plastic, make sure you aren’t paying unnecessary fees. Student credit cards, like the MBNA Studentawards Credit Card, often have no annual fee and a lower interest rate (this one has 18.99 per cent). It’ll also give you 1 MBNA rewards point on every dollar, redeemable for your choice of travel, cash back or charitable donations.
- Look at getting a free chequing and savings account. A lot of the banks cater to students. Make sure you choose one that meets your needs.
Eat Well And Inexpensively
- Invest in a coffee maker and a good travel mug. As nice as it is to sit in the local coffee shop, the extra expense adds up quickly.
- Review local fliers for sales and deals before hitting the local grocery store. Avoid the high-end stores, and go for the inexpensive ones.
- Invest in a Brita and a reusable water bottle. Why pay for bottled water when it comes out of the tap for free? Locate the water fountains on campus for refills. Keep in mind that fountains can’t serve unclean water.
- Pack your own lunch. It’ll save you a lot of money.
- Start your day with a nutritious and filling breakfast, like granola and yogurt or oatmeal. They’re inexpensive, healthy, and will keep you going for hours.
Have Fun – For Free!
- Sign up for a local library card. You can borrow books, CDs and movies rather than buying or renting them.
- Your local newspaper should list upcoming free events, including art shows, festivals, book readings, craft fairs and concerts.
- Check out your campus listings. Often they air free movies throughout the semester.
- Have a board game night or a potluck dinner. It’s fun and it’s free!
- Don’t worry about cable. It’s expensive and you likely won’t be watching that much TV. Get Netflix instead, or watch your favourite show over at a friend’s.
- Join a rec sports team. Some are quite inexpensive and are a great way to have fun, meet new people and get some exercise.
Out-of-Pocket Odds and Ends
- Get a basic cell phone package that suits your needs. Watch your minutes carefully. Use Skype or Google chat whenever possible instead.
- Be sure to check out student services when you first arrive on campus. Most universities offer a number of free services.
- Visit Value Village for household items, or check out what’s being offered on Kijiji. If you see something you need but it’s a bit out of your price range, don’t be afraid to barter.
- Always check for used versions of your university textbooks before committing to a new one.
- Don’t get an off-campus gym pass. They are costly and oftentimes you have to pay for the full year. Instead, check out the free facilities on campus. That’s what they’re there for.
- Ditch the car and take the bus. You’ll save a ton in gas money, insurance and maintenance costs.
Being frugal is one of the biggest lessons you’ll learn during your university years. If you think something’s costing you too much, it probably is – and there’s very likely a more cost-effective solution. If you can’t come up with one yourself, talk to an older student on campus. They likely have some great advice to share.