How to Manage your Finances as a University Student

While it’s forgivable to be nose-deep in your books, it’s high time for students thinking of returning or attending post-secondary school this September to consider managing their money. 

University and college are expensive, and there are endless opportunities to spend your hard-earned income/student loans on things you don’t need. However, by making some small changes, you can better manage your money.

Jason Hare, President and Founder of Cornerstone Wealth Planning, has more than two decades of experience in wealth management. While Hare’s clients are diverse, he has offered his insights on various financial subjects, including in the areas of better money management.


Making a monthly budget often seems intimidating, especially if you don’t particularly understand money. Luckily, there are many free budgeting tools available that can help you get a head start. Even for an absolute beginner. 

Making a monthly budget is the first step toward keeping on top of your personal finances. Budgeting gives you a bigger picture of your money, so you can make more informed spending and savings decisions. It can help you to reduce the amount of debt you have upon graduation, because, trust us, you don’t want to enter the working world with $30K in debt.

  • Make a budget: Create a spreadsheet or enter your data into an app that details your income and expenses for the next year. Are you in the green? (where your income is greater than your expenses), perfect! Make sure you’re saving money every month.

However, if you’re in the red (expenses greater than income), you’ll want to think about ways to reduce your spending and increase your overall income. 

  • Track your spending: Write down every single purchase you make or use, again, consider using an app – Mint is a popular one. Simply tracking what you spend can help you notice patterns, which can consequently make you more aware of where your money is going, and help you identify if you have to make changes. 
  • Stick to a budget: Making a budget is the easiest part of saving money. After that, you have to put it into action.

It’s very important to remember that a budget isn’t permanently fixed and rather needs to be dynamic and revisited. So you need to update it as things change. 


University and college are expensive, and the bills quickly add up, especially in September and January, when tuition is due and you need to often buy books for class. By making smart choices and putting in the extra work, you can reduce the impact of these big costs on your wallet. 

  • Look out for “free money”: Everyone knows money doesn’t grow on trees, but there are plenty of places you can apply to get money applied to your student loans. You should apply for scholarships, awards, and bursaries to help cover costs. Many scholarships don’t receive that many applications, so it’s worth putting in the effort and going for it. 
  • Be smart about how you pay school fees: Avoid paying your tuition/housing fees with a credit card, seeing as the typical fee is approximately 1.75% added to the total. For a tuition payment of $3,000, that’s an additional $30 lost. Use other payment methods such as a bank transfer or a cheque. 

Don’t waste your meal plan dollars

If you’re living in residence and have a meal plan, the best option is to utilize your basic meal dollars to eat at the on-residence dining halls. You often have a 25% or more discount on every purchase you make.

Save money on textbooks

Try buying used textbooks from former students on Craigslist, Kijiji, or Facebook marketplace. You can also find good deals on Amazon.

Sell your old textbooks

When you’re done with a textbook, sell it to your campus bookstore or list them online for other students who need it. You won’t make a full return on your initial purchase likely, but you’ll recover some of the cost. 

These are just some of the ways you can save money and manage your finances as a student. With a little bit of ingenuity, you can make sure your finances don’t dip into the red.