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Financial planning tips

August 31, 2016

6 smart ways to stretch your money in college

Are you worried about sinking into debt while attending college or university? Here are 6 smart ideas to help you stay on top of your finances.

Graduating from high school and heading off to college or university shouldn’t be overshadowed by money worries. Yet, a 2015 survey of graduating university students by the Canadian University Survey Consortium indicated that half were leaving school in debt.

How much debt? A 2015 report by the Canadian Federation of Students says students who paid for school with help from the Canada Student Loans Program (CSLP) are graduating with an average loan debt of $28,495. And that doesn’t count credit card debt or money owed to banks and other financial institutions.

While tuition is a big expense, other costs associated with student life can also add up quickly. Here are 6 smart ideas to help you stay on top of your finances:

1. Work part-time

Holding down a job while attending school can be a challenge, but it can also help with expenses throughout the year. If you hope to work during college or university, get started with your hunt right away, says author Nora Loreto, former Ryerson Students’ Union president and Communications and Government Relations Coordinator for the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario.

“If you’re worried about working because you want to focus on your studies, you might want to consider a campus job,” says Loreto, adding that many positions are often advertised and hired in the first week of school. “They often pay better, and are flexible around student schedules.”

2. Live at home or off-campus

Living in residence can be a wonderful experience, but if you’re tight on cash, it is not always the most cost-effective option.

“We suggest that people consider whether staying home is an option,” says Loreto. If staying home isn’t possible, Loreto adds that in some cases living off campus can be cheaper than university housing.

Factoring transit fees in, sometimes housing a bit further away from campus is also much more affordable than housing that is walking distance from school.

3. Take up healthy eating

Look into where you can find fresh and affordable food. Are healthy choices available on campus?

“A lot of campuses have something now called the Good Food Box,” says Loreto. “It is fresh local vegetables delivered to campus for ridiculously low prices — you just have to learn how to cook them.” The Good Food Box is available at schools including Mount Royal University, the University of Toronto, the University of Calgary and McGill University; ask your students’ association whether the program is running at your school.

Using grocery flyers, cooking at home, packing a lunch, and purchasing travel water bottles and coffee mugs are also great ways to avoid grabbing expensive and not-so-healthy fast food and lattes.

4. Play the student card

Student discounts are everywhere, but you sometimes have to do a little digging to make sure you’re benefiting from them. By providing proof of your student status, you can snag deals on everything from travel, movie tickets and clothes, to computer software.

“If you are going to take the train even once over the course of the year, if you are going to fly, or see any sort of attraction in your city, get an International Student Identity Card,” says Loreto.

5. Buy later

You have your reading list for the year. Great — just hold off on purchasing the textbooks. Loreto recommends waiting until the first class.

“Sometimes professors put them on loan in the library, or the textbook turns out to be supplemental or optional. Some even meet people in class that they can split a textbook with,” she says.

Students can also buy older, used editions of textbooks that will provide close to the same content, Loreto adds.

Use the same principle when it comes to laptops and other program supplies, like cameras, specific software or other specialized items, that may not be included in tuition costs, and suss out deals when you can.

6. Break down your tuition costs

If you’re paying for health benefits as part of your university fees, find out exactly what is covered. For example, if your university health plan only covers a percentage of your prescription medication, explore whether you can claim the remaining amount through your parents’ workplace health and benefits plan.

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