Make a budget and ditch the poor student stereotype

Being a university or college student is hard work. And we’re not just talking about your schoolwork. This will most likely be the first time you move away from home and get your own place. You might have to start grocery shopping on your own. Pay for your own bills. Do your own laundry at a Laundromat. And all these things cost money.

Bet you feel the poor student stereotype creeping in. But that doesn’t need to be case.

You could do a dreaded thing called budgeting. It may sound tedious, and only something grownups do, but a good budget will help you not be broke by the holidays. And that’s awesome.

Here’s how to budget:

Step 1. Figure out how much money you have to play with

Make a list of all the sources of income you will have for the school year. These could include:

  • Student loans
  • Scholarship money
  • Grants or bursaries
  • Income from your job
  • Money from your parents or grandparents

Step 2. Set up an emergency fund.

Life happens. It’s totally unpredictable that way. Your printer will break. You’ll accidentally roam with your cellphone. Or you will need to fly home suddenly. Being prepared for this stuff is part of growing up.

We recommend putting at least $500 aside as “untouchable” money. So when an emergency happens, you have a little something to help you out.

A great way to build up this emergency fund is with the Simply Save program, which automatically transfers a small amount of money into a savings account whenever you use your TD Canada Trust Access Card.

Step 3. Figure out your monthly “income”

Often when you are a student your “income” is a lump sum amount of money that you need to stretch across the semester or entire school year. First, subtract your emergency fund from your total income. Then take what you have left over and divide it by the number of months you’ll be in school. Now you have a max amount of money you can spend each month.

Step 4. Figure out how much school will actually cost you

Write down all your monthly expenses. If you’re not sure, track your spending by monitoring your online bank account activity. Typical student costs will include:

  • Tuition, textbooks and school supplies
  • Rent or dorm fees
  • Groceries and personal products (shampoo, soap)
  • Cellphone bill
  • Internet bill
  • Transit pass or gas for your car
  • Online music or video subscriptions
  • Clothing
  • Hydro or other utility bills
  • Entertainment and going out

Mark the ones that are mandatory expenses and the ones that are nice to have.

Step 5. Put it all together

The rule of thumb for budgeting: if you have more costs than income coming in, then you’ll need to find ways to cut back. Remember, you can’t go into the negative with your budget.

The easiest way to cut back is to eliminate the “nice to haves”

Or to put a cap on certain types of spending (such as online subscriptions or takeout). You could also increase your income by getting a job while you are in school. It’s up to you how you balance your budget and your workload while you are in school.

Remember, a budget looks great on paper - but it only helps you if you actually follow it. If you notice that your budget is way off by the end of the semester, don’t get discouraged. Just repeat the steps again based on more realistic numbers. Then try again next semester.

You’ll get the hang of it.