My university days may be behind me, but I’ll still be paying them off for a couple more years (yayyy?). I strongly believe post secondary education is worth it, but the costs can be insane. Sadly, I was not always as good with money as I am now. So at the risk of sounding old: “Do as I say not as I did!”. I would love if you graduated with less debt than I’m dealing with, so let’s discuss my best financial tips for university students (some of which I learned the hard way; try to guess which)!
For many people, university is their first time living on their own.
All of a sudden (especially if you live on campus) you’re surrounded by thousands of people your own age, with no parents monitoring your every move!
When you’re on your own, you get to decide everything! However, you also get to experience the consequences of those choices.
I’m not here to preach saintly choices. You’re going to make mistakes, and you’ll learn! Everyone goes through it.
However, I have a few hints for making fewer money mistakes. Save your bad choices for other areas of your life! (I’m only half joking).
My best financial tips for university students:
1. What you own (or look like) does not define who you are!
You might not believe me yet.
I understand at 18 feeling “cool” seems like the most important thing in the world.
I promise you: what you own does not make you more or less cool.
Anyone who says otherwise is not someone worth knowing or caring about anyhow. I actually remember going to a mall with a friend wanting to pick out backpacks for university that “represented our style”. I agonized over choosing the right one. You know how many people commented on my backpack? ZERO.
Spending money on crap won’t make you popular. Sorry! If you’re spending money just to impress people, you’ll miss noticing the people who don’t care about those kinds of things (ie your REAL friends).
2. Learn to cook
Please try to learn this important life skill in your first year of university (or before!). It really can change your life.
Cooking at home is usually healthier, cheaper ( ways to save money on groceries without coupons), and tastes better. Plus, if you’re interested in impressing people, being a good cook is a fool proof way of doing it.
I’m pretty sure it also moves you up 10 points on the dating scale.
3. Apply for scholarships
Yep, even if you think you won’t get them.
It’s unbelievable how many scholarships go unclaimed each year simply because no one applies. Never in your life will someone give you free money again! Don’t waste such an amazing opportunity simply because you’re worried you won’t get it.
Better yet? Become someone who will win scholarships. Great grades obviously help, but you can still win scholarships without being a 4.0 student. There are scholarships for sports, community involvement, volunteering, committee participation, etc. Heck, there’s even scholarships for particular genders or heritages. You could win a scholarship simply for being born you!
Don’t tell me free money isn’t worth a 30 minute application.
4. Starbucks is not your friend
Don’t get me wrong: caffeine will be your friend. Possibly your best friend.
However, Starbucks [or other coffee shops] is not.
You will likely get very acquainted with caffeine while you study for finals or work on late night papers. I actually distrust people that made it through university without getting addicted to caffeine (they’re obviously not human). But you do NOT need to spend $5 on a latte each time to get a caffeine jolt, particularly while you have no income. Buy some coffee beans and a cheap $15 coffee maker, and save yourself tons of money while you get your degree.
Worried about missing out on social time when friends meet at coffee shops? Buy a travel mug and meet your friends there! Maybe you’ll start a new, responsible trend. Speaking of expensive beverages….
5. Pre-drink before going to the bar
I hesitated about adding this to the list, but decided it’s solid enough advice that it should be included.
I could pretend you won’t party (like your parents probably are) but it’s highly unlikely you’ll get through university without going to a bar. So, do it without blowing your bank account at least. Spending $10+ on a drink when you go out is insane.
Instead, invite friends over beforehand and have a few drinks at home before you go out. It’s safer and cheaper!
6. Save money on textbooks
Textbooks are a massive part of the financial burden of university. The amount campus bookstores charge for school books hurts my brain. Unfortunately, they’re mandatory for most classes (double check for each class before buying…. it’s upsetting how many $200 books I purchased and never opened).
If you need one, try at least one of these tactics:
- Share the cost with a friend you trust. I had a friend in university that studied much differently than I do. She’d prep and take notes weeks before a test. Me? Uh oh, test is tomorrow. Time to start studying! If you have a friend with opposite habits, see if they’d consider sharing the text book.
- Buy used!! You can find used textbooks on kijiji, at the campus book store, through friends that previously took the class, on amazon, wherever. Hunt around.
- Sell your textbooks when you’re done with them! You may tell yourself you’ll read them again, but the truth is typically you won’t. (I’m a self-confessed book nerd and even I didn’t read them again). Textbooks are expensive; at least try to get some of your money back afterwards.
7. Remember that student loans are real money
That sounds obvious, but really think about it and let it sink in.
It seems so simple while you’re in school because you apply for a loan, and money magically appears in your account.
You didn’t have to work hours of your life for it yet, so it can be easy to take it for granted and overspend.
However, you will need to pay this money back one day!! That day will likely be harder than you are imagining. Be conscious of your spending now, so you graduate with less to pay back.
Those are my best financial tips for university students!
You’re in an amazing part of your life- Enjoy it! No one is expecting perfection; I guarantee you will make mistakes while you learn who you are and what is important to you.
Practice good money management now however, and you will start your post-university life with way less stress!
- Pay down debt quickly after graduation
- Why you should start investing early: A tale of two sisters
- If your debt was on display
For a list of all posts I’ve written, click here