Student Perspective: 5 Budgeting and Saving Tips for Student Life

Posted on Wednesday, August 26th, 2020

Written by E'layna Baker, OAC Communications Intern

As a university student, managing your finances should not be something to fear. Many students living away from home for the first time are susceptible to overspending and losing track of where exactly their funds are going. 

In my opinion, our university years should be a financial training ground, preparing us for a lifetime of wise spending and budgeting habits. However, there’s no need to feel overwhelmed by the budgeting learning curve that is unique to each of us as we discover what works and what doesn’t. 

Over the past few years, I’ve been labelled by my friends as the financially responsible one, the budgeter and even downright cheap! (I like to think I’m a watered-down blend of all three.) But the point is, I’ve learned  a great deal about managing finances over time that’s worth sharing with incoming and current students. 

These are just some tips and practices that I find helpful when dealing with my money. Not everything will work for you and your lifestyle, and that is perfectly fine! 

1. Take advantage of discounts and freebies

Upon starting university, you’ll likely find yourself having to open up all sorts of new accounts with different companies – cell service provider, banks, music streaming services, and more. 

When creating accounts, never forget to clarify your status as a college/university student to get discounts and deals. 

A large part of our spending as students goes to food and books. Utilizing freebies whenever you can is a good habit to get into. For example, before ordering takeout, I often browse online for a few minutes looking for coupon codes that provide “free delivery” or “$5 off”. Also, I always opt for used textbooks rather than new.

There are also lots of campus events that provide free food, which can reduce expenses for you. This also means more disposable funds for savings or other expenses. So, keep an eye out for those on GryphLife

Tip: You can even filter events on GryphLife to show those that provide free food!

2. Determine your income

As students, our ‘income’ can come from many different sources. Not just from a part-time job. 

Some students may choose to work a part-time job for the school year, while others may decide on getting an occasional side gig like tutoring during the middle and end of a semester. A lot of students also get allowances from parents, and that too can count as your student income. 

Get an idea of roughly how much money you have to work with each month, and this will guide your spending and budgeting over the course of the month. 

A lot of students in first year tend to overspend on their meal plans and run out before the end of the first semester. Be mindful of your balance and of how much you are spending, especially on your Flex Plan which is used for vending machines, off-campus restaurants, and food delivery orders!

Tip: You can make your meal plan last. I chose the Full Meal Plan in my first year and it was designed to last me the entire fall and winter semester. But I watched my spending closely and I was able to make the plan last until a quarter of the way through the winter semester of my second year!

3. Record your expenses

Estimating and tracking your expenses is an important habit to get into. We usually spend on rent, utilities, food, transportation, entertainment, clothes, phone and internet, books and supplies, and more. It is initially important to write down what you plan to spend in each category of expenses each month. For example: Rent – $500, Utilities – $60, Food – $200, Transportation – $50, etc. 

The next step is to let the month play out and record how much was actually spent in each category. Through looking at your spending goals and patterns each month you will begin to understand certain trends. Perhaps there are areas you are overspending in or areas that you may need to spend more money on than you expected. Use this information to help keep a realistic budget. 

4. Make paying yourself a habit

For every bit of money that comes into your hands, pay yourself first! I suggest opening a student savings account and, if possible, have another location where you store emergency funds. My emergency funds came in handy on numerous occasions – my laptop screen broke one semester and another time I had to unexpectedly replace my phone. Having funds set aside in case of unforeseen life moments can really reduce stress in the long run! And a savings account can represent different things for each student – a summer vacation, new equipment for your hobby, a new car, grad school applications etc. Whatever the case may be, paying yourself first will always pay off!

5. Find budgeting apps, books and videos that work for you

As you work toward building financial literacy in this stage of life it is important to let your learning be a continuous process. As we grow, our priorities, goals, income, and interests change! And it is only natural that our financial habits adapt as well. Practices you have in first year will likely be non-existent by the time you graduate, and that’s totally fine. 

Use this time to be proactive with your financial learning. Explore books, podcasts and videos that can help you to approach your finances in a healthy and responsible way. You can also talk to older siblings, parents and family members about what they’ve learned and advice they can offer. I’m pretty old school when it comes to money, so I rely a lot on insight from my older family members. 

Tip: I don’t have any experience using this method, but I know that budgeting apps may be an extremely useful and helpful tool for some students. So, go out and explore what’s out there!


Hopefully, some of these tips and tricks are helpful as you navigate handling money productively. Developing our financial literacy skills during our university careers will hopefully make the thought of “adulting” less intimidating. Happy budgeting! 


In this series of blog posts I will share over the summer, I will take you through some of the ups and downs of my journey thus far at the University of Guelph. Being a student at U of G has helped me to grow, learn and adapt in ways I never thought would be possible for me. I hope that in sharing some of the things I’ve learned and tools I’ve used for personal development over the years can inspire you to go beyond your limits as you embark on your journey at the University of Guelph.

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