Being a student comes with many responsibilities, including learning how to manage your money. Once learned, this skill will be valuable and have applications beyond your university experience. It’s also common to be restricted to a limited income while in university. Therefore, the best approach to control your needs and your spending is to create a budget.

Although it may initially seem complicated and time consuming, dedicating a portion of time to this task weekly or monthly can have great advantages.

Budgeting can help you:

  • become aware of how much money you have or are earning
  • identify what you are spending your money on
  • dedicate specific amounts of money to various categories, including personal spending and entertainment
  • create and meet financial goals
  • preserve your funds to ensure you have enough money to last until the end of the month or term

Make a budget

Basics of creating a budgeting plan

The fundamental task when creating a budget is ensuring that you’re spending less money than you have or are making. After a few simple calculations, you can determine if you’re meeting these guidelines.

Incoming Funds: This is the money you’ll be receiving on a regular basis.

  • Calculate your average monthly income or determine the total amount of funds you have. For incoming funds, add up only the earnings that you know you will be regularly receiving, such as paychecks and student loan payments. Avoid including variable income, such as tips or birthday money.

Expenditures : This is the amount of money you’re spending.

  • Calculate your expenditures over the past three months by checking your bank records and cash receipts. Include the amount of money you’ve been spending on food, entertainment, school related costs, and your cell phone. Sum these expenses to determine your total expenditure. It’s okay if you do not have every receipt or know every item you’ve bought, since this is meant to be an initial approximation.
  • Divide your expenditures into two categories:
    1. Fixed Spending: Expenses that remain the same each month. This could include your phone bill, rent, car insurance, food allowance, etc.
    2. Discretionary Spending: Expenses that may vary from month

Calculate your budget

Step One

Estimate Incoming Funds

Estimate how much money you will have to spend. This includes:

  • part-time employment, or summer work
  • savings
  • government student assistance (student loans and grants)
  • bank loans
  • family support
  • U of S scholarships and bursaries
  • external awards (not granted by the university)
  • Third-party funding (e.g., band funding)

Step Two

Estimate Costs

Estimate how much money you will spend. This includes:

  • tuition,
  • books,
  • materials/supplies,
  • transportation,
  • rent,
  • utilities,
  • food,
  • entertainment,
  • car payments,
  • gas,
  • etc.

Step Three

Do one simple calculation

Available funding - costs = budget

  • If the total budget is greater than zero, congratulations! You should have enough to cover your costs.
  • If the total budget is zero or less than zero, you will need to look for ways to save, or ways to increase your income

Evaluate your budget

After you’ve calculated your earnings (or determined your total budget) and expenditures, compare the two amounts. If you’re making more money than you are spending, you’re off to a good start. However, if you are spending more than you are making or have in your account, you’ll need to cut back spending in some areas.

Increasing funds

To add to your income you can consider applying for:

Cutting costs

Since your fixed spending is relatively consistent, you’ll likely not have as much flexibility in varying your spending in these areas. 

Therefore, first examine your discretionary spending. Are you making any ongoing unnecessary purchases? Here are some tips:

  • Put needs before wants - buy what you need first. Eliminate unnecessary expenses by looking for things you can live without.
  • Limit credit card use -  using credit cards with no plan to pay the debt is reckless and financially irresponsible. To avoid getting into more debt, use cash or a debit card instead of a credit card. That way, you will be spending money you already have. Only use credit when you can pay it off each month.
  • Pay highest interest rate debts first - if you have a balance on your credit card, then this is likely the debt with the highest interest rate. Never use one credit card to pay the debt of another; use cash or a debit card to avoid accumulating more debt.
  • Reduce small, reoccuring expenses - little savings every day can go a long way. Take public transportation, pack a lunch, reduce banking fees. Eliminating that extra $1.50 coffee each workday can mean an extra $400 a year in savings.
  • Avoid “Buy Now Pay Later” offers - when you are having problems making ends meet, the administrative fees tied to such offers and high interest rates if you do not pay on time will only add to your existing debt load.
  • Get a consolidation loan - this means getting one single loan to pay off all your existing debts and having just one monthly payment to make. Once you consolidate your debts, you must stop using any credit cards or line of credit that you consolidated into the new loan. For more information on a consolidation loan, talk to your banking or financial professional.
  • Talk to trusted financial professionals - these may include your bank representative, a financial planner or a credit counselling agency. With their help, you will be able to evaluate your current debt situation, determine your present and future needs, make a budget, and find ways to pay off your debt.
  • Be informed about taxes. Find information about the amounts you may be able to claim as a deduction or a credit related to education.


  • Mint Canada - free android and iPhone app for managing your money
  • Grocery IQ - free android app for planning a grocery budget and shopping list

Other resources