The first year of college or university brings a mix of emotions from fear to excitement. As with many students, this could be your first time living on your own and learning how to manage money wisely.
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Here are four ways to reduce financial stress as a post-secondary student:
#0A1. Make a budget
You have more freedom in college and university to make your own decisions, but you also have more responsibilities. You must manage your own finances and develop good financial habits.
Separate your “needs” from your “wants”. You can write it down or make a mental note, but it’s important to prioritize how you spend your money. Tuition, rent, books and food are expenses you’ll need to incur during your years of studying. While other expenses, like entertainment, can be deferred if money is tight.
Use this Student Budget Worksheet to help you get organized.
A budget is more than a spending plan. It can help you save money by encouraging you to put money away each month for an emergency or entertainment fund. It can also help you identify expenses that you may not have thought of, such as laundry tokens and the occasional trip home.
#3A2. Careful use of credit cards
Many students get their first credit card in college or university. You may see sign-up booths or promotions around campus, especially during frosh week.
A credit card can be a convenient way to pay for purchases, but it can lead to impulse buying and uncontrolled spending. There’s no rush to get a credit card. You can continue using cash or a debit card until you are ready.
Before applying for a credit card, make sure you understand the terms and conditions including how fees and payments work.
If you only make the minimum payment each month, it could take several years to pay off the debt. You will also have to pay interest. If you miss a payment, you could face additional financial penalties and damage your credit score.
#6A3. Manage debt
Post-secondary education can be expensive. You may have a student loan from a bank or a financial aid program, like the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).
The amount of debt may feel overwhelming but don’t ignore it. Understand the terms of the loan including how interest is calculated and when payment is due. If you have multiple types of debt, pay the loans with higher interest first.
Use the Pay Off Credit Cards and Debt Calculator to show you the order in which you should pay off the debts, and how long it will take.
Compound interest can work to your advantage if you’re saving money, but compound interest on debt means interest is calculated on the principal (the original loan amount) and any accumulated interest from previous periods.
#11A4. Take advantage of financial assistance resources
Colleges and universities have financial aid programs to help lessen the financial burden. The application process varies, but it’s worth spending the time to apply.
Awards, scholarships and bursaries can also help you. There may be several or even dozens of assistance options with different requirements. Your student financial services department or student union can usually help you navigate these options.
Check out bulletin boards and class postings for on-campus jobs that can help you earn extra income. There may also be studies that offer compensation which you can participate in.