Budgeting Tips and Calculator
For most post-secondary students, money is tight. But remember that every dollar you save while you’re in school is one less dollar that you’ll owe in student debt when you graduate. Consider whether the tips below will work for you.
- Keep Track: Keep a close eye on your income and living costs so you don’t overspend. Use an Excel spreadsheet to track, or find a budget calculator on bank websites.
- Buy Used Textbooks: Don’t buy your books too soon. Check the SMUSA book exchange or kijiji.ca to purchase books from other students or visit the SMU Bookstore for great deals.
- Understand Your Phone Plan: Beware of growing cell phone costs. Make sure you understand the full costs of your mobile plan before signing the contract. Use Skype for international calls.
- Be Cautious of Credit Cards: You don’t necessarily need a credit card but they can be helpful if used properly. But be cautious—credit cards are a very expensive way to borrow money if you aren’t diligent about paying off your balance in full every month. The average interest rate for student credit cards is 17.3% (based on student cards in FCAC’s credit card selector tool database). For example, if you have a $1,000.00 balance and the minimum payment is either 2% of the balance or $10 (whichever is greater), and you make only the minimum payment, it would take you 19 years and 4 months to pay off your balance and you would have paid $1,931.11 in interest. Your total cost would be almost triple the purchase price.
- Watch for Sales and Discounts: Movie theaters, shops, and restaurants in Halifax may have student discounts. An SPC card provides student deals at thousands of retail and restaurant locations. Some grocery stores in Halifax have special student discounts on Tuesdays so check the online flyers. It might seem tedious, but for the budget conscious student, a few dollars in savings will add up over the course of a degree or diploma.
- Learn to say, ‘No!’: You’ll likely be spending money on fun, but sometimes it’s good to say no. Choosing which activities to go to will not only help you save money but possibly your academic grades.
- Find a Job: Balancing your academic studies with a part-time job is a great way to earn extra cash, and get valuable experience. Check out job listings at the Student Employment Centre.
- Live at Home for School: Going away for school can be a great experience, but the tradeoff is that it is much more expensive. In 2009, the average cost of a four-year degree for someone living away from home was $77,132, compared to $51,763 for those living at home, a difference of $25,369. If living at home isn’t an option for you, consider roommates. Sharing your accommodations is usually much cheaper than living on your own.
- Apply for Grants, Bursaries and Scholarships: It’s worth your while to research and apply for as many as possible. If your application is successful, the big benefit is its money that you won’t have to pay back. Keep in mind that many post-secondary institutions offer automatic scholarships for maintaining your grades at a certain level. Generally, the higher your grades, the more money you receive.
- Manage Your Student Loan: If you are offered more money than you actually need, request a lower amount. Avoid the mistake of spending everything and increasing your debt simply because the money is available. Review your spending against your budget each month to be sure you are on track and that your money will last until the end of the term.
- Opt-out of Additional Health and Dental Coverage: Your tuition will often include fees for health and dental insurance. In most cases, you’ll have the opportunity to “opt-out” of the school’s coverage. But keep in mind -- Do not opt-out unless you have similar health and dental coverage elsewhere.
- Take Advantage of Tax Deductions and Tax Credits: Both the federal and provincial governments offer tax deductions and tax credits for students for things like tuition fees, books, moving expenses and more.
- Save on Transportation Costs: Walking and biking are the cheapest ways to get around but if those options aren’t practical for you, consider public transit. Your student card provides bus and ferry access throughout the Academic year.