How to manage money as a student

Author: Sandy Yong

Source: MoneySense

Let’s face it—life as a student can be challenging. You have to pay for tuition and textbooks (and housing, food and more for those not living at home); combine that with not having a full-time income, and the need for extra money is real. If you don’t want to feel constantly strapped for cash, consider these tips to make some dough, keep spending in control, crush your savings goals and tackle student loan debt early.

How to make money as a student 

Here are several ways you can earn some extra money on the side while juggling school.

Pick up a part-time job

One of the most common ways to access extra money is having a part-time job. Consider working in retail or at a restaurant, or getting a seasonal job, where you can work at a tourist attraction or resort. Having a summer job is a great way to obtain professional skills while enjoying time off of school and having a lighter course load. 

When I was in university, I worked on campus as a teaching assistant and a research assistant. This was a convenient way for me to earn extra cash in between classes so I could pay off my credit card bill every month and enjoy a night out with my friends—without worrying if I could afford it. 

Enroll in a co-op or internship

Enrolling in a program that offers a paid internship or co-op is an excellent way to gain work and industry experience and make some money. 

What’s more? These types of co-ops can often pay more than the minimum wage. The average co-op earnings is $12,400 per work term in Canada—a win-win situation. Be prepared to pay a co-op fee. Depending on whether you are a domestic or international student, on the number of placement terms, and on which year you enter into the program, the co-op fee can range from $485 to $1,063 per work term. This helps to cover the cost of running the program, including helping students’ job searches and interview prep. The amount you earn during your work term will more than make up for it.

Plus, you can add this experience to your resume to help you stand out from your competition when you graduate and start your career. 

Apply for scholarships and bursaries

Let’s not forget about the scholarships and bursaries that you may be eligible for. Each year, there are countless financial aid opportunities to apply for, and you could receive hundreds to thousands of dollars to help pay for tuition. It can really be worth the time to apply if you meet the criteria, which can be based on academic performance and/or community involvement. 

Do some research to find out which ones you qualify for and would most likely be granted. Be sure to submit your application before the deadline. By receiving this funding, it will allow you to manage student loan debt so you don’t have to worry about picking up extra shifts at your part-time job.  

How to save money as a student

No matter how much income you earn, follow these steps to supercharge your savings.

Save money from your paycheque

A good habit is to stash away money from every paycheque. As a student, that may be tough as you most likely have limited money to begin with, but if you can set aside even $25 a week, you will have saved $1,300 in one year. 

Save your spare change

One way to save money effortlessly is by using a roundup app to help you reach your savings goals. This gives you the ability to round up your purchases to a specified dollar amount, putting that “gap money” into a savings or investment account. 

Take advantage of the tax-free savings account

Another option is to put your savings towards a tax-free savings account (TFSA). You are eligible to open this type of account if you are a Canadian and over the age of 18. This year’s contribution limit is $6,500 . To figure out your lifetime contribution room, try our TFSA contribution room calculator or visit the Government of Canada website. 

Did you know that a TFSA is not used for just savings? You can use it to invest your money, too. 

How to budget as a student

There’s no doubt a lot of tempting things you want to add to your cart when you’re shopping. With so many social media influencers and celebs sharing their favourite products, it’s easy to get lured into wanting to own what they are selling you. So if you find every month your credit card is getting maxed out, then take a step back and see what adjustments you can make to curb your spending. Which leads very nicely into understanding…

What are your needs versus your wants?

One way to keep spending in check is to identify your “must haves” versus “nice to haves.” A “need” is something that is essential for you, such as groceries to make meals for yourself, whereas a “want” is something that’s nice to have, but you could wait to buy it, like a brand new watch. The next time you are debating whether to buy a “want” item, ask yourself these questions: 

  1. Do I really need to have this right now? 
  2. Do I own something similar?
  3. Will I be using it immediately?  

Based on your answers, you can determine whether to purchase it right away or wait until later. Now, if you have extra cash in your bank account (after you’ve paid the bills and put aside some savings), then treating yourself from time to time to a nice outfit or to dinner and drinks with friends probably won’t hurt your wallet too much, if you spend within your means. 

Practice delayed gratification

If you don’t need a certain product or service right away, then hold out until your next paycheque arrives or—better yet—when it goes on sale. This practice is called delayed gratification. It may not be easy to apply this method right away, since it takes some self-control. But it will help you reduce your expenses and not feel buyer’s remorse. 

Remove the credit card autofill feature

Online shopping has never been more convenient. With one-click purchases and buy now pay later (BNPL) plans, it can make your spending creep up quickly. You can prevent impulse purchases by removing the autofill feature for your info, including credit card numbers and mailing address. You will have to take a hot second to grab your wallet across the room. Hopefully, you will have a moment to ask yourself if you think this purchase is really worth it or not. 

And it’s OK if you abandon your cart. I’m sure (in most cases) you’ll receive an email in your inbox asking if you want to proceed with your order. I usually give myself 24 hours to think on it. And, if by then, I’ve completely forgotten about the item, then it wasn’t really that important to me in the first place.

Do student loans cover living expenses?

Depending on the amount of financial aid you’ve received or anticipate to get, you may find that it’s not enough to cover everything you need.  

Besides covering the cost of tuition and books, having a student loan gives you the ability to cover some of your living expenses, including: 

  • Housing 
  • Transportation 
  • Food/groceries 
  • Miscellaneous expenses 

If you have a student loan, it’s wise to spend it on your education, and less so on things like entertainment. Remember, unlike scholarships and bursaries, loans are not free money and you will have to pay it back. So, treat it like you would a credit card and be responsible with how you use it and how you pay it.

With this in mind, how can you lower your expenses? Try these tried-and-true methods to help keep more money in your bank account.

Buy and sell used textbooks

When your prof tells you to buy a specific textbook, you may be able to find a used one or slightly older version at a used bookstore. On the flip side, if you have a pile of textbooks you no longer need, you can sell them to another student. If you took a popular course, your book could be in demand. Try selling them back to the campus bookstore or through a resale app. This can help you recoup some costs and save you money.

Take advantage of student deals

While taking courses at school, why not take advantage of being a student and utilize your powers to receive special discounts? The SPC membership gives you discounts to 450+ brands, along with access to contests and giveaways. It costs $11.99 a year, or you can get it free with a student credit card as a perk. Local restaurants (especially near campus) may also offer student specials. Some may only offer a discount on certain days or during certain hours. 

Talk your way into a better mobile plan

Back-to-school season has some competitive offers from various cell phone providers. Take the time to do your research and don’t be afraid to negotiate, like asking for more data. If you can, avoid any unnecessary add-ons, such as long-distance calling that you don’t think you’ll end up using.

Prep your own meals

Between classes, studying and participating in extracurricular activities, there’s a limited amount of time for yourself. As tempting as it may be to head over to the food court or order Uber Eats, doing this on the regular can really add up quickly. Plus, it’s probably not the healthiest diet to only be eating this way.

To save time, you can order groceries online and have them delivered to your door or pick them up in store. Another fun way to get into cooking is to order a meal kit that contains all the ingredients and recipe cards you need.  

Forming good money habits takes time 

You can strike a balance between finding a way to make money, setting aside for the future, while giving yourself some wiggle room to indulge every now and then. Even though there are financial priorities to juggle while in school, there’s never a better time than now to start implementing good money habits that will set you up for success in the years ahead. 


This article was written by Sandy Yong from MoneySense and was legally licensed through the DiveMarketplace by Industry Dive. Please direct all licensing questions to