College students have a lot on their minds, from exams and assignments to their budgets. As most of the students have a strict (and set) budget, many may encounter financial difficulties during their studies. However, it does not have to be that way: how to manage your finances as a student is easier than it might seem. 

Truth be told, it does take some discipline: setting your financial goals is easier than staying true to them, and your spending habits are very difficult to change. However, with a cold head and clear financial goals, you will be able to have extra money put aside every month and will be able to cover all the unexpected expenses that may come your way. Never forget that this is the best time to instill good financial habits. 

Basics and Essentials of Student Finances in Canada

When it comes to studying in Canada, this is no different from studying anywhere else. Besides some minor differences in how the banking and investment segments are organized, there is little difference between Canada and the rest of the world. However, it is important to understand that spending money in college in Canada (and the US) is much easier and that owning a credit card is very expensive. 

This can lead to overspending and financial issues down the road. Having a credit card to pay for everything and drawing money from your parents’ bank accounts is not always the best decision. After all, the card does not provide the same feeling of spending as cash – so rethink using one if you are prone to rushing to student discounts and other offers. 

In fact, being able to control yourself is what is so difficult for many college students. Student loans and negative credit card balances can add up over time, so it is best to start learning about personal finance from early on. In fact, many students decide to take up a part-time job to secure some extra income and to help reduce how much money they take from their parents. A part-time job can greatly reduce your living expenses – depending on the hours worked. 

Why Students Need to Manage Their Finances?

But, if this much budgeting is necessary, then why study in Canada? Canada has great educational programs and great work opportunities. In fact, the Canadian educational system is one of the best in the world, and many international students come to study here. What is true is that, due to high living costs, you will need to do a lot of budgeting. 

This way, you will learn how to manage your finances. Once you know where the money comes from, you will be able to set up a realistic budget and reduce optional spending. As many agree, budgeting and managing your finances is a skill that should be taught early on – but many come to college without even knowing how to check their bank balance. 

With this in mind, you should consider all your finances: both your income (all of it) and your expenses. It may be easy to get lost in these, but consider that your income can be any money coming from your parents, scholarships, garage sales (if you organize them), your part-time work, and even your tips – all put together, they make up your monthly budget and how much money you should realistically spend. 

Create a Student Budget: From Tuition To Tim Hortons

Of course, not all of this money should be spent. You should consider your expenses before making a budget because budgeting without them is a shot in the dark – it can be very hard to reach your targets and avoid money issues in the long run. However, knowing that good money habits mean good (and achievable) money goals, we would recommend doing Kakeibo. 

Kakeibo is the Japanese way of writing down your expenses. You will need a smaller and a larger notebook for this. The smaller one goes with you, and you use it to track both your college expenses and all other expenses you may have – CAD100 for a book. Write it down. CAD1.79 for a pack of gum? Write it down as well. 

Once back home, rewrite all the expenses from the smaller notebook to the larger one. Do this for several months in a row, and you will be able to see your average monthly expenses. This can also be done in a budgeting app, but we still recommend doing this on paper. Do not forget to include both your everyday expenses and repeating essential expenses – such as your cell phone plan, Internet, and cable (if you pay for these). 

How To Manage Your Finances In College?

Indeed, all your expenses can be divided into fixed and variable expenses. All of them should be covered by your income(s), as having higher expenses than income will easily push you into debt. Although this may seem necessary, debt should be reserved for absolute essentials, such as housing and tuition costs (if you have any or are in a private college/University). If your income is higher than your expenses – congratulations! You can save some money. 

Income Sources

As a college student, you will have some form of income. Your allowance, part-time job, scholarships, and any other money you make (such as for teaching younger students or getting paid for your summer job) are all your income. Make sure you know exactly how much money you are getting and see if there are any other ways to make more to be able to cover more of your living costs. 

It is true that the cost of living is on the rise and that savings accounts are not as full as they used to be. However, being wise about how you spend your money and cashing in on your hobbies can be great chances to make even more. Are you a photographer by hobby? Sell your pics online. Are you a good writer or a teacher? Sell your writings/time. There is a plethora of ways to make money today, and being smart about how you do it can help you out tremendously. 

Fixed and Variable Expenses

On the other hand, the expenses can also be a bit problematic: impulse or spontaneous purchases can eat away at your monthly budget. In addition to this, being unwise with the way you spend can also poke a hole in your monthly budget. The secret is understanding how your expenses work and fixing as many of them as possible. 

Fixed expenses are recurring and generally do not change: Your Netflix subscription, which is always the same, is a good way to visualize these expenses. On the other hand, other expenses change every time: how much money you spend on your clothes, eating out, or even your daily dose of Starbucks. The secret to controlling these expenses can be found in making them fixed: setting a meal plan, for example, will turn a variable expense into a fixed one and will help you understand your expenses better. Kakeibo (from a few paragraphs back) can help you realize this, as you will know exactly how much money you give on a monthly basis. 

Check Out 10 GENIUS Saving Money Tips for International Students in Canada 💸:

Money-Saving Tips and Advice for Students

Then, you can go on to implement some other money-saving tips for college students. They are essential in helping you reduce your expenses and have some extra cash at the end of every month. Besides keeping track of your monthly expenses and canceling all unnecessary subscriptions, our tips go one step deeper to help you truly revise your spending. 

  1. Keep track of your expenses – even if you have been doing so already – track the changes and see where they come from
  2. Reduce your online purchases – as they are often impulse and unnecessary – and use them to automate purchases of products you need regularly, such as your cleaning supplier, to save money.
  3. Review your streaming services and other online platforms – Do you really need Netflix, Disney+, HNO, and Spotify? Probably not
  4. Make a meal plan – and stick to it, use seasonal produce and cheap but nutritional foods
  5. Use old books – to save around 50%
  6. Use the Library – to read for free
  7. Sell your old clothes and books – and recuperate up to 50% of your expenses – well-preserved books will sell for more
  8. Use public transport – to avoid having to pay for gas, mechanic, parking, and all other expenses that come with owning a car
  9. Make a fixed budget for eating out – and choose the places you eat out – A burrito place is much better suited to students than a seafood restaurant
  10. Make your own food and coffee at home – as a single coffee at Starbucks a day can cost as much as CAD15, or CAD450 a month

Avoiding Common Financial Pitfalls in College

Even with these tips in place, our daily lives simply cost too much at times. To save even more, you should avoid some common pitfalls for students in Canada. In fact, a student credit card can cost you even more than a regular credit card, and debit is always better, as the money you have is the limit to how much you can spend. Make all your payments on time to avoid late payment fees, and always ask around the college campus what cards other students use. 

Besides this, always avoid fast fashion and beware when shopping for discounts – as some other products may still be cheaper. Always have a shopping list when you go grocery shopping and avoid identity theft – as you do not need another unexpected loan in your name. Banking apps for students are great and offer several ways to save – use some of them and forget about others. All the money you save should also go into a savings account or an emergency fund, as you may incur expenses that are difficult to pay immediately. 

Building an Emergency Fund: Why and How

Among these, fixing a car can be one of the biggest ones. So is getting injured with no healthcare insurance. To avoid issues like this, have an emergency fund and start building it fast enough. There, you should have enough money to cover at least three months of expenses. As you learn to reduce your spending, you will also be saving less for the emergency fund – or extending its value – killing two birds with the same stone. 

Investing Wisely as a Student: An Early Start

Once you have raised your financial literacy and have saved some money for monthly payments towards your student loan debt, it may be time to take your debit card and use it to improve your odds of financial success. Avoiding the cycle of debt is the best thing to do, but so is starting investing early and reaching financial freedom even before your retirement age. This, financial experts agree, will help you reach financial safety and avoid financial concerns that many people face at one point in their lives. But how to invest in Canada as a student? 

Canadian Investment Vehicles

To invest, you will first need to have money to invest. Cancel any unused gym memberships on top of our tips for students, and watch as your future goals become a reality. The required spending is one thing, but being smart with your monthly allowance will help even private school students set some money aside. To help combat the inflation and seeing your money’s worth go to waste, you should consider investing ANY amount of money (you do not need to be a millionaire to invest), into one of the following: 

  1. Canadian Blue-Chip Stocks
  2. Canada Saving Bonds 
  3. Lending Loop – Investing in Startups
  4. Low-Risk Guaranteed Income Certificates (GICs)
  5. Find a Robo-Advisor to help you invest
  6. Invest in Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)


To make these investments, you will need a financial advisor. While blue-chip investments may be the best for one, purchasing and stacking a vending machine may be the best for others, considering their location and age. Any student bank will have basic financial advisor services for you to rely on during your studies. When the time is right, and you have set up your emergency fund, it may be the time to invest in: 

  1. High-Interest Saving Accounts
  2. Other opportunities for saving:
    1. automated savings, with a fixed amount being deposited to a savings account every month
    2. round-up savings, rounding up your spending to the nearest CAD and sending the rest to a savings account
    3. financial advisors, who can help you decide what to do with the money saved
    4. voluntary retirement investment
    5. options for faster loan payoff

Top Digital Tools and Apps to Help Manage Finances

To do all this, a simple pen and a notebook should be enough. However, some may need a more on-the-go approach. With this in mind, here are the top seven basic budgeting apps and finance management apps today: 

  1. You Need A Budget – an American platform for finance management based on the envelope system
  2. – a personal finance app that is completely free
  3. GoodBudget – great educational content with the app
  4. EveryDollar – gives purpose for every dollar that comes your way
  5. Quicken – Coming from the developer of, Quicken is a Windows and Mac client
  6. Spendee – is the best for shared finances, such as family finances
  7. Personal Capital – allows you to track your cash flow and is specialized for investors

Seeking Financial Advice and Guidance in the Great White North

So, is college free in Canada? Well, for some part, education is, but you will still need to pay to study in a college in Canada. And even with all these tips and tricks, you may still need some financial aid. An average student ends up with around CAD17,000 in debt by the end of their studies, with this number easily being twice as high for many. With this in mind, let’s consider what additional finance options there are that you may have access to as a student in Canada: 

  1. CSLP – Canada Student Loans Program – additional funding based on your costs and family income
  2. CSG – Canada Student Grants – up to CAD3,000, does not have to be paid back
  3. Here are provincial help packages for students:
    1. Alberta Student Aid
    2. British Columbia Student Aid
    3. Manitoba Student Aid
    4. New Brunswick Student Financial Services
    5. Newfoundland and Labrador Student Aid
    6. Northwest Territories Student Financial Assistance
    7. Nova Scotia Student Assistance
    8. Nunavut Student Funding
    9. Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP)
    10. Quebec Student Financial Aid
    11. Saskatchewan Student Aid
    12. Yukon Financial Support for Students


What is a 50-30-20 Rule?

A 50-30-20 rule is a money management rule. It says that 50% of your income should go to your needs. 30% should go to your wants (clothes, travel, eating out), while 20% should be saved. Some recommend switching the 20 and 30% after the age of 35-40. 

Does the 50-30-20 Rule Work?

Yes, it does. In fact, saving 20-30% of your income is more than most people do as it is. Nevertheless, being careful with where you send the money to be saved is important: low-risk investments mean security, but high-risk means more profits. While young, the latter may work better. After the age of 40, it may be time to invest in more reasonable funds. 

How Do You Manage Your Finances Being a Student Abroad?

If you are a student abroad, make sure to double control your expenditure. Traveling and trying out new things will easily be the highest expenses, so seek discounted tours and happy hours. Besides that, follow all other tips applicable to other students. 

Final Considerations

Whatever your financial status may be, if you are a student, you should understand where the actual money comes from. Your allowance for pocket money should be your budget, with your every day costs or basic expenses setting the base that you will reduce during your studies. This will help you have better control of your personal expenses and educational expenses and will help you reach an independent life with more money saved than your average peer could.