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Daily Banking

How to budget as a student

April 6, 2023
min read

The start of a new school year is always exciting. How can you prepare your finances for your first semester?

Student at the library

You spent months getting ready for post-secondary school. You studied for exams, found a program that sparked your interest, and sent in your application.

But how much time did you spend preparing your budget for your post-secondary lifestyle?

“Budgeting” may not sound like your idea of a fun Friday night. But with a budget, you can:

  • Pay off your student loans sooner
  • Save for your long-term goals (like a vacation or moving out)
  • Be in control of your spending and saving habits
  • Ensure you still have extra money to do the things you enjoy!

Once you finish high school and start your first semester, the cost difference can be steep. Suddenly, you’re juggling expenses you’ve never had to think about before, from tuition to textbook costs.

To manage your money, you can create a student budget. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Add up your total monthly income.
  2. Subtract your fixed expenses.
  3. Divide the leftover money to save for your financial goals and pay for optional expenses.

If you’re brand-new to budgeting, don’t worry. We’ve laid it out step-by-step, so it’s easy to get your finances ready for your first semester.

Step 1: Crunch the numbers

The best way to get a clear picture of where your money goes every month?

Track every dollar you spend.

While it might seem daunting at first, budgeting is empowering! It puts you back in control of your money and helps you hold yourself accountable to your goals.

You can download a budget app to track your spending or use a spreadsheet.

Here’s how to do it:

Total income

Start by figuring out how much money you receive each month.

Your income sources may include:

Add up the numbers, and you’ll have your total monthly income.

If you work part-time, your monthly income is easier to predict. But if you’ve taken out a student loan, you might receive a lump sum of money at the start of the semester.

That means you need to spread out the money over the coming months, so you don’t run out of money before your next payment.

Wondering how to budget for student loans? Take the total of one payment and divide it by the number of months until your next payment. Now you know how much money you can spend each month.

Fixed expenses

Make a list of all the recurring expenses you pay monthly. Your fixed expenses may include:

  • Tuition
  • Rent & utilities
  • Loan repayment (car, credit card, or student loan payments)
  • Phone bill
  • Gas money or bus passes
  • Groceries

Subtract your fixed expenses from your monthly income, and you’ll know how much money is left each month.

And with that, you can move on to the next steps:


It’s tough to save money when you’re paying for school.

That being said, a budget is a great way to find out exactly how much you can set aside after paying bills, either for an emergency fund or future financial goals.

If you can’t make room in your budget to save, it may be worth trimming down some of your variable expenses.

Variable expenses

Finally, it’s time to budget for your variable (or optional) expenses. These include:

  • Entertainment
  • Eating out
  • Shopping
  • Subscription services

Are you spending more than you can afford? If so, try to dial back your “fun” money.

Quick tip: Many local restaurants and retailers offer student discounts. When you’re at the checkout, ask the cashier if they offer any discounts for students.

Step 2: Evaluate wants VS needs

Does this sound familiar? You’re shopping online when suddenly you find the perfect item. It’s exactly what you need—or so you think at the time.

Impulse purchases can be so tempting, especially when you’re stressed out from school. How do you reign in your spending when shopping online is so easy?

Before you buy, ask yourself this: Is this something you want, or something you need?

And if you need it, do you need it today? Could it wait 1 week or 1 month?

Another way to hold off impulse purchases is to calculate how many hours you’d need to work to pay for that item.

Let’s say you’ve got your eye on the newest iPhone, and you currently have a part-time job serving at a restaurant.

Take the money you make per hour and figure out how many working hours it’d take to pay for the iPhone.

Is that new phone worth the time you’d spend working to pay it off? Maybe not.

Step 3: Stop paying unnecessary fees

If you’re a student, you shouldn’t be stuck paying for a bank account.

And if you are, it might be time to switch to a financial institution that won’t charge you monthly fees.

With the Cambrian Connect account, everyone 22 or younger can bank for free. Any applicable banking fees will be refunded to your account on the first day of every month.

Step 4: Manage food costs

It’s no secret that one of the biggest costs we all face today is food.

Given how high the prices are at grocery stores, what can you do to keep your costs down?

Campus meal plans are convenient, but that convenience comes at a cost. And the same goes for food delivery services.

If you have access to a kitchen, the best thing you can do to save money is to meal prep.

Buy groceries in bulk and cook large portions to drastically cut down your food costs. And if you bring a home-cooked meal for lunch, you won’t be as tempted to grab takeout from a nearby restaurant or fast-food joint.

Step 5: Be careful with your credit card

Buy it now, pay for it later—there’s no greater temptation when you’re out shopping and strapped for funds than to pull out your credit card.

But easy access to credit comes at a cost.

If you don’t pay off your credit card each month, you’ll pay interest on the balance you owe.

And due to the power of compound interest, you’ll pay interest on the interest you owe. It adds up to a staggering amount over time.

When you’re budgeting, try to prioritize your credit card payments.

Step 6: Set up preauthorized withdrawals

As a student, you have enough on your mind as it is.

So why make saving money just another thing to remember? Instead, you can make it happen automatically.

If you’re a Cambrian member, you can set up pre-authorized withdrawals so that money will automatically transfer into your savings account.

Through your Online Banking dashboard or the Cambrian Mobile App, you can select how much and how often to transfer money from your chequing to your savings account.

Just like that, you’ll start saving money every month—without lifting a finger!

Step 7: Treat yourself!

On paper, it sounds great to save every dollar you make. But it’s important to spend money on yourself, too.

If you budget $20 a week to go out with friends, but you know you’ll probably go over that, you’ll have a hard time sticking to your budget.

One of the benefits of budgeting for students is that you’ll know exactly how much you can spend—so you can treat yourself without feeling guilty about it!

Check out Cambrian’s Learning for Life Scholarship Award!

One way to lighten the financial burden of your first year of post-secondary?

Get a little help from your local credit union.

Every year, Cambrian offers the Learning for Life Scholarship, which offers 5 students in Manitoba up to $2,500 to pay for their first year of post-secondary.

Learning for Life is currently open for applications. The deadline to submit yours is May 31, 2023. Apply online today!

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