Being a student is full of new experiences and opportunities. The desire to explore can be draining not only on your time, but on your bank account. Learn how to use money effectively to reduce financial stress so you can focus on your studies.

Use this guide to think through your money matters. Learn how to make a summer wage last all year, how to make your groceries stretch or how to plan for the future. Make a budget so you can feel comfortable in your finances and succeed in other areas as well.

money passing between hands

Contents

Your budget Understand where and how you spend your money to plan for the future
Tuition assistance Evaluate different channels to borrow money for tuition
Loan repayment OSAP repayments begin 6 months after you graduate
Taxes Understand your rights and responsibilities
Money-saving tips Some tips for saving your money

Your budget

Making a budget can seem daunting, but it’s important to get a sense of where and how you spend your money. It can help you evaluate what is most important to you and what expenses you want to prioritize.

The first step in budgeting is to evaluate where your money comes from:

  • If you’re working during the school year, you can plan your expenses based on your monthly wage. Make sure that you are being realistic with how many hours you can work each week. If you are sacrificing your academics for work, you could get a $500 paycheque only to have to repay $700 to retake a course. There are many opportunities to work on campus for a good wage and less than 15 hours per week
  • If you’re not working during the year, you will likely be spreading out summer earnings over the year or relying on financial aid. The challenge of making summer pay last all year makes budgeting essential
  • If you want to work during the school year, U of T has many options to take on a manageable job. There are work-study positions all over campus where you work only 10-12 hours per week. These positions are great because your boss understands the university lifestyle and will want you to succeed in classes as well as at work
  • Think outside the box. Include all scholarships, loans, grants and bursaries in your income. If these awards come in instalments, include them in your yearly budget and divide by the number of months you’re in school. If you know you will have to spend more in September for textbooks, increase your September budget accordingly

The second step is evaluating how you spend your money now:

  • Track your spending for one month. Try to keep all your receipts, and print off your bank statement at the end of the month. Combined, you’ll be able to see how your spend your cash, debit and credit
  • Keep your textbook receipts so you can accurately assess the cost and get a tax credit in the future. There are many options to reduce the costs of your textbooks, such as buying them second hand or renting them from the bookstore

 

 

 

 

Record your monthly spending in a budget worksheet:

  • You can make a simple budget at home with a budget template. If you want a more comprehensive way to plan and track your spending, use an Excel spreadsheet or an online tool that allows you to plug in your expected and actual spending

Make adjustments to your budget where necessary.

  • When you start living according to your budget, it may take some adjustments. You may have to decline invitations or come up with different ways to hang out friends. Remember that financial stress doesn’t have to put stress on good relationships. Find a way to tell someone they’re great for free, or take your friend on an adventure while you avoid shopping or eating out. Keep all your receipts for the first month so you can see how you did. Does one part of the budget feel too small while you’re left with excess money in another? Re-asses to make sure you’re building a lifestyle that’s fulfilling for you

Tuition assistance

You may borrow money from the government, banks or private funding bodies during your time at school. These loans will help ease financial pressure during school, but also come with the burden of repayment. Some loans or lines of credit require you to pay interest right away and then give you a year to start paying back the load. Whatever option you chose, make sure you understand the full scope of your responsibilities and make sure you start planning in your final year at school.

OSAP

OSAP is a provincial government assistance program for students in Ontario. OSAP gives out a range of funding packages on a case-by-case basis. Use OSAP’s online tool to discover your options. If you’re coming from out of province, check your province and/or country’s government funding.

OSAP arrives in your bank account in instalments, usually one in September and one in January. Don’t forget to space out how you spend your funding accordingly throughout the year. Use the budget tool to plan how much to spend and how much to save.

 

Student Lines of Credit

Student Lines of Credit are a type of bank loan. These allow you to take out many thousands of dollars to pay for tuition at undergraduate or professional schools. While you are in school you usually have to pay monthly interest on the borrowed money. If you are using student lines of credit, be sure to factor monthly interest payments into your budget. Check with your bank for the exact terms of the loan.

 

UTAPS

University of Toronto Advance Planning For Students (UTAPS) is a financial aid program that can help Canadian students cover financial costs of school after alternative funding. Visit the UTAPS page to see if you meet the requirements.

 

Grants, Bursaries and Scholarships

Grants, bursaries and scholarships are money given that you don’t have to pay back. They are awarded to students based on merit and/or financial need. U of T has a variety of financial awards that you can apply for. Some require an academic component, others are based on community work, merit, or personal demographic. Keep an eye out within your department and college for opportunities to win financial awards.

Loan repayment

OSAP repayments begin 6 months after you graduate. If you are going back to school for graduate studies or a professional program, be sure to tell OSAP. You cannot claim OSAP for non-degree studies. There are a few ways to help you with your loan repayments:

  • Entrepreneurs and non-profit workers can request another six-month grace period before starting to make monthly payments
  • The Ontario Student Opportunity Grant can help reduce your debt from loans. You are automatically considered for this grant when you apply for OSAP
  • OSAP offers interest relief and debt reduction programs for people struggling to repay their loans on time. Research your options and make sure you reach out when you realize you’re having trouble. Defaulting on your loans can cause increased payments and ruin your credit score

Student Lines of Credit require repayment starting 6-12 months after graduation. Make an appointment with your financial institution to get all the details.

You can claim interest payments made to government bodies on your tax return.  You can get credit for the payments that will help you in the future. You cannot claim interest paid to private lending bodies, such as banks. Visit the CRA website for details.

Living to your budget will become especially important as you join the workforce after school. Newly earned income will be tempting to spend, but remember that your bigger paycheque also comes with bigger responsibilities. Factor in loan payments as a monthly cost, the same way you would rent or a cellphone bill. Try short-term saving for special items to get in the habit of saving while still rewarding yourself for working hard.

Taxes

Canadians file personal income taxes annually by April 30. International students may be required to file taxes. Check the Canada Revenue Agency website for international students to see your responsibilities. Start working on the documents in early April to give yourself plenty of time. At U of T, the University of Toronto Students’ Union offers free tax clinics in April for all current students. International students can also visit the CIE tax clinics in March and April.

It’s a good idea to file your taxes yearly because your tuition can get you a tax credit. You can claim parts of your tuition and textbook fees. The credit will stay on your CRA account so you can use it to pay taxes in the future.

Always remember to claim tuition and textbook costs on your taxes. If you have never filed a tax return, you can claim past years that you have not yet claimed. If you file your taxes and don’t claim tuition, you can’t claim it later. If you have excess credit, you can transfer some to your parents, which they will no doubt appreciate! You cannot withdraw the credit as money.

Check the CRA Website website for more information and instructions on how how to file your income taxes.

Money-saving tips

  • Use a cash diet to assess and control how much money you’re spending. Try $100 for a week and see how you can make it last
  • Credit cards can be useful for large purchases or emergencies. However, it’s easy to let the balance climb dangerously. Restrict your credit card purchases to items you’ll use OSAP for. That way when your OSAP comes in you can pay your card off right away. Ensure you don’t miss the minimum payment or you’ll get stuck with nasty fines!
  • Put away some savings. Set up your bank account to automatically transfer money into your savings at the beginning of each month or when you use your debit card. Even $0.50 per debit card use will add up to some savings
  • Save on textbooks by buying used or using Course Reserves. You can find used textbooks online on Ebay, Amazon, Facebook groups or TUSBE. Many professors will also put the textbook on course reserve at one of the libraries where you can read it for a certain amount of time or check it out for a couple of days
  • Sell your stuff that’s cluttering up your room. U of T has different groups on Facebook for buying and selling used goods. You can also find great opportunities to buy and sell things on Craigslist or Kijiji. Remember to always use caution when meeting up with people from websites. Bring a friend and meet in a public place

If you have more questions about money, contact a U of T Financial Counsellor for more personalized guidance.

Free and low-cost entertainment ideas

Find free events to bring your friends to. Your peers might be going through the same financial challenges as you, so why not take the pressure off by planning some low-cost ways hang out? Here are some ideas:

  1. Use your student card to get into the Royal Ontario Museum on Tuesdays or the Art Gallery of Ontario on Wednesday evenings for free.
  2. Go to Free Film Fridays (presented by the CINSSU) at Innis Town Hall.
  3. Go to a Varsity Blues game (free with your TCard).
  4. Borrow a movie from Robarts Media Commons.
  5. Find some fun at home: learn to cut your own hair, pack a picnic, host a potluck or a clothing swap or turn your room into a yoga studio with yoga videos on YouTube.
  6. Volunteer for a cause you’re passionate about. It'll fill your time with a meaningful activity that doesn't cost anything.
  7. Go to the gym in your free time. It’s already paid for by your fees at U of T, and you can spend time getting healthy and not spending money.