Back to learn

12 Practical budgeting tips for college students

8 min read

Saving as College Student

Written By

Erik Helin

Rounding it up

  • Trying to manage your personal finances while earning a degree? Keep an eye on student discounts, use coupons where you can, and take advantage of free events.

  • It helps to get a part-time job, so you can pay off any high-interest debt and set aside funds for fun (work hard, play hard, right?).

  • There are many ways to save at the home — or dorm — as well. Avoid wasting food, budget with roommates, and try to sell items you don’t need for some pocket money.

  • Make smaller work of big money management responsibilities by using personal finance apps and getting a cash back credit card (Like a KOHO reloadable prepaid Mastercard).

Some may think that crippling student debt is a uniquely American issue, but debt accrued by Canadian students has been on the rise for years, with the debt cost of a bachelor’s degree now averaging around $30,000 upon graduation. Being saddled with debt when leaving college can be a major burden for a lot of young people, and the spending and saving habits formed during college years can follow us long term. That’s where the power of budgeting comes in. Creating and sticking to a budget helps you better manage your finances so that you can become debt-free at the earliest.

What is a budget

In its simplest form, a budget is a record of the flow of your income and expenses that helps you identify saving opportunities and to create a plan to achieve your long-term financial goals. Having a realistic budget every month is even more important as a student because we all know finances are pretty tight when you’re in school.

Why it’s important to learn how to budget as a student

The goal of a budget is usually two-fold: Ensuring you’re not accidentally spending more than you make, and aligning your spending with your long-term goals. Having a budget helps you bring more order into the chaotic student life and empowers you to make informed purchase decisions. College is your first taste of complete freedom, so we understand how easy it is to fall prey to new temptations and make rash purchases that you may regret later on. That’s where having a budget becomes handy: It helps you distinguish between your “needs” and “wants” effectively.

How to create a budget you can realistically stick to as a student

Don’t let the term “budget” scare you with the thought of complicated spreadsheets and multiple columns. You can use whatever tool works for you, be it pen-and-paper, Excel, or a budgeting app.

The key is to start simple: Create a list of all your fixed expenses of the month. This should include things like your dorm fees/room rent, food and groceries, transit, WiFi and phone bills, and most importantly, your tuition fees. Total that up and you have your monthly fixed expenses. Now create a rough estimate of how much you may need to spend on your miscellaneous expenses: things like books you may need to buy, pending credit card debts you need to pay off, cost to travel home for the upcoming holiday weekend, etc. Your miscellaneous expenses may look different each month, but try to be realistic about what’s a necessary expense and what you can live without.

Lastly, start creating a list of your income sources. This should include your part-time job income, your Registered Education Savings Plan, any personal investments you may have. Once you have all three numbers in front of you, minus your total expenses (fixed + miscellaneous) from your total income. If this number is in positive, you’re on the right track but if this number is in the negative, you got more work to do! Don’t worry, there are plenty of templates to help you get started. Take a look this ultimate budget planning template by KOHO or this printable student budget worksheet by the Government of Canada to help you get started.

1. Get a job

It’s estimated that 40% of students hold down jobs while in school. Many college jobs have flexible schedules built to accommodate students, so if you can, find something that can fit into your workload without spreading yourself too thin. That little extra cash can make a huge difference in managing a budget. KOHO can be set to quickly receive direct deposit funds, making your money available to you when you need it.

2. Pay off high-interest debt first

Accruing credit card debt can be a particularly insidious outcome to living on a budget. And sitting on high-interest debt can be financially ruinous in the long run, because it will grow at higher interest rates than other debt. Additionally, it can affect your credit score over time, creating a snowball effect no one wants. Remember, you’re already accruing student loan debt, so chipping away at higher-interest debt as a priority will help in the long run.

3. Shop deals and use coupons

Using coupons is definitely not the coolest thing in the world, but it’s certainly cooler than paying full price for something you could get cheaper. Keep an eye out for deals at retailers when you’re making everyday purchases. KOHO offers additional cash back with multiple top retailers across Canada, which can be a great place to start when searching for deals. A little bit of diligence in researching price comparisons can wind up saving you big in the long run. Especially when you make deal hunting a part of your buying routine, the savings made each month can really add up over time.

4. Keep an eye on student discounts

There are a number of deals, offers, and special prices that are granted to students; take advantage! When you’re making a purchase or choosing between services, compare whether they have options available with a student ID or email. You’re already paying for school, you may as well get some special financial perks out of it!

5. Use financial apps

With apps available for pretty much everything these days, it makes sense that there are countless personal finance apps out there to help you keep a tight budget by monitoring your spending. Apps like Mint work to track spending across all of your accounts versus your income. Or, you could use KOHO, which not only offers detailed categorization of your spending habits to fully track your budgeting, but also has a RoundUp feature that sets aside spare change to be saved for later.

6. Don’t waste food

When you’re grocery shopping, avoid overbuying, especially perishable items that may go bad before you get a chance to eat them. By spending smartly on a mix of items with longer shelf lives and fresh ingredients, you can not only spare yourself from wasting money, but you will ensure you’re eating healthier.

7. Collaborate with roommates

Go beyond just having roommates to cut down on housing costs. Set aside funds for food and house necessities like toiletries and cleaning supplies so all your costs are divided equally. You could even consider a KOHO joint account designated for house expenses that everyone contributes to each month. That way house bills and joint food costs can be covered as a team. It’s always a challenge managing the personalities of roommates, especially when money is on the line, but creating communal expenses for the house where everyone has a stake can lead to big savings.

8. Set aside funds for fun

There are expenses that you’re definitely going to have: food, shelter, gas or public transportation, and other necessities. In building your budget, calculate those monthly costs, and then choose how much you can reasonably afford on discretionary spending for clothing, dining out, and other things you enjoy but may not need.

For those discretionary expenses, set a certain amount of cash aside each month. By paying for those expenses from a finite source, you’ve given yourself a limited amount of resources for fun that you won’t feel guilty about or risk overspending for. When the discretionary cash is gone, your fun expenses are exhausted for the month. And who knows, maybe you’ll have some left over, which you can save for a larger purchase later on!

9. Take advantage of free events

College campuses are hotbeds of free activities built for the budget-conscious student. Keep an eye on activities calendars and note special events at institutions in your area. Museums will often offer free admission for college students on certain nights, and there are countless free concerts and film screenings hosted by student organizations. Going to free events can be a great way to remain active in your community and socialize without blowing your budget on bars, restaurants, and expensive show tickets.

10. Be conscious of your books

Textbooks costs can run as high as $1,000 per semester, which is pretty crushing when you’re already living on a shoestring budget. Always opt for used books whenever possible, and sell any books you won’t need anymore to student bookstores. Also, compare prices online to see if there are international versions of textbooks that can be bought for cheaper. It’s also important to take stock of how long you’ll need a book; if you’re only going to need a book for a few days or weeks, try and rent the book from a library to avoid buying it for short-term use.

11. Take stock of what you use and pare down

There are a number of items and expenses we all carry with us that aren’t strictly necessary. If you have a number of items you’re not using, consider selling them on eBay, Poshmark, Craigslist or any number of other services for selling goods; you’ll free up your space (which in turn can help save in the long run on moving costs), as well as put some extra cash in your pocket.

But don’t limit an audit to just your physical belongings: take stock of subscription services you’re paying for each month or year, and get rid of the ones you’re not using frequently enough to justify the expense.

12. Get a cash back credit card

Credit cards can be a big responsibility for someone managing a budget for the first time, so proceed with caution. If you feel like you can manage expenses well enough to get a credit card make sure you’re getting one that offers cash back incentives. If you’re concerned about taking on the responsibility of a credit card but still want cash-back perks, consider a KOHO account, which earns you cash back on every spend with a prepaid Mastercard. KOHO helps you earn on everyday spending, and ultimately, keeping your money where it belongs, with you.

Learn to Save Money

Get your personal budget template!

See where your money is going and how much you can save.

Get it now
Note: KOHO product information and/or features may have been updated since this blog post was published. Please refer to our KOHO Plans page for our most up to date account information!


AboutAffiliatesCareersCommunity DiscountsCultureEnterpriseLearnNewcomersTravelStatusStudent & Graduate Discounts


The KOHO Mastercard® Prepaid card is issued by KOHO Financial Inc. pursuant to license by Mastercard International Incorporated. Mastercard and the circles design are registered trademarks of Mastercard International Incorporated.

By using this website, you accept our Terms and Conditions. Follow these links for more information on our Privacy Policy and Accessibility Policy. © 2024 KOHO Financial Inc.