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Financial Essentials for Post-Secondary Students

6 min read

Girl in a blue sweater holding a credit card against her head looking confused.

Written By

Sherry Andrew
Sherry Andrew

Rounding it up

  • Preparation for Independence: Heading to college or university presents new financial responsibilities. Managing student loans, credit, bills, and expenses becomes crucial as you move out on your own.

  • Building Financial Skills: Learning to manage money now sets the stage for lasting financial success. Understand loans, grants, and scholarships, and devise strategies to ensure funds last throughout the year.

  • Smart Credit Management: Avoid common credit pitfalls by researching credit card options thoroughly. Managing credit helps build a strong financial future. Keep credit usage under 30%, pay in full monthly, and beware of high-interest cash withdrawals.

  • Alternative Funding Avenues: Beyond government loans like OSAP, explore scholarships and grants. Begin early, check university websites, consider local organizations, and emphasize your strengths when applying for financial aid.

  • Thrifty Textbook Strategies: Textbook costs don't need to be overwhelming. Save by buying used or renting from campus bookstores, connecting with peers, or utilizing online platforms. Libraries offer short-term borrowing options for select textbooks.

Are you heading off to College or University next month? It can be an exciting time, especially if you are moving out on your own for the first time. With that excitement also comes a lot of new responsibilities, many of them being financial. From managing student loans and other types of credit to buying food to paying bills, there is a lot to learn, and manage, and I am here to help you with all of that today!

By putting in the work now to learn about managing your money, you will be setting yourself up for long-term financial success!


I asked my fellow KOHOnians if there was anything they wished they knew about money before they started their post-secondary education. I’m going to share some of their questions, and my answers to help you as you head off to school!

How can I stretch my student loans over the course of the year? (I’ll also include grants and scholarships in my answer)

Student loans, scholarships, and grants are a big part of the path to higher education for many Canadians. It can be challenging to receive these funds in larger amounts that you will need to use for larger payments like tuition, but also throughout the year or semester to cover living expenses.

To make sure the money doesn’t disappear on you, take the amount of money you will receive and crunch some numbers. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How much will you receive in loans, grants, and scholarships?

  • Are the funds to cover expenses for the year or for a semester?

  • What is the total amount you will need to cover large expenses (tuition, rent, books etc.)?

  • How much is left over for other expenses?

  • What does that break down to per month?

Then set yourself up for success by separating these funds, so you don’t dip into the money for next month! Start by paying the large payments that are due, and leave only the amount you plan to spend for the current month in your main chequing account. Move everything else to a savings account, and keep a record of the work you did above, so you know how much to move to chequing each month. Using your KOHO Vault can be a perfect place to move your money.

I also encourage you to learn as much as you can about your student loans because there are different interest rates and repayment rules for each one. You can also learn about how not to spend it all in one place here.

How does credit work, especially credit cards?

It is pretty common for new post-secondary students to get signed up for credit cards and student lines of credit on campus. I’ve heard a story or two about how these products weren’t well understood and led to debt and financial stress during and after school. I don’t want that to happen to you. Let’s look into all things credit, so you don’t get caught up in financial issues down the road.

Let me say, that having credit products isn’t bad, but it’s important to understand what you’re getting yourself into. My top recommendation is, don’t sign up for the first credit card you see. Do a bit of research to understand what options are out there, to see which one is best for you.

Credit cards and lines of credit are great to help you build your credit history. How you manage credit will impact you in the future, so it’s important to understand the ins and outs of using credit.

Credit cards and lines of credit allow you to build your credit, make purchases and delay when you have to pay for them. Carrying a balance can cost you a lot in interest, and also hurt your credit history. The best way to use credit to help you get a high credit score, and not pay interest, is to use less than 30% of the credit that you have available to you. If you have a $1,000 credit limit, don’t use more than $300, and pay them off in full each month. Only use them to make purchases that you have money to pay for. Avoid only paying the minimum payments because over time, that can translate into one large purchase taking YEARS (and a lot of $ in interest) to pay off!

Is there a difference between using my credit card for a purchase and using it to take out cash from an ATM?

Yes! When you withdraw cash using your credit card from an ATM, you will start paying interest on the funds you withdrew right away. When you use your credit card to purchase an item, you won’t pay any interest on it if you pay your credit card bill in full before the due date each month.

Where can I find grants/loans other than government programs (like OSAP)?

If you don’t qualify for government loans, you’ve got other options. Scholarships and grants are an excellent option to look into!

Here are some tips for finding and securing scholarships and grants:

  • Start early: The earlier you start to look into your options, the better. Many scholarships have specific application deadlines, so early preparation is key.

  • Check College/University Websites: Your university or college's website is an excellent resource for scholarships. Many institutions offer their own scholarships and bursaries to eligible students.

  • Look local: Check out what local organizations or clubs have available. These are often overlooked, which means that there could be very little competition.

  • Focus on Your Strengths: Some scholarships are based on academic achievement, while others consider extracurricular activities, community involvement, or specific talents. Identify your strengths and apply for scholarships that align with them.

There are also private lending options that you can look into. Many financial institutions offer student credit lines. Private lending options will typically be dependent on your financial history and if you have income and an established credit history. Having someone to co-sign on a private loan or line of credit can increase the likelihood of you being approved.

How can I save money on textbooks?

The price tags on textbooks can be a big financial challenge for students, but you do have some options to slash the prices you pay.

Here are some strategies for finding deals on textbooks:

  • Buy used or rent: Check with your campus bookstore for used or rental options. If you can connect with students who are ahead of you in your program, you can both benefit from a deal to buy their used books. Some bookstores may also offer rental services, allowing you to borrow textbooks for the duration of the semester at significant savings!

  • Look into online options to find used books: Platforms that specialize in buying and selling, like Amazon, or Facebook marketplace can help you find more competitive prices.

  • Borrow from the library: Some textbooks may be available for borrowing at your university or college library. Although you won't be able to keep them for the entire semester, it's a great way to access books you may not need for the full semester.

As you embark on your university or college journey in Canada, it's essential to get a handle on your finances early. Understanding how credit works, getting a good handle on your expenses, and understanding how credit work allows you to set yourself up for financial success. By following these financial tips, you can focus on your studies, enjoy your post-secondary school experience, and lay the foundation for a secure financial future.

You can also connect with a KOHO Financial Coach to get personalized advice and support. If you are a KOHO customer, and you are taking advantage of your Credit Building Features or Cover, you have access to chat with a coach. Reach out to our support chat using #coach and let us know what you’d like help with.

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!

Sherry Andrew

Sherry’s love of personal finance began after she lost a long-term career. She began learning all she could about money to help her household. This led to training to become an Accredited Financial Counsellor Canada in 2018. She’s been helping individuals change their financial paths since then.

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