Budgeting for student life

From Financial Consumer Agency of Canada

Costs to include in your budget

A budget is a plan that helps you manage your money. It will help you figure out how much money you’ll get and spend during your studies.

Include all the costs of student life when making your budget.

Tuition fees

Tuition fees for 2016-17 

On average, undergraduate students at Canadian universities paid $6,373 in tuition for the 2016 to 2017 academic year.

Tuition fees are what you pay your university of college to enroll in your program and attend classes.

Tuition fees may vary depending on:

  • the program you study
  • the school you attend
  • the province or territory of your school
  • your residency status or citizenship
  • the number of classes you take
  • the type of classes you take
  • whether you’re a part-time or full-time student

Check your school’s website for details about the tuition fees you’ll pay.

Student fees

Student fees for 2016-17 

On average, undergraduate students at Canadian universities paid $873 in mandatory student fees for the 2016 to 2017 academic year.

You’ll need to pay other types of student fees such as student union fees and administration fees. The exact fees will depend on your school.

Health insurance

Private health insurance coverage is usually included in student fees. This insurance covers medical or dental costs not covered by your provincial or territorial health insurance.

If you have private health insurance coverage with your job or family, you may be able to opt out of your school’s coverage. Check with your school to see if you are eligible. Most schools require you to opt out during the first few weeks of the school year. You may have to provide proof that you have private health insurance coverage from another source.

Books and other course materials

The cost of books and other course materials depends on your program and school. Approximately, $800 to $1,000 per year is a reasonable estimate for undergraduate students. Check with your school or with someone already enrolled in your program for a more accurate estimate.

To reduce the costs of books and other course materials consider doing the following:

  • buying used books
  • buying textbooks from online retailers that may offer items at a lower price than the campus bookstore
  • getting the electronic version of course materials such as textbooks and articles
  • sharing textbooks with roommates or classmates, if practical
  • checking your school library to see if any of the course material is available to borrow
  • selling your used textbooks
  • using an older edition of the textbook if possible

Living expenses

How much you spend on living expenses will have a big impact on your financial situation when you finish your studies.

Living on campus

If you plan to live on campus, check student residence and meal plan costs on your university or college website. Consider living in a shared residence room because shared rooms often cost less than single rooms.

Living off campus

You may choose to live off campus rather than in residence. This could mean living with roommates, living on your own or living with your family. Choosing to live with your family while you study could cut your living expenses by thousands of dollars a year.

Some school websites provide estimated costs for living off campus. The cost of living off campus will depend on where you study. For example, rent in a small town in Nova Scotia may be much less than in downtown Toronto.

Remember to consider the cost of heat, electricity, Internet and tenant’s insurance. Living with roommates is a way to reduce all these costs.

Cost of food while living off campus

Make sure you include the cost of meals in your budget. Some grocery stores offer student deals on certain days of the week. Ask about student discounts whenever you shop.

Many schools also offer meal plans for students living off campus. Contact your school for more information on these plans.

Transportation

If you need to use public transit to get to school, check the price of a public transit pass. Some schools provide students with transit passes as part of tuition fees.

If you have a car, check your school website to see how much you’ll have to pay for parking. Also, consider the cost of gas for getting to and from school each day. You may find that taking public transit is much cheaper than driving to school every day.

If you live away from home, make sure to include the cost of going home for a visit or summer vacation. Most airlines, bus companies and passenger trains offer discounts to students.

Many of these discounts are available with the International Student Identity Card.

Entertainment costs

Entertainment, clothing and cell phone costs are examples of other expenses you’ll need to consider. To reduce these costs, look for ways to save by focusing on what you need instead of what you want.

You may be able to save money on these costs by using student discount cards.

Consider rising costs

Rise in tuition fees 

The average tuition fee for an undergraduate program at a Canadian university was 2.8% higher for the 2016 to 2017 academic year compared with the previous year.

Your tuition and living costs may rise each year that you’re a student.

The cost of your books and living expenses may increase due to inflation. Inflation is the rising cost of consumer goods and services. In recent years, the average rate of inflation in Canada has been 2% per year.

Remember to include these increases in costs when making a budget for student life. You may want to consider making a new budget for each year that you’re a student.

Sources of income

When making your budget for student life, consider where your money will come from. Your income may come from personal savings or from working while going to school.

Learn about working to help pay for your education.

To add to your income also need consider:

Student credit cards

University and college campuses are popular advertising spots for credit card companies. The average annual interest rate for student credit cards in Canada is 18.11%.

Be cautious: credit cards are a very expensive way to borrow money if you don’t pay off the balance in full each month.

Use the Credit Card Selector Tool to find out which credit card is best for you.

Tax deductions and tax credits for students

There are many tax deductions and tax credits available for students. What you’re eligible for depends on if you’re a part-time or full-time student. Make sure to file your return on time each year to avoid penalties.

A tax deduction reduces your taxable income for the year. For example, as a student you may be eligible for tax deductions for moving expenses and child care expenses, as well as other tax deductions.

A non-refundable tax credit reduces the amount of tax you owe. You may be eligible for non-refundable tax credits for costs that include:

  • tuition fees
  • books
  • public transit
  • interest paid on your student loans

Taking advantage of these tax credits and deductions will have a big impact your annual tax return.

Learn how to claim the tax deductions and tax credits available for students.

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