Budgeting & Planning

Two students studying

Taking steps towards your financial freedom often starts with building a budget and making a plan on how to save money and spend appropriately. With these tips and tricks you can tackle these common expenses with savings in mind.

Before making any financial decision, please consult a financial advisor to ensure it is recommended for your individual circumstance.

Getting Started: Budgeting 101

Creating a budget is the first step, but following it is the most important part. Here are a few tips to get on track to financial success:

  1. Track your spending: For at least a week, keep track of what you've purchased to see how you currently spend your money. If you have no idea where your money goes, it becomes very difficult to create a budget and properly allocate your money. This will also help you identify some of the areas where you can potentially reduce your spending. For example, limiting the amount of times you eat out during the week.
  2. Create your budget: Now that you have an idea of where your money is going, you can build your budget. Developing a budget from scratch can seem like an overwhelming task, so we have developed a budget template for you to work from. Even if you want to design or customize your own budget, this template is a great place to start!
  3. Review your budget: It's important to reflect back on your budget each month to make changes if needed. Don't worry if you're significantly over or under in certain categories at first because you are not sure how much you usually spend in these areas - this is common and you'll get the hang of it over time.
  4. Save first: Setting up an automatic transaction with your banking institution so a certain amount immediately goes into a savings account on days when you get paid is a great way to save without having to think about it. It is much easier to save in the beginning, than trying to put money into savings at the end of the month when you have already over-spent.
  5. Set SMART goals: Ensure your goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. For more information on setting SMART financial goals check out this website.
  6. Visualize your goals: Keep in mind the goals that you are striving for to help you remain motivated. Try creating a financial vision board to help you stay on track. Or, visually measure how close you are to reaching that goal. Consider placing money in a jar, as witnessing ongoing progress can keep you excited and striving towards success.
  7. Adopt a spending mantra: Use this as a guide for how you spend, such as “will this item bring me happiness”, or “I will wait 24 hours before making any purchases over [fill in dollar value here]”. 
  8. Manage your entertainment: Budgeting isn't about restricting yourself entirely, as this makes it much more challenging to stick to your budget in the long-term. It is important to have a balance. Plan ahead an appropriate amount of money for entertainment that fits within your budget. You can also try brainstorming some activities that cost less, like going for a hike in a new area.
  9. Review your subscriptions: Monthly memberships / subscriptions can easily eat away at your budget without you even realizing it. Be sure to eliminate anything you no longer use. These include gym memberships, Spotify, Netflix, magazines, apple music, and subscription boxes.
  10. Check for student discounts: Oftentimes companies will offer student discounts on things such as your internet, cable, and cell phone bills. These costs may seem small but they can add up quickly over time. 
Managing Munchies on a Budget

While eating balanced, nutritious, enjoyable meals is important, it doesn’t have to break the bank! Check out our tips for managing the munchies on a budget:

  1. Make your lunch: Try to limit the amount you eat out instead of bringing your own food. If you’ve typically been eating out every single day, try reducing that by one day each week until you are only eating out once in a while. 
  2. Utilize the Campus Food Bank: They offer virtual cooking classes where you can learn how to make meals that taste great but are easy on the wallet, or take part in their hamper program
  3. Find savings on FlashFood: This app helps you find discounts on fresh food items like meat and produce that are nearing their best before date at grocery stores across Canada. 
  4. Get inspired by cookbooks: The U of A Libraries have a huge variety of cookbooks you can borrow for free. Check out some of the best cookbooks for beginners here
  5. Spruce up the basics: Let’s be honest - ramen is a student staple! Level up your instant ramen game with this Perfect Instant Ramen recipe
  6. Share the love: Connect with some classmates for a bring-your-own-lunch style meal. This encourages eating cheaply while preserving the ‘going out to eat’ community aspect of food enjoyment.
Saving on Study Materials

One of the most common items students over-pay for is their textbooks and study materials. Here a few tips on how to save money on your studies:

  1. Before buying textbooks, talk with your professor: Check to see if the textbooks are actually required for the class. They may even be able to recommend a more affordable, supplementary option. 
  2. Check for used books: Browse the UAlberta Textbook Exchange Facebook group to see if any of your required textbooks are being sold by another student. Especially if you are taking an introductory course, you should be able to find the same book for a much cheaper rate than at the bookstore. You can also check out the University of Alberta Students' Union Used Book Registry to see if someone is selling a book you need.
  3. Find your novels online: If you're in a language class, check if your required novels are available for a more affordable price at Chapters, Indigo, or Amazon. There may even be a digital version online you can purchase for cheaper.
  4. Trade your textbooks: If you can find a student who has a book you need and you have a book they need, swap your books for free.
  5. Visit the campus libraries: The books you need may be available at one of the campus libraries for you to borrow for free!
  6. Consider selling your own books: If you have any textbooks from the past semester you don't think you'll need anymore, sell them. You can use the money from the sales to purchase your books for the upcoming semester.
Saving on Gifts & Gatherings

Gift giving shouldn't be about how much money you spend, but sharing moments with the ones you love. Holidays, such as Christmas, can be an extremely expensive time of year. With these tips and tricks we hope you can feel good about the gifts you give while staying on track with your budget:

  1. Determine your budget: Once you know how much you're allowed to spend, we recommend you put that money onto a visa gift card or into a separate bank account. Once the money runs out, you'll know you have spent all you can on holiday items!
  2. Give personalized gifts: Think about gifts you can make instead of purchasing. For example, put together a family photo album for your parents or bake treats for your friends.
  3. Gift your time: Have a movie night at home, go for coffee, or go for a walk in a part of the city you’ve never explored before. Even better, try giving back your time by volunteering in the community.
  4. Instead of purchasing a card, try making your own: You could write a poem or a love note instead of traditional greetings.
  5. Create a gift budget: Many people try to purchase gifts that have a similar dollar value to the gift they will be receiving from that person, but you don't need to take on debt to match the gift you might receive. It's okay to be in different places in your financial journey. If this makes you uncomfortable, talk to that person ahead of time and set a maximum price on gifts that you can both afford.
  6. Make a plan: Write down who you need to buy for and allocate a dollar amount to each person. This will allow you to keep your spending on track while you're out gift shopping.
  7. Work together as a group: If your group of friends usually buys gifts for each other, why not do a group gift exchange, a potluck, or just an affordable group activity instead? You can also ask your guests to bring their own drinks if you are hosting a party.
  8. Start your gathering after dinner: If your party starts later, people will have already had dinner and you will only need to put a few snacks out.
  9. Shop generic and discount: If you're hosting a get-together, go for no name brand chips and crackers - no one can tell the difference! Check your local flyer to see what's on sale and use coupons.