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How to Save Money in College

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Last updated on June 3, 2021

College can simultaneously be some of the best and most stressful years of our lives. For most of us, this is when we really learn about being responsible; especially when it comes to money and finances. The weight of having to pay for tuition, textbooks, and rent, while also balancing a social life, can be pretty daunting. But I assure you that it’s not as scary as it seems, and my own college years helped me amass plenty of tips and tricks to help see you through without going completely broke and crazy.

1. Sign Up for Student Banking

There are plenty of options for student accounts with Canadian banks and the advantage of these accounts is that there are usually no fees and a high (or even unlimited) number of transactions allotted. Some banks also offer special student credit cards, which generate cash back or rewards and can help you build your credit score. All you typically need in order to apply for student banking and financial products is proof of school enrolment. Here are a few student financial products we recommend:

Financial ProductRewardsBonusApply for Card
Scotiabank Preferred PackageScotiabank Chequing offers points for SCENE or Scotia RewardsUp to $300 cash. Promotion Expires January 28, 2021 Apply Now
Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card0.5% cash back on all purchases2% cash back on 2-3 purchase categories of cardholder's choiceApply Now
Tangerine Chequing AccountNo rewards, but no fees to pay and unlimited daily transactionsApply Now
Scotiabank Scene Visa Card1 Scene pt per $12500 SCENE points = 5 free moviesApply Now

2. Increase Your Income

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Perhaps the most obvious way to help save money in college is to make money in college, though that’s often easier said than done. Busy class schedules and a seemingly endless amount of readings and assignments make it difficult to find the perfect job/school balance, but you can make it work.

The first thing to realize is that you probably will not be able to balance a full-time job while studying, so don’t even go there. Consider your schedule + the average amount of school work you have each week, and figure out how much time you can really manage at a job. It may only be 10 hours a week, but that’s ok; it’s still 10 hours of pay.

Once you figure out how many hours you can actually commit, it’s time to find a position that fits. There are tons of part-time jobs available to students, from working at coffee shops and restaurants to working retail or office spaces. Some jobs might even help pay your tuition. Home Depot has a program for students where they cover a portion of tuition fees if you can prove that your studies somehow apply to Home Depot’s business. To qualify, you must have worked at Home Depot for at least 1 year.

One of the best places for students to look for work is on the college or university campus itself. Try the bookstore, the cafeteria, or even the campus bar. The benefit about working on campus is that you don’t have a big commute to/from work or class (or your dorm if you are living on campus) and your employer will likely get the whole ‘student life’ situation and understand the insanity of class and exam schedules.

You can also consider doing online work from the comfort of your own home on your own time. Are you skilled in coding, social media, design, video editing, or writing? There are a number of sites which advertise for these types of jobs including Upwork, Craigslist, and Indeed, but don’t be afraid to reach out to brands directly either. Maybe your favourite blogger or a local business is looking for someone to help with social media scheduling. This type of work is pretty easy and low stress, making it perfect for college and university students.

If you like the idea of working remotely and you have about 15-20 free hours a week, another great option is to teach English online. These types of jobs usually run on a contract, for example, 6 months, but the pay tends to be well above the minimum wage. Of course, in this line of work you will likely have a set schedule, and not as would flexibility as you would in, say, bartending. But the customers/students are often in Asia, meaning your schedule tends to be either early morning or evening hours, which can work well with class schedules.

3. Cut Expenses Where You Can

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One of my top tips on how to save in college is to buy used or secondhand textbooks and sell them as soon as you are done with them. Textbooks are ridiculously expensive and are constantly being updated, so don’t bother hanging on to them when you are done. Most universities have secondhand bookstores but you can usually find them cheaper for sale online in student forums or on Kijiji. Of course, these books get snapped up quickly, so don’t put off buying them until the last minute. If you can’t find the newest edition, it may still be worth it to pick up an old edition. University and college libraries should have the most recent versions available, so you can just photocopy whatever you are missing in your old version.

Another simple way to save money is to stay at home rather than move into a dorm or rental home/apartment. Granted, this is not always an option for everyone (especially if you are studying in a different city than where your family lives) but if it is an option, you really should consider it. While living at home with mom and dad for an extra few years may not be ideal for partying, it will save you thousands of dollars, which could be the difference between needing a loan or not.

Speaking of partying and having a social life; your student ID card is your best friend, so take it with you everywhere. From restaurants to clothing shops to activities and tickets, there are tons of spots that have discounts for students as long as you have a valid student ID. It may only save you a couple of dollars per purchase, but that adds up over time.

Another key area to pay attention to is food spending. Meal planning and cooking can be difficult in university given tight student schedules and possible lack of access to facilities. But don’t fall into the trap of eating out all the time, as that’s sure to dig a hole in your wallet. Pack your own lunches for class; sandwiches are always easy or you can even bring a hot meal as most campuses have microwaves somewhere on site. Another great idea to help prevent unnecessary food expenditures is to always have some snacks handy—packing dried fruit, granola bars, trail mix, etc. at home can prevent you from cannibalizing your budget with constant snack purchases between classes.

After you implement some of the above saving strategies, try out some of the free money-saving apps that are now on the market. They can be used to find coupons and identify local sales. Free budgeting apps are also available to help you track how much money you are spending and on what.

4. Make Your Money Make You Money

While some of the best ways to save money include limiting your spending, you’ll still have regular costs like food, gas, books, and maybe the occasional splurge on a closet update. Still, there are ways you can get your money to work for you, even when you’re spending it.

Download some rewards or cash back apps to make the most out of every dollar spent. Ampli is a great option for students as there are no fees and you’ll be able to save up to 10% of your purchase. For example, if you’re buying books for school online from Indigo, you can earn 2% cash back on your purchase. Is it your turn to order pizza for your late-night group study session? Spend 50$ at Boston Pizza, and you’ll automatically get $10 back from Ampli. It may not seem like a lot, but it adds up quickly when you use the app for all your purchases. You can also use store points to save money and take advantage of store sales while still earning cash back.

When you’ve earned at least $15, you can cash out and have the money transferred directly to your bank account, so you can use the extra money anywhere you’d like.

5. Go for Grants and Scholarships

Finally, don’t forget about grants and scholarships. Sure, these will require a bit more work and time invested on your part, but the payout is definitely worth it. Universities and colleges both offer scholarships based on grades, but there are plenty of other scholarships available to Canadians that focus on location and field of study. In 2018, it was estimated that millions of these scholarships went unclaimed, so it’s definitely worth your time to look into this option and apply to as many as possible. A great place to search for these scholarships is the Scholarships Canada website.

Grants are another option typically reserved for low and middle-income students, students with dependents, or students with disabilities. More information about grants for Canadian students can be found here.

Being a student is stressful enough, so don’t let financial worries bring you down. Utilizing these ideas on how to save money in college will take away some of your financial anxieties, allowing you to focus on what’s important: learning as much as you can, preparing for a bright professional future, and enjoying your experience overall.


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Author Bio

Hannah Logan
Hannah Logan is a freelance finance and travel writer/blogger based in Ottawa. Her stories have appeared on Fodor’s Travel, Livestrong, World Nomads, Intrepid Travel, and more. You can keep up with her at or follow her on Twitter and Instagram: hannahlogan21.

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