Budgeting and financial planning as a student

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Perhaps, the most challenging aspect of student life is finance and budgeting.

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This applies to both local and international students, especially with multiple external economic influences such as inflation; many students struggle to manage their finances. While this problem might affect younger, less experienced students in their first year, many older students also struggle to maintain both a healthy bank balance and effective study life. More specifically, some of the most common problems include the following:

  • Running out of funds to pay for essentials such as lotion, soap, etc. 
  • Transport issues, e.g., lack of funds to purchase bus passes.
  • Trouble acquiring textbooks for one’s courses.
  • Not holding enough food inventory and, thus, having no food to consume after cafeteria hours.
  • Having a negative bank balance due to excessive borrowing.

Presented below are several solutions to alleviate some of the problems faced by students.

Tip #1: Making a base budget for the Month

Creating a budget is a vital yet underused technique to manage one’s finances. In essence, a budget acts as a guide to direct your spending habits. When one has a clearly defined budget, it becomes much easier to be more responsible with spending, building better long-term spending habits. One of the easiest ways of creating a budget involves creating a list of one’s total expenses (money outflow from paying for various costs such as food etc.) versus their total income (money received through work, sponsorships, etc.).

Wolfgang Düchtel/The Baron

This can be done either in a program like Excel or by hand, although the former is more effective. Once such a list has been created, identifying spending habits becomes an instant process. The next step involves regulating total expenses. This involves reducing expenses to a reasonable expense threshold. One of the most effective ways to create this “expense threshold” is by finding out the total expenses of other students in a similar situation.

If you notice that the amount you spend far exceeds the average amount spent by your peers, you might be overspending. Thereafter, you can regulate the threshold based on certain specifics. For instance, if you notice that many of your peers have a low shopping expense due to buying cheaper packaged foods instead of healthier alternatives, it is acceptable to increase the threshold to reflect this detail. In short, the key to effective budgeting is to ensure that your expenses are within a reasonable threshold of what a student would spend while allowing for a healthy lifestyle.

Tip #2: Categorising Items

Once a clear list of income sources and expenses has been established along with a threshold, the next step involves categorizing items. Items should be categorized based on their functional role, e.g., “groceries, necessities, entertainment, and miscellaneous.” Thereafter, the key is to allocate an inventory restock date to the most critical items, e.g., soap and toiletries. It is essential to set a clearly defined date to restock these items to prevent a shortage that will cause the student to have to borrow from a friend.

Wolfgang Düchtel/The Baron

Tip #3: Identifying Student Discounts

Once you have tabulated a budget, search for ways to reduce the expenses. Perhaps one of the most basic ways this can be accomplished is by identifying student discounts. Identify student discounts for as many categories as possible. For example, grocery stores such as Sobeys offer student discounts on certain days of the week. In addition, certain banks offer “student accounts” with multiple benefits, such as zero monthly fees and dedicated mobile apps to alleviate the process of financial planning for students. An example of such an account is the “RBC Advantage Banking for Students” premier bank account.

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Tip #4: Go for Specials

In a similar fashion, expenses can be reduced by purchasing specials when given the opportunity to do so. In this case, the term “specials” refers to items that are on discount.

Tip #5: Accurate Record Keeping

It does not suffice to simply create a budget with a threshold. Instead, it is important to regularly keep track of expenses on a weekly, if not daily, basis. When done in conjunction with the budget, this will allow you to clearly identify spending patterns that were previously invisible. For example, the presence of specials on certain days of the week might reduce your expenses by several dollars on those days. When you notice that your spending is slightly lower due to such discrepancies, the leftover money you intended to spend can be added to a savings account.

Tip #6: Savings and Contingencies

From the previous point, minor discrepancies from the unused budget can be added to a savings account or used as contingency money. It is vital for all students to build up a source of contingency funds. The term contingency fund refers to a set amount of money to be used in the event of an unintended need for cash outflow. For example, a first-year international student might go on a grocery run. After the grocery run, they might be unaware of the Saint John Transit closing time and thus miss the bus. They would be left with no money in their bank account and no transport back home. This scenario outlines the importance of always having a source of emergency funds.

Tip #7: The Student Resource Centre

If students run out of supplies, they can visit the Resource Centre in Room 216 of the Condon Student Centre. This room allows students to acquire free essential products such as food items and second-hand textbooks.

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Tip #8: Acquiring Textbooks

One of the many benefits of being a student is access to a wide range of local and international books. This is perhaps one of the most overlooked benefits of student life. In many cases, it is possible to acquire course textbooks for no cost by simplifying borrowing them through the UNB library facility. Even if the book is not physically available at the UNB libraries, acquiring them from another institution’s library is also possible. In addition, it is often possible to purchase online editions of class textbooks at a lower price.

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Tip #9: On-Campus Job Opportunities

Applying for on-campus jobs is an effective way to earn extra income while getting involved with the UNB community. Campus employment provides the opportunity to add to one’s resume while gaining valuable leadership experience.

Wolfgang Düchtel/The Baron
Mutale Mubanga is a 4th year BBA Digital Business student. In addition, he is minoring in French Communication. Coming from Zambian, he enjoys meeting people of different nationalities and cultures. Also, he strongly believes in the concept of growth mindset; that it is possible for anyone to learn anything given enough time and practice. His favourite place to study is the Commons, because of its serene and calm feel. When not studying, you will find him drinking water to remain hydrated.