Cutting Costs @ School

It often comes as a huge shock to people who are living away from home for the first time just how much it costs to keep all the balls in the air. Like a juggler, you must not only focus on the ones you're tossing, but on the ones you're catching. When they move away from the predictability of their parent's fully stocked pantry, the convenience of an on-site washer and dryer, and a toilet and shower that remain clean as if by magic, they end up unable to plan or project what they may need. The result is they eat poorly and spend too much money doing it. They're always behind on the laundry. And their bathroom is growing its own forms of vegetation. Yuck!

University can be a wonderful training ground for developing great financial habits. Learning to live on a limited income while balancing your needs is a great skill. And learning how to squeeze value out of ever cent you spend is one that you will be forever grateful that you have.

Start by not assuming anything. While it may seem the easier route to just buy whatever your new school offers, the cost of a meal plan is often inflated. Buy a smaller plan than you think you need and supplement the plan with food you prepare yourself.

Scout out local market for fresh vegis and fruits. Or use a local "Good Food Box" program (contact your students' union and ask about this, most schools have it) for well-priced locally grown produce.

Resist the urge to live on Mr. Noodles or Kraft dinner. While it is cheap and easy, it is so not good for you. You need to eat well to keep yourself healthy. Nor do you have to resort to Dumpster Diving (a recent rage, believe it or not) to eat well. You do have to plan, and put some effort into your meal preparation. But you can eat very well with a little creativity and some friends.

Making "group meals" is one way to cut costs and not have to eat the same food for days on end. Get together with three friends and make a mega-lasagna, a big pot of soup, and some chili. Make a party out of it. Then split all the food four ways, freezing it in meal-sized containers. Ta Da! Add some fresh vegis, fruit, a loaf of bread and you're eating well for cheap cheap.

Just because you're on a budget doesn't mean you can't eat out. Some kinds of restaurants offer terrific value. We're not talking sushi here. Look for ethnic restaurants while value-priced meal options, grab a group of friends and have a great time over a big bowl of Pho Bo soup.

Ethnic food shops often sell many foods, like tofu, much cheaper than larger stores. If you are in a big store, buy the store-brand and save. Check out the reduce shelves for big price reductions. And don't throw food away. Previously cooked vegis can be added to a bowl of noodle soup; stale bread can be buttered with garlic butter and grilled or turned into bread pudding or bread-crumbs for cooking.

If you are new on campus, purchase your textbooks AFTER your first class. If there are textbooks on reserve in the library, you won't need to buy one. Or hunt down a used or discount bookstore or shop online. University bookstores often sell texts at the most expensive price so, again, don't assume anything.

If you are already on campus, ask the professor of your next semester's courses for a book list in advance so you can shop around.

If you have friends who have taken the same course you're planning to take, borrow, rent or buy their textbooks. And if you have friends that are taking the same course you are, but are in opposite semesters, share your texts.

Since textbook publishers like to issue new editions to prompt fresh sales, check with your professor to see if a previous, often cheaper, edition will do the trick. If there are only minor differences, or the addition of a single chapter is all that's really new, then you can always borrow a friend's to make notes. Or check to see if there is an electronic version of your textbook online.

Check sites like for textbooks being sold for less. Ditto And when you're done with your textbooks, if you aren't planning to keep them for reference, sell them to supplement your next year's textbook purchases. If you keep your books in good condition, you'll be able to sell them for more money. Sell your books online at the beginning of the semester when demand is highest, so you can sell your book for more.

If the profession you are joining has an association (i.e., the Canadian Nurses Association), check with them to see if they have a place you can post a request to buy a used textbook you need.

If you can't find something that costs little or no money to do while you're a student, you're demonstrating a distinct lack of imagination, creativity, and tenacity. You're already a failure. There are SO MANY cheap things that you can do, I'm not even going to spend a lot of time on this. Our inability to entertain ourselves as a society speaks directly to our own stupidity and laziness. We'd rather drop hundreds of dollars on paid entertainment than spend some time scouting out the truly interesting and cheap - if not completely free - alternatives. Enough said.

Some final notes:

  • If you're paying for your banking, you're banking at the wrong institution. You're a student. You're poor. Don't pay bank fees.
  • If you're skipping lectures, not handing in assignments, or generally Doing The Dog, then you're a fool. While you should be having fun, getting an education is your first priority. If you're not doing that, you're wasting your money. Go home and get a job.
  • If you get drunk and disorderly, you're wasting your time at school. Go home and get a job.
  • If you can't find time to relax, you're going to burnout in no time flat. Find some extra-curricular activities that will broaden your experience and give your brain some downtime.
  • If you can't make friends without a beer or a joint in your hand, you're a loser. Again, find some extra-curricular activities to get involved with so you can meet people of like minds. Volunteer, and put your time to good use. Join a study group, an athletic group, an artsy-fartsy group. Swap Barley Sandwiches for a Real Life.
  • Don't sign up for anything that offers you something for free. It's a trick. Nothing is free. The cost has been built in somewhere and YOU WILL PAY.

Your post-secondary experience should be fabulous: full of friendships, experiences and learning. If you're taking too long to do it, attempting it with a booze-sodden brain, or doing it all on credit, you're going to PAY… BIG TIME! It's up to you just how much you get out of school. And it's up to you just how big that Loan Albatross is when you graduate.

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