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How to Get Through First Year University Without Adding Debt

Whether you’re fresh from high school or returning to education after starting your career, the first year of university can be daunting. There are courses to choose, books to buy, and other expenditures that can quickly add up to debt if you’re not careful.

Often, it’s first-year students that lack the cost-saving savviness of their sophomore and junior counterparts. It’s important not to go into your university’s bookstore, or move into a dorm, without a solid financial plan backing you up.

As school starts to get busy, finances can become an afterthought. That’s why it’s important to use your summer to plan ahead. July isn’t too early to start thinking about back to school.

Finding ways to save before starting school can benefit you after graduation too. The average graduate of a four-year program in Canada leaves school with $13,000 of student debt from federal and provincial loans. Any way to cut down on this amount could reduce the need for debt relief later on. And it will give you the ability to buy a home or start a family sooner, on your terms.

Here are four money saving tips you can use this summer to avoid needing help with debt during your first year of university.

Tip #1: Take advantage of student discounts. As many as possible!

Once enrolled in university, students have the opportunity to get a bunch of discounts. If your school offers a discounted transit pass, it can be a huge benefit for those commuting to campus every day. A student credit card can provide discounts on clothes, fast food, and more. Enrolling in your school’s gym can be a free-to-cheap way to get a workout in.

A visit to your school’s “perks” council can also be an eye-opening experience, as you find out just how much money your student card can save you.

Tip #2: Buy used books (or older editions, if your professor signs off)

Anyone who’s gone through the exercise of seeing how much their textbooks would cost new knows this is a big source of savings. As a first-year student, it’s important to use your summer to find online networks of current students who are selling last year’s books. Just taking this one step can give you deep discounts before you walk in for the first day.

Also, if you’re keen and want to ask — some professors will be okay with you purchasing old editions of textbooks, which can be found online at even deeper discounts.

Tip #3: Find part-time work that fits your schedule.

Financial writer Jessica Moorhouse has an excellent podcast on how to graduate university without adding debt. One key strategy she points out is finding every opportunity for part-time work and trying to work through the school year as well.

Having that source of income can be a life raft if a financial emergency comes up during the school year. It also helps you pay down debt before graduation.

Tip #4: Eat generic, eat free!

This is technically two tips in one. As part of her “15 Ways to Save Money in College”, Eva Baker from TeensGotCents suggests eating generic brands if you’re grocery shopping for yourself while in school. The savings are small in the macro but add up over time and can keep your food budget in check.

Also good for limiting your food budget: eating free food! University campuses are well-known for pizza lunches, pancake breakfasts and other school spirit activities that come with some free grub. This can take some pressure off your student meal plan and keep you energized for studying.

By planning to use these tips, you can start to build a monthly budget for the school year. Having that budget in place before the assignments, exams, and homework start rolling in is important — you shouldn’t have to deal with extra financial stress while trying to succeed in school.

Do you have other cost-saving tips for first-year university students? Share them on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtags #BackToSchool, #DebtSolutions, and #CollegeBound.

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