We all join university expecting to master ‘adulting’ but what hits the hardest is managing personal finances, isn’t it? I remember being a carefree 17-year-old exploring elective classes in first year. Disclaimer, I am not referring to those Starbucks latte and avocado toast memes here. Living away from family as a first-year student does mean keeping a good check on spending habits! Fast forward 5 years – I’m trying to wrap my head around student-loan repayments, TFSA investments and graduate school applications! My quest to be a fiscally responsible young adult has been quite a journey. Here are a few things I wish I knew when I was getting started!
Buying Household Items
As a freshman at UBC, you might think you need all the appliances and household items that you were using at home. However, take a moment to think how frequently you use those devices. I spent $500 on a printer and mini-fridge the day I moved into my first-year dorm, my biggest regret. Printing at UBC (through payforprint.ubc.ca) is extremely convenient and printers are everywhere, including in residences!
Do you need an iron, 5 non-stick pans, a portable AC and a mini-fridge? Discuss with your room/housemates and figure out ‘what do I need?’ BEFORE you hit up Ikea and Walmart.
Unsurprisingly, the printer and mini-fridge simply cramped up my (already tiny) first-year dorm room. Students are often moving residences or leaving for co-op work terms, therefore, also check UBC Buy and Sell Facebook groups for cheap secondhand items.
Splitwise and Interac – a power couple!
Living with roommates and brunching on Sundays is a lot more fun when you don’t have to bother the waitstaff or cashiers with complicated bills. Splitwise, my favorite app, is a budgeting godsend to plan Whistler vacations with your friends and splitting groceries. Add expenses to Splitwise and the software automatically calculates how much money you owe each other. Then, you can use your bank’s Interac feature to send / receive direct deposits. The app also lets you save receipts and provides a breakdown of your spending histories! You can add all your friends as favorite contacts on Splitwise and Interac – to settle transactions instantly without having to do the math!
Automatic Debit Payments (Auto Debits)
Netflix, Spotify, Chegg, Prime Video, Amazon Prime… Don’t we all love these subscription services auto-debited to our credit cards? Getting too comfortable with these auto-debits can wreak havoc on your budgets in the long term. Free trials are a great way to save money, but we are all guilty of forgetting to unsubscribe to some obscure service before the trial ends. I kept paying for a subscription for 13 months – because I thought I had cancelled it long ago! If you are bad at remembering passwords and keeping track of these dozen sign-ups, please check your credit card statements often.
If the Covid-19 pandemic has taught me anything, it is the power of travel insurance. The AMS/GSS Health & Dental Plan, provided by Pacific Blue Cross, covers both extended and emergency travel insurance for students participating in international travel. Having Apple Care on your $2000 Macbook can also be a blessing when you accidentally spill coffee on it while doing some late-night webwork.
Phone and Broadband Deals
Calling your network provider and ‘nicely’ telling them that you are looking to take your business to a competitor often nudges the customer service representative to cut you a deal! I got a free 2 GB / month data top up for my plan just because I called them up!
Budgeting and Rainy Days
Create a realistic student budget and stick to it. Your future self will definitely thank you for it! Save a portion of your allowance or part-time job income in a High Interest Savings account as an emergency fund. Depositing into your TFSA (Tax Free Savings Account) to manage inflation concerns is another good habit. The TFSA has a $6000/year limit and investments are subject to market risks, so please choose wisely! To get started with budgeting templates and managing your money, check out this blog.
As an international student, I travelled frequently and I wish I raked up those travel points. Getting a good credit card and using it smartly has awesome perks and helps you build a credit history! While growing up, I only heard about the negative connotations of borrowing money. It was only recently that I researched the importance of a good credit history in Canada.
A credit score is the number between 300-900 that provides an overall view of an individual’s likelihood of repaying a loan based on past financial history and determines your creditworthiness. Credit scores are calculated by two Canadian credit bureaus: Equifax and TransUnion.
Making a single late payment in college can come back to haunt you later when you apply for a loan for a new car or try to buy a home. Set up an auto-debit on your credit card and always pay it off on time! Keeping debt balances low and using different types of credit can also help contribute to a solid credit score.
We all wish this was taught in high school, but fret not, the UBC Tax Clinic is here to help! International students also have to file tax returns and are eligible for GST/ HST rebates! The tax forms are available on SSC and Workday and UBC Tax Clinic volunteers can help you out. You can check their tutorials and learn more about their events on this website.
Using student loan funds to buy non-essentials is a bad idea! It might be tempting to withdraw some money for that reading break Mexico vacation, but it could dig you into a financial hole that is hard to get out of — even after graduation.
Co-op and Part-time Jobs
Working during the school year will help you to cover your living and other expenses. Co-op and Work Learn programs don’t just help your bank account; they’re a great addition to your resume. UBC’s Centre for Student Involvement and Careers has some great resources to get you started with those job applications.
University is exhausting, your friends don’t have to be! An article published by The Guardian shows that young adults tend to spend more money because of peer pressure. Learn how to say no to your friends when it comes to too-expensive and impractical activities.
Living with roommates and midterms can be stressful, but budgeting doesn’t have to be! Your future self will thank you for the good personal finance habits inculcated during university. Your Enrollment Services Advisor can also help direct you to the abundant resources UBC has to offer!
Guardian News and Media. (2006, December 13). Peer pressure forces young adults to spend, says report. The Guardian. Retrieved November 24, 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/money/2006/dec/13/retail.business.