How to budget

What does budgeting mean?

Think about the last $500 that you spent. Where did it go? Did it stretch as far as you thought it would? Budgeting means reflecting on your spending habits. It can help you learn how to balance your budget and manage your spending.

Put simply, a budget is a list of your total income compared to your total expenses over a fixed period of time, such as a school term, a month, or a year.

Reasons to budget

The little things can make a difference. For example, if you buy a regular latte each day from Monday to Friday, you'll spend more than $1,000 over the school year. Budgeting allows you to recognize the small ways you may be spending much more than you realize.

Plan your finances by checking your undergraduate tuition fees and using the cost calculator, which is based on a first-year student course load.

How to budget

Deciding that you want to budget is the first step you can take towards managing your finances. Follow the some steps below to get you started on your budgeting journey. You can also download the Spending Plan Template (Excel) to track your budget.

Step 1. Determine your income

First, calculate your total income. When creating your own budget, include all sources of income. Be as accurate as you can, such as deducting taxes from your payroll figures.

Consider both repayable and non-repayable sources of income. Repayable sources of income are those you’ll have to pay back, while non-repayable sources of income do not need to be repaid.

Type of income Examples
Repayable income
  • Student loans
  • Line of credit or bank loan
  • Money borrowed from family or friends
Non-repayable income
  • Job earnings and tax refunds
  • Family contributions and savings
  • Grants, bursaries, and awards

Step 2. List all your fixed expenses

Fixed expenses are those that you expect on a regular schedule, such as:

  • Rent payments
  • Tuition and student fees
  • Utilities and bills (e.g., Internet, phone)
  • Gym or other membership fees

Step 3. List all your variable expenses

Variable expenses are all the other things you buy. They are the expenses that do not happen regularly. These expenses can be essential, but they still may change month to month.

Variable expenses can include:

  • Groceries and snacks
  • Entertainment
  • Travelling
  • Clothes, shopping, and personal care

Step 4. Compare your income and expenses

If you have more income than expenses, congratulations! Your budget is balanced and you can consider putting some of your extra money into savings.

If your income and your expenses are the same, consider some ways to give yourself a little breathing room. You can do this by either lowering your expenses, increasing your income, or both.

If your income is less than your expenses, it is time to re-balance your budget. That means increasing your income or decreasing your expenses. There are many resources you can access for help—reach out or attend a financial wellness workshop and make a plan for your finances.

Step 5. Balance your budget

Whenever possible, your expenses should not exceed your income. There are 2 ways to balance your budget:

  • Increase your income by applying for a student loan, working part-time, starting a side gig based on your skillset, or applying for awards.
  • Decrease your expenses by cutting out unnecessary spending, purchasing used and discount items, or consolidating loans while paying off higher interest amounts first.

Another way to balance your budget is to make a firm spending plan for the month, then compare your expenses at the end of the month with your plan. Were you exactly right with your numbers? Did you underestimate or overestimate in some areas? You can learn from your current situation and make a more accurate budget for the next month. That way, you are thinking about your expenses, but also identifying exactly what your costs are rather than guessing each month.

Even small changes can have a big impact, especially over time. Balancing your budget allows you to plan for emergencies and any unexpected fees or expenses.

Plan for success

Beyond the considerations above, there are additional ways you can take moves towards financial success:

  • Set 3 goals for balancing your budget and including specific actions to achieve those goals.
  • Create your own personal budget and keep track of your numbers for a month. Estimate how much you will have left in your savings at the end of the month, then compare those numbers with your bank account. Repeat the process for the next month.
  • Review your monthly budget and identify your top 3 spending weaknesses.
  • Give yourself a specific amount of cash for the next 2 weeks to spend on variable expenses and stick to that amount.

Additional resources

If you have questions

If you're an undergraduate student, please contact your Enrolment Services Advisor directly. To find your advisor’s contact information, log into your Student Service Centre (SSC) and select “UBC Contacts” under Personal Info.

Graduate, postgraduate, and all other students can contact an Enrolment Services Advisor by calling 604 822 9836 or submitting a question through the online form.