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Bills and change on a desk alongside an expense notebook
October 9, 2019
6 mins read

21 money-saving tips and tricks for students

Vancouver is Canada’s most expensive city and the startup costs from tuition and books can leave a gaping hole in your wallet.

While you would be forgiven for being nose-deep in your books, it’s time to take a minute to reflect on how you’re managing your money. Do you have a budget? Or are you spending on the go?

University is expensive and there are endless opportunities to spend your hard-earned income or student loans. By making some small changes today, you can save yourself a lot of money over time.


Making a monthly budget is the first step towards staying on top of your finances. Budgeting gives you a big-picture view of your money, so you can make informed spending and saving decisions. It can help reduce the amount of debt you have once you graduate because, trust me, you don’t want to enter the working world with $30K of debt.

1. Make a budget

Create a spreadsheet and compare your income and expenses for the next year. Are you in the green (income greater than expenses)? Great! Make sure you’re saving money every month.

If you’re in the red (expenses greater than income), you’ll want to think about ways to reduce your spending or increase what you’re making each month.

Visit UBC’s Financial Planning page for useful budgeting resources including a budgeting basics worksheet and a budget planner. There’s also a handy online cost calculator you can check out.

2. Track your spending

Write down every purchase you make or use a budget app like Mint, WallyMvelopes, or Goodbudget. Simply tracking what you spend can help you notice patterns, make you more aware of where your money is going, and help you identify if you need to make a change.

3. Differentiate ‘needs’ vs ‘wants’

While it seems like a simple distinction, you would be surprised at our ability to rationalize certain spending decisions. Saving money by buying only what you need gives you more flexibility in your budget in the long run.

4. Stick to your budget

Making a budget is the easy part. Next, you need to put it into action. But remember: a budget is not a permanently fixed thing. On the contrary, it is meant to be dynamic. So update it when things change.


University is expensive and the bills can add up, especially in September and January, when tuition is due and you need to buy books for class. By making smart choices and putting in some extra work, you can reduce the impact of these big costs on your wallet.

Students studying
5. Look out for free money!

While we all know that money doesn’t grow on trees (#SAD!), there are a surprising number of places to get it for free.

Apply for scholarships, awards, and bursaries. Many scholarships don’t receive very many applications, so it’s worth putting in the effort and going for it.

6. Be smart about how you pay school fees

Avoid paying for your tuition or housing fees with a credit card, as a 1.75% fee is added on to the total. For a tuition payment of $3,000, that’s an extra $30 lost.

Use another payment method such as a bank transfer or cheque. Visit the Paying Tuition page to learn about your payment options.

7. Don’t waste your meal plan dollars

If you’re living in residence and have a meal plan, the best option is to use your basic meal dollars to eat at the on-residence dining halls, where you’ll get a 25% discount on every purchase.

You can also get a 5% discount when you use your flex dollars at UBC Food Services locations.

8. Save money on textbooks

Buy used textbooks from former students on Craigslist, Kijiji, or Facebook groups like UBC Used Textbooks.

The UBC Bookstore even has a rental program available for some books. Also, don’t forget to check Amazon for some great deals.

9. Sell your textbooks

When you’re finished with a textbook, sell it back to the UBC Bookstore or Discount Textbooks, or try to find a new student who needs it.


Besides rent, your biggest monthly expense is most likely food. While eating out all the time is the easiest option, it’s also the costliest. Adopting a do-it-yourself attitude to food consumption is a smart way to both save money and work on your cooking skills.

10. Cook at home

Limiting the number of times you eat out each month can save you huge amounts of money. Cook big meals and put the rest in Tupperware containers. Bring the leftovers with you to school and heat them up to save money on meals.

There are microwaves located all around campus, so really, there’s no excuse. Check out this handy map as a useful starting point for finding the microwave nearest to you.

11. Buy in bulk

Buying in bulk helps you get the most value out of each purchase. Do grocery runs with friends and buy family packs. Separate food into plastic bags and put the extras in the freezer for later.

12. Plan your meals

By planning out your meals for the coming week, you know the exact ingredients you need to buy. Make a shopping list and shop strategically. Only buy what you need. This also helps reduce wasted food at the end of the week.

13. Make your own coffee

If you buy a coffee per day at $3 per cup, that will end up costing you $600 over the school year. I repeat, $600.

Instead, buy coffee beans in bulk and make it yourself. Purchase a travel mug and bring it with you to campus to keep your coffee warm.

14. Coupons, coupons, coupons

Get your hands on as many coupons as you can, and use them to reduce your grocery bill.


In this consumer culture we live in, it’s very tempting to want—in the words of Arcade Fire—everything now. Resisting the temptation to spend frivolously is the best way to save money.

But, of course, you can’t avoid buying certain things. So when you do need to spend, take steps to reduce the cash you’re dishing out.

15. Resist impulse buys

This merits repeating: differentiate between the things you need and the things you want. If you do want to spend money on a ‘want,’ check your budget first and see if you can afford it.

Don’t make purchasing decisions on the spot without thinking about the consequences.

16. Shop at discount stores

The dollar store should always be your first destination when you’re shopping for household goods, school supplies, and more. Thrift stores are great for used clothing and Vancouver’s got a bunch of them.

To start, you can check out the Salvation Army in Kits, F As In Frank on Main Street, Community Thrift and Vintage in Gastown, or the Wildlife Thrift Store on Granville Street.

17. Buy generic products, avoid name brands

This is self-explanatory. Whether it’s food, medicine, toiletries, or household products, choose the cheaper generic option as opposed to the top-of-the-line name brands.

At the grocery store, buy the house brand products. The dollar or two you save adds up over time.

18. Ask about student discounts

While many stores offer discounts to students, these deals are not always advertised. Don’t be afraid to inquire with a store employee. Have your student card ready. Ask and (sometimes) you shall receive.


Extracurricular activities and a social life are necessary for making your university experience enjoyable. The tricky part is figuring out how to have fun without breaking the bank.

19. Choose social activities that don’t cost money

Go hiking, cycling, sightseeing, or take a walk in the park. Activities that take advantage of Vancouver’s proximity to nature are best. Here is a list of 25 free things to do in Vancouver.

20. Take advantage of UBC campus attractions

As a UBC student, you get free access or significant discounts on entry to a number of UBC institutions, including the UBC Aquatic Centrethe ARC and the Birdcoop Fitness Centres, the Museum of Anthropology, the Nitobe Memorial Garden, and the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery.

21. Join a club

University clubs are amazing ways to get involved and meet other students. There are literally thousands of clubs at UBC and they’re constantly putting on social events.

Check out the AMS website for a full list of available clubs.

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help

Often students will avoid reaching out to people who can help them until it’s too late and they’re already in financial trouble. Avoid doing this. If you’re strapped for cash, reach out to those around you for help. Let your family know. Ask your parents or grandparents to send you money or for a loan.

You can also contact your Enrolment Services Advisor for advice on what to do. ES Advisors can help you craft a budget and a solid plan for easing your financial woes.

ESP with student