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Aerial view of a student's desk containing a laptop, receipt, calculator, wallet, and cell phone
June 9, 2023
5 mins read

How to Adult: Money basics

How to Adult

Money can be a confusing and stressful topic.

But it’s never too early to start thinking about organizing your finances. It doesn’t matter how much you have or if you haven’t thought about money until now—you have time to create a solid financial plan that will benefit you throughout your degree and beyond. 

Though there may be a lot of economic uncertainty in the world right now, there are resources at UBC to support you if you’re new to managing your finances. Whether you're reading other Money Sen$e posts on the UBC Life blog, or chatting with your Enrolment Services Advisor, you aren't alone when dealing with your money!

To start you off, I’ve got some handy dos and don'ts:

DO: Set up a bank account 

You should put your money somewhere safe (under the mattress won’t cut it). Having a bank account: 

  • Means you have a secure space to store your money
  • Gives you a debit card to make purchases without cash 
  • Lets you set up automatic payments and direct deposits
  • Gives you the option to transfer money to other people

There are a variety of banks and credit unions in Vancouver, and they all offer fairly similar plans. While you may have a pretty good idea of what a bank is (usually a profit-driven financial institution that accepts deposits and offers other financial resources), a credit union may be less familiar. It was confusing for me when I first moved to Vancouver!

Turns out, a credit union is a non-profit financial cooperative in which individuals pool their money to provide loans and services to other members. Your day-to-day financial dealings likely won’t be that different at either a bank or credit union, so do your own research to see what works best for you.

Some banks and credit unions do have specific student plans, but the best way to figure out which plan is right for you is to talk to a representative at the institution itself. 

Questions to ask when choosing a bank or credit union:

  1. Do I have to pay any monthly fees?
  2. Will I be charged when I perform a transaction (e.g. taking money out of an ATM, using my bank's debit card, transferring money from another account, etc.)?
  3. Do I get a student discount on banking fees?
  4. Is there a branch (a local bank or credit union) in a location convenient to me?
  5. What other benefits does this account give me? Some banks offer perks to hook people in, but it’s a good idea to think about the other aspects listed above first.

Remember, you’ll need ID and proof of address to set up an account!

DON’T: Forget to check your bank account

Yes, there’s a specific kind of dread that comes with looking at your bank account after you “accidentally” stayed up until 2:00 am online shopping. 

But it’s important to check your account regularly! Aim for once a week—it’ll help you know whether or not you’re staying on budget. 

Even though I don’t love looking at my bank account after I make big payments like rent and tuition, monitoring my account regularly helps me feel in control of my finances. 

A student working on their laptop while looking at a receipt as well as their bank account on their cell phone

DO: Think carefully about setting up a credit card

When you use a credit card, you don’t pay immediately (like you would with a debit card). Instead, the charge is deducted from your credit limit. You're essentially paying with borrowed money, which you'll have to pay back by a certain date—or you’ll be charged extra. 

Additionally, you’ll have to monitor your credit limit, because you’ll be charged a fee if you go over it. If you don’t make the minimum payment on your credit card by the date stated, you’ll be (surprise, surprise) charged a fee and your credit score will go down. 

Many banks let you set up automatic payments every month to ensure you never miss a payment—just make sure you have enough money!

Setting up a credit card with your bank isn’t always necessary, so it depends on your needs. Nowadays, having a debit card (the card you get with your normal bank account) will allow you to make the majority of your everyday purchases. 

However, you may need a credit card for some online purchases, and you can use a credit card to pay back larger purchases incrementally, though you should be very careful about making purchases you don’t actually have the funds for!

Real life isn’t like the Sims; you can’t rosebud rosebud rosebud motherlode your way out of financial scrapes. 

If you're an international student

Getting set up with a credit card may be a bit trickier for international students, and you may be stuck with a lower credit limit (potentially $250 a month versus around $1000 for domestic students). 

I kept my Canadian credit card when I lived abroad and got set up with a local debit card. This allowed me to still make big purchases, like flights, on my credit card, while using the local debit card and account for day-to-day purchases. Everyone’s situation is different, though, so talk to the bank you choose about your options!

DON’T: Sign up for extra credit cards

Banks and other organizations love to sign you up for credit cards. More credit cards. All the credit cards. Reps lure you in with gleaming smiles and promise you miraculous benefits, like untold sums in cash back bonuses and luminous skin. 

This may sound nice, but applying for extra credit cards can lower your credit score and is usually an unnecessary complication for students. Keep your finances as simple as possible!

DO: Use e-transfers to send money 

E-transfers are the best way to digitally send money to people in Canada (Venmo? More like Ven-no—we don’t have that here if you’re wondering). 

All you need for an e-transfer is the recipient’s name and email address, and you can send them any amount of money from your online bank account in a password-protected transfer. 

DON’T: Rack up charges at ATMs

If you try to take out money at an ATM that isn’t operated by your bank, you’ll probably be charged a fee of around $3. How is it legal to charge money for taking out money? I DON’T KNOW.  

Avoid these fees by taking out some cash from your bank when you can. You don’t need to carry a ton of cash on you, but it’s good to have some if you ever end up somewhere that doesn’t accept cards.

Vancouver is already an expensive city—no need to make it even more so!

Student at an ATM in The Nest

DO: Take advantage of tools that can help you manage your money

There’s a lot of helpful tools, like apps and websites, that can make it easier to keep track of your finances. For example, you can download your bank’s app to do your banking from your phone!

Here are 3 other tools:

  • First-Year Cost Calculator: This tool helps you figure out how much your time at UBC will potentially cost and allows you to organize how you’re paying for your tuition and living expenses.
  • Mint: This app connects to your bank accounts and shows you how much you have, what you owe, and how that fits into a budget you can set for yourself.
  • Splitwise: Perfect for roommates, Splitwise allows you to keep track of how much money you owe your friend (and how much they owe you).

For more resources (especially if you like a good ol’ spreadsheet), check out the Financial Planning page on the Student Services website.

DON’T: Feel like you have to keep your money concerns to yourself

It can feel impolite to talk about money, but if you’re feeling stressed about managing your finances, you don’t have to keep it to yourself.

Ask your friends and family for tips on how they manage their money, and finally...

DO: Speak with an Enrolment Services Advisor 

ES Advisors are here to help you plan your finances while you’re at UBC. They can help you budget and point you in the right direction if you’re feeling uncertain about your money. They also offer free financial wellness workshops!

You can find your personal Advisor’s contact information by logging into the Student Service Centre (SSC) and selecting UBC Contacts under Personal Info. 

Money matters can be tricky to navigate sometimes, but there are resources to help out when you have questions!