When you start university, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed. New people, new classes, maybe even a new city – there’s a lot going on. Entering UBC marks the beginning of a new era: the era of DIY.
I don’t mean to say that all UBC first years are spray painting their pencil cups gold and making their own bath bombs (although, if anybody has done that successfully, please let me know). New UBC students are learning, for the first time ever, how to do everything themselves. And doing everything – well, that starts with money.
But learning to manage your money can be intimidating. If you’re used to depending on your parents, suddenly having to balance the cost of tuition, rent, books, groceries, and the occasional (or not-so-occasional) night of fun can leave you dazed.
If you’re anything like I was in first year, you’ll be tempted to ignore the problem entirely, only to be shamefully turned away at Starbucks when your chequing account doesn’t contain enough money to cover your vanilla soy latte and your blueberry muffin.
I’m here to tell you that there’s another way. Here are some tips for keeping on top of your finances when you’re starting out:
Start a spreadsheet on your computer devoted to following your spending. Note big purchases like tuition, of course, but don’t forget the little ones too – those Blue Chip cookies can really add up after a while.
Having an organized representation of how you’re using your money can be really helpful for figuring out how to spend responsibly. Get started by checking out the Student Spending Plan Template available for download on the Student Services website under the “Financial Resources” section.
Learn to cook
Vancouver is famous for amazing restaurants (and all that drool-worthy ice cream), but eating out gets expensive after a while!
Learn to cook a few simple, healthy, cheap meals and shop for them ahead of time. Budget Bytes is a great resource for this - every recipe on the site is broken down by cost per ingredient and per serving, so you can plan your grocery budget accordingly. I like to make big batches of chili or fajitas and eat them all week!
Use your resources
UBC has lots to offer in terms of personal support.
Every UBC undergraduate student has an assigned Enrolment Services Professional (ESP) who can offer all kinds of advice on student issues, including financial planning. You can find out how to contact your ESP on the Student Services Centre under “Personal Info > UBC Contacts”.
If, however, you don’t even know where to begin (and we’ve all been there), Enrolment Services offers free Financial Wellness workshops throughout the year. The workshops are led by ESPs and cover everything from understanding credit card bills to student loans. They’re an awesome way to figure out your financial priorities and ask any questions you may have. Preview any upcoming workshops at students.ubc.ca/finances.
Most importantly, remember that practically everyone you'll meet this fall is also new to all of this. It may be the era of do-it-yourself, but that doesn’t have to mean you’re doing it alone! Talk to others, ask good questions, and eventually, you’ll find that you can totally handle it.