Budgeting materials laid out on a table
May 15, 2020
4 mins read

Fast & frugal budgeting tips for students during COVID-19

Finances are likely top of mind for you right now.

If you were forced to discontinue work because of the outbreak, you may be counting on governmental financial supports—such as the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) and the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB)—as your sole source(s) of income. 

Although you may find your situation very different from others’, I trust that there are many—including me—who can relate to whatever you’re feeling.

If you are facing financial challenges or emergencies, reach out to Enrolment Services Advisors; they are here to support you so you don’t have to face financial planning alone. You can:

  • Connect with your assigned ES Advisor by logging into the SSC and checking under Personal Info > UBC Contacts

  • Call 604-822-9836 or 1-877-272-1422 (toll-free)

  • Send an inquiry through askme.ubc.ca

Because finances may be tighter than what you’re used to, budgeting carefully and using UBC’s resources for students like us during this time can help you feel more reassured and in control. 

Here are some tips to help you start tracking your money flow:

Budgeting in the context of COVID-19

1. Look into budgeting resources

Try resources such as:

2. Check how much you have in savings—and how much you can put away 

Confirm how much money is currently in your bank account, and how much you can receive from the government’s financial benefits programs. However, remember that those benefits, like the CERB, may be taxable, and you may have to report them when filing your 2020 taxes next year.

3. Identify the things you need to pay for 

These may include housing, toiletries, utilities, food, phone plan, classes you’re taking in the summer and/or fall terms—as well as some of these frequently overlooked items. Be sure to double-check how much money you’d have to allocate for upcoming instalments of tuition payments, and to apply for student loans if you think you might need financial support. 

4. Allocate money for unexpected situations—if you can

Emergencies happen...let’s hope they don’t. Try to set aside some money each month; that amount can just transfer over to the next month, if unused.

5. Treat yourself...in (relatively strict) moderation

Give yourself an allowance for “non-essential” items and activities, and really try to stick to it. And if you can, minimize your use of this budget by choosing free options where possible. Just because you have a budget doesn’t mean you have to use all of it up.

If you have a surplus in a certain category, definitely transfer it over to another—for example, leftover food $ can be allocated to tuition $. And if you find that your expenses are outweighing your income...you may have to find ways to even more frugally monitor your spending:

Ways to save or—if you can—make money

1. Fast ways to save money each month

Here are some ways to hold onto your money:


Cancel certain tech services, starting with cable and/or Netflix. You can stream movies for free on Criterion on Demand, offered through UBC Library—all you need is your CWL.

Switch to cheaper phone plans (less data, fewer minutes), and cancel entertainment subscriptions and/or memberships. You can always sign up again when the outbreak is over.

Also, lower your utility bills by saving water and energy in small ways. Water your plants with water you rinsed food (like rice) with, and unplug appliances to save energy. For recently purchased appliances, hold onto the warranty in case they malfunction.

Food and groceries

Buy groceries in bulk at discount locations (e.g., FreshCo and No Frills), arm yourself with a shopping list to resist impulse purchases, and go in when you’ve stuffed yourself full (hungrier = want to buy more products, not just food).

Also, try to eat out less—limit the times you order takeout or home deliveries. Cooking your own healthified meals really does save a lot of money, compared to all other ways of getting food. 


Avoid paying interest and late fees on your credit card by staying on top of your payment deadlines. You can also set a lower daily limit, so you don’t spend more than you’re able to afford.


Use your car less. Try free modes of mobility when possible: walk, bike, or take public transit (free until June 1) if you’re comfortable. 

2. Search for a job or a side hustle

Depending on what you’re looking for and qualified for, work can be really hard to come by right now. 

If you’re looking to apply for a job, here are some options:

However, do take care to consider:

  • What jobs you feel comfortable doing

  • What jobs are safe (minimal to no physical contact involved)

  • How taking on a job may affect your eligibility for financial support from the government 

If you think you need more financial help than you thought, please do talk to an Enrolment Services Advisor about your options.

To access support from UBC—such as information on student subsidies, loans, and benefits; links to work opportunities; resources for mental health; and more—visit the Student resources during the COVID-19 outbreak page. You can also check covid19.ubc.ca for regular updates on the coronavirus and UBC's response.

Continue to take good care of yourself, financially, physically, you name it—and, if you can, help others do the same.