2 female students having coffee
August 15, 2019
4 mins read

Why it's smart to budget and where to start

For many new university students, learning to be responsible with money is one of the biggest adjustments.

For me, the turning point came when my dad informed me that if I continued my—at the time—current coffee habit (one grande vanilla soy latte purchased on the walk from Totem to Buchanan every morning), I would spend $500 at Starbucks by the end of my first semester.

As a kid who had lived with her parents for her entire life, I had never had to think about my money in that way—as something that came from somewhere and had to be allocated in certain ways. How was I spending the money that was available to me? What were my priorities? Could I be making better choices?

So that’s when I decided I needed to learn to budget. It’s an important step to gaining independence, but it’s hard to know where to start.

Even the most basic questions can seem confusing when you’re starting something new, so here’s the 5 Ws of budgeting, answered:


A budget is basically just a list of all of your expenses and how much money you feel you can reasonably devote to each of them within a certain period of time. It’s easiest to break it down on a month-to-month basis since that’s how most bills work.

Categories might include practical considerations like rent, internet, and groceries, but don’t forget about your more fun expenses. Stuff like movies, drinks with friends, and shopping can really hit you where it hurts if you don’t plan for them.

Who? When?

You. Now.

Everyone should always have a budget. Having a handle on how much money you have and what you’re using it for is key to financial wellness and independence, no matter whether you have a salary, scholarships, help from your parents, or all (or none) of the above.


A good starting point is the UBC cost calculator. You can use it to figure out generally how much money you have coming in and how much you’re likely to spend.  

Next, make a more detailed plan that breaks down your expenses by category. What do you usually spend your money on? Do you have a gym membership, a foodie streak, or a penchant for splurging on fancy stationery? Account for all of these ahead of time. (If you’re from out of town and not sure what things cost in Vancouver, check out our handy expense guide to help you budget better.)

You can use this spreadsheet template to organize yourself, or (if you’re not a fan of Excel), this Budget-Planning Worksheet can also do the trick. Or build your own.

The key thing is that you’re aiming to be “in the green”. Your total income—whether it’s from a job, savings, a student loan, etc.—should work out to more than what you’re planning to spend.

Personally, I use the Mint app, which connects directly to your bank account and sends you notifications when you’re in danger of going over budget. It’s easy to use and super convenient since it’s always accessible on your phone and updates automatically. There are tons of great apps like this, including Wally, You Need A Budget, Good BudgetMoney Lover, and Mvelopes.


At least for me, coming to UBC was all about gaining independence. I wanted to be my own person, so I moved halfway across the country and threw myself into a whole new life.

Even if that’s not your situation, you (and all of your fellow students) are still at a major transition point. Now is the time to start making decisions for yourself and for your future. It might feel like you have enough money to get you through your first year—but without a plan, the costs of university can quickly add up.

In the long run, would you rather have a fancy coffee every morning, or use that extra cash to benefit yourself down the line—like saving for a trip to Europe or that new laptop you’ve been eyeing? Or maybe it’s as simple as feeling the satisfaction of keeping your bank balance stable and your credit score high. 

In any case, budgeting is pretty much the best habit you can have (definitely better than daily Starbucks). If you’re not worrying about money, you’ll have more time to focus on what matters. Whatever your goals, you’ll be grateful later!

Additional resources

You can find more budgeting resources on our Financial Planning page.

For more hands-on help, consider attending a Financial Wellness workshop. Enrolment Services Advisors offer these workshops throughout the year to help students navigate topics like budgeting, student loans, and taxes—and best of all, they’re free!

Upcoming workshops are always listed at the bottom of the Finances page—so be sure to bookmark this page. Here are a few sessions that are coming up:

If you ever run into financial barriers (or just feel you need some more personal advice on managing your money), contact your ES Advisor—they're here to provide support. Log in to your Student Service Centre and go to Personal Info > UBC Contacts to find your advisor’s info.

For more thoughts on how to talk and think about money, I also highly recommend The Financial Diet, a blog about how to achieve financial health and make it fun.

We often think of budgeting as something boring or restrictive, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Keep your financial goals realistic and make sure to leave a little room for things that make you happy.

Remember, in the end, budgets exist to make it easier for you to enjoy your life!