10 Things I Wish I Knew About Money Before I Started University

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I am finally nearing graduation from my undergraduate degree! It is my fourth and final year studying Professional Writing at York University and I am thrilled to be nearing the end of this turbulent, stressful, and revealing journey.

Along with some pretty intense personal growth that is bound to come from leaving home, wrapping up my teens, and meeting new people, I can honestly say that my financial knowledge has grown too.

I’ve wasted money, I’ve lost money, I’ve made money.

And after all that, I can easily identify things I wish I knew about money before I started university and made a million mistakes. You’re going to make mistakes too. But hopefully reading a bit about my financial defeats can help you make a little less than a million of them.

You’re never too young to save

In the past four years I’ve worked 7 different jobs and barely saved anything. It is definitely harder to save money as a student, but it isn’t impossible. I wish I let myself believe this.Despite age or income, you can absolutely start saving when you’re in university.

If I had saved even as little as $5 a week throughout my time in university in a savings account, I’d have a solid foundation for a post-grad move, initial student loan payment, or even a celebratory vacation. And yet, I didn’t even open a savings account until the end of my third year of university. 

Save small

Seriously, it is better than nothing.Consider setting up automated savings per each debit transaction you make, start side-hustling, quit drinking for a month and save the money you didn’t spend, or practice some ideal saving habits whenever you can.

You should NOT rely on your credit card

I was in my second year of university when I got my first credit card. It was of course handy when I was in a pinch and needed essentials. But my lack of budgeting knowledge and newfound spending-buddy ultimately led to racking up credit card debt too quick. A lot of us have unpredictable incomes as students, but it is not impossible to budget despite this. It is more work, but it is essential.

Check out these 6 Ways to Budget on an Unpredictable Income. Basing your budget on your “survival number”, the number that is based on your bare-minimum, survival needs, is a good place to begin.You shouldn’t be scared of your credit card, but you shouldn’t rely on it either.

Managing work and studies is a job in itself

Being employed during your studies is a must for many students. 73% of Canadian students work while attending school

Regardless of your job or hours worked, you still need to ensure your finances aren’t getting in the way of your studies. Students who work more than 20 hours/week are reported to have lower grades.

This doesn’t mean you’ll automatically have low grades (I always managed to keep grades to my satisfaction) if you’re a working student, but it does mean you have more to take into account when it comes to time management and budgeting.

Being a shut in didn’t stop me from spending

I am an introvert. I always have been. But as much as I’d tell myself that my lack of a social life was saving me money, it wasn’t.

I think the balance between social activity and alone time is a hard, yet important one to work toward. Especially during such a pivotal time in your life.

Regardless of how you spend your free time, money will inevitably be a factor. While a night on the town isn’t cheap, neither were the subsequent consequences that nights curled up in my dorm by myself had on my mental health.

If I had learned this before university, I would’ve tried harder to practice intentional and healthy self care tactics that helped me spend money on myself the right way.

Buying books is a strategic task

You must do some diligent looking and thinking before buying any of your required texts.In my first year, I made the mistake of purchasing each book on my courses’ reading lists before I even moved into my dorm.I’m not saying you shouldn’t purchase your course texts. But, I am saying you should consider how to prioritize your purchases.

Often times your professor will have a textbook on the syllabus but you only need to read a couple chapters of it. To me, this feels like a waste of money. And yet, for two years of my degree I spent a large portion of my school funds on books.

If you’re starting university and preparing to go textbook shopping, keep these ideas in mind:

  • Wait until you’ve gone to each of your classes once before purchasing texts
  • Buy used books (check your campus bookstore and online)
  • See if there are any free copies of the texts on the internet
  • Buy eBooks as a cheaper alternative
  • Share the books and split the cost with classmates 

It is not worth it to shop on campus

The prices of everything are hiked on university campuses. Even though it might be more accessible, if you can it is worth the money you save to shop elsewhere. Normally you can buy books, school supplies, gifts, food, electronics, and sometimes more, on campus. But save yourself the extra cost and venture elsewhere when doing your errands. It is worth it.

Financial solidarity is a great motivator 

Open discussions about money promote an incredible amount of solidarity. If I hadn’t spent so much time embarrassed by the small total in my bank account, I probably would’ve made peace with my financial journey much sooner.

When I started talking with fellow students about money, it helped me put my finances into perspective. Not only that, but it’s helping me surpass debt fatigue and continue to work hard to pay off debts, save, and grow in my career.

It is easy to lose

This is probably the most important money lesson I learned throughout university. It is so easy to lose money, if you’re not paying attention.

More than once, I was charged for school fees that I forgot to opt out of. Not only that, but my school offers health and dental coverage for an extra fee despite the fact that my family insurance already covers me.

Late fees for bills, credit card charges when you forgot to cancel that “free” trial, and a lack of awareness of account limits, all lead you to lost money. When you let these little things slip, it adds up. And if I were as diligent as I am now when I first started university, I’d have more cash to my name.

Sometimes it’s worth it to splurge as a student

Student life is hard. And no matter what anyone tells you about it being “your choice” or “the best years of your life” when you say so, clearly does not understand

So yes, sometimes it is worth it to splurge on an extra fancy latte, a new book that has nothing to do with your schoolwork, or a stress-relieving massage. Spending smart includes spending money on things that make you happy.

Most importantly though, I wish I recognized that limited funds does not= a lack of hard work

It can be easy to get down on yourself and your finances. When your paycheck is just enough to get you by and you have to decline a dinner date with friends because of it, remember that you are working hard and deserve credit for that.

Too often I’ve felt stuck in one place because despite my efforts, I still can’t afford purchases beyond the essentials.

Appreciate yourself

You deserve to. Regardless of money mistakes, a bad grade on an essay, or the limited dollars in your bank account, you deserve to be appreciated beyond your productivity and remember your financial and career journeys are just beginning.

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About Author

Professional Writing student at York University, Toronto. Fascinated by the relationship between oppression, mental health, and money. Writer, avid TV watcher, and poetry obsessed. You can support more of her work at patreon.com/emnortonwrites

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