Building a Budget as an International Student
Building a budget can be a difficult task, but with these top tips and our sample budget, you'll get started on the right foot.
As an international student in Canada, there’s a lot of new finances that you need to keep track of, like tuition costs, residence, meal plans, rent, books, food, and more. This can be intimidating, especially when in a different currency than you’re used to, but don’t worry — the University of Guelph-Humber has put together some helpful tips when building a budget.
Using a budget while in school will help you manage how you spend your money. When you control your spending, it’s much easier to achieve your financial goals, whether that is to save, pay off debts, or simply live within your means.
Building a budget
The secret to building a budget that works is knowing your income and expenses. Being specific about your income and expenses gives you a solid foundation to create your own personal budget that reflects what you can afford and your lifestyle. Having an honest and complete understanding of your income and expenses also allows you to separate your needs from your wants.
Below is an example of expenditures for two semesters (based on 2022/23 costs). Please note this is an example and expenditures may vary:
||On-campus living cost (CAD)
||Off-campus living cost (CAD)
|Tuition and fees
|Books and supplies
|Residence - single
|Meal plan - large
|Rent ($875/month including utilities)
|Personal (clothing, entertainment, etc.)
Keep in mind that these may not be all the expenditures you have. Add any others you have to the list to get a more accurate picture of your budget.
These tips will help you build a solid budget and, more importantly, stick to it!
- Include all realistic resources. These can include savings, employment earnings, family support, scholarships, and bursaries
- Be realistic with your expenses. List your expenses. Be realistic, accurate, and budget for the unexpected. If you don’t think you can live by the budget you made, it won’t last long. Try to figure out a reasonable spending allowance and stick with it
- Plan your budget before the start of your academic year. This way, if you need to apply for financial assistance (e.g., government student assistance such as OSAP), you still have plenty of time to do so before classes begin
- Keep track of your spending habits for at least one month and keep an accurate record of your savings and chequing accounts. If you have credit card balances, don’t forget to keep track of your monthly payments.
- Review your budget regularly and adjust for changes in your circumstances
- Avoid paying with credit cards on a regular basis. If you find you’re turning to credit cards frequently, it’s time to review your budget and either decrease your spending or try to increase your income
Tips to saving money
Once you’ve created your budget and have a better idea of your finances, you can then start thinking about ways you can save some money:
- Buy used textbooks and sell your text books back at the end of semester
- Make a list when shopping for groceries and stick to it. Find a friend to share the cost of bulk items and don't shop at a convenience store, items are usually more expensive
- Enjoy free activities on campus or in the community. Borrow movies and magazines from the local library
- Plan to bring your lunch, brown bagging saves money
- Plan to treat yourself once a week and make sure you include this in your financial plan/budget
- Bring a reusable mug with your first coffee already made, it is good for the environment and your wallet
- Avoid impulse purchases, stop and ask yourself "do I need this or do I want this," there is a significant difference. If you think you need the item, ask them to put it on hold for 24 hours and then return if you find you really do need it
- Save each day's loose change to make a weekend fun fund
Budgets are unique to every person, but with the right tips and tricks you’ll be set up for success! With our sample budget, you’ll be able to add and remove any expenditures that are relevant for you to get a better picture of your finances.
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