Being broke in your twenties is one of those rites of passage that unfortunately everyone seems to go through. University is expensive, and living on your own is a costly endeavour! The workload handed out in certain programs can even be so demanding that holding a job becomes impossible. To put it plainly, having no money sucks, and as someone who is, in fact, broke in my twenties, I’ve learned several great and easy ways to save money while completing my studies!
The first step to saving money is figuring out where you spend most of your money. If you are anything like me, most of it goes to food. For the longest time I would spend an absurd amount on groceries just to eat out or order in, or I would let my produce go bad and end up wasting money and food. I’m sure many of you have been in this position before, but it turns out knowing how to effectively grocery shop has been one of the most important skills I’ve learned in my adult life.
Groceries and cooking
Buying frozen produce, shopping sales, and bulking your meals with cheap, nutritious foods like beans and grains are all great ways to cut down on your bill. Cooking large batches of things like stews are also great time and money savers. I just freeze the leftovers and heat them up when I need to eat but cooking seems like too much effort. I also like to use meat scraps or veggies about to go bad to make broths and stocks! This cuts down on food waste and lasts forever. It also tastes great and lets me live a cottagecore fantasy.
Free and discounted food
There are also lots of great options for free lunches on campus depending on your university. At Concordia there’s The Hive and the People’s Potato. Another avenue to both get involved and save money is to join a food co-op. Co-ops are owned by members, not private companies, and depending on the organization, a small monthly fee is all you need to pay to access discounted or even free food. Check out this list from the Concordia Food Coalition for some helpful links and resources!
Textbooks and transportation
Textbooks and transportation are also significant expenses for students. Project Gutenberg has a massive free library and I have found most assigned texts there! LibraryGenesis is another great place to look. Most cities also offer free or reduced transit fares for students which is another fantastic way to save money. In Montreal, students must apply through their student portals to be eligible for the discounted OPUS card.
Student discounts are going to be your best friend throughout university and there are more than you would think! Students throughout Canada can sign up for any number of student discount programs, and those with certain CIBC accounts get free Student Price Card accounts. Programs like these can save you money on retail purchases, entertainment passes, transit fares and even technology. Check out this list by dealhacks.ca for a list of every discount available to Canadian students.
What to do when you overspend
Oops 🙃 You went over-budget and have $14.64 in your bank account. While this can be a scary (and embarrassing) moment, pretty much everyone has been there so don’t panic!
Checking your bank statement
The first thing I like to do is look at my bank statements and see if everything adds up. Companies like Uber or BIXI put automatic holds on your account when you use their services. Depending on your bank, the charge will be reversed in 7-10 business days, but holds like this could put your credit or bank balance in jeopardy, so be mindful.
I also check for subscription services or recurring monthly charges. If you do not recognize or need the service, cancel it and request a refund.
If you have medical expenses, insurance may also reimburse you for related expenses!
Making some extra coin
If you really have no money, selling old clothes or shoes on Marketplace, Depop or Vinted can make you some extra money! You can also sell old furniture items, textbooks, or anything else taking up space really. To sell online, all you need is to take some clear, eye-catching photos and add some accurate tags. Apps like Depop actually give great step-by-step instructions for how to take and edit photos to get the most traffic and consumer interest.
Facebook Marketplace is a great way to sell your old clothing or furniture to people in your area, saving you money on shipping and transportation costs. Depop and Vinted sell across Canada and you will need to ship your order to the purchaser. You can choose to charge them shipping fees or not, but those can add up quickly. Buying and selling second-hand is not only a great way to make or save money, but it’s great for the environment as well. North Americans send 10 million tonnes of textiles to landfills every year, which is quite frankly horrifying, and buying and selling pre-loved items is a great way to reduce a bit of your environmental impact.
You can also go to thrift stores in your area that will buy items off of you for cash or store credit! Personally, this is my least favourite option because I notice I am able to sell my items for more money when I do it myself, but it is quite easy and a good way to support local businesses.
Student bursaries and grants
Lastly, check to see if your university offers any bursaries or grants. Look through https://www.canada.ca/en/services/benefits/education/student-aid/grants-loans.html as well as your university website to see what is available.
I hope you find these tips helpful when you’re in a pinch! Freezer meals and Facebook Marketplace have saved me from overdraft fees more times than I would care to admit, and student discounts have granted me several amazing experiences I would never have otherwise thought of. These have all been super easy to incorporate into my life and are much less stressful than thinking about investing or picking up overtime at the expense of my studies. Good luck and happy budgeting!
CIBC. “Student deals and discounts with SPC and CIBC.” N.D., https://www.cibc.com/en/student/spc.html
Concordia Food Coalition. “Food in Montreal.” N.D., https://www.concordiafoodcoalition.com/food-in-montreal/
dealhack. “Canadian Student Discount Guide: The Ultimate List.” December 8, 2021, https://dealhack.ca/blog/canadian-student-discounts
Government of Canada. “Canada Student Grants and Loans – What student grants and loans offer.” September 27, 2021, https://www.canada.ca/en/services/benefits/education/student-aid/grants-loans.html
Library Genesis. “Home Page.” N.D., https://libgen.is/
Project Gutenberg. “Welcome to Project Gutenberg.” N.D., https://www.gutenberg.org/
Recycling Council of Ontario. “Textiles Waste: the Facts.” June 15, 2018, https://rco.on.ca/the-average-person-throws-away-37-kilograms-of-textiles-annually/#:~:text=In%20Canada%2C%20the%20average%20person,Waste%20Reduction%20Week%20in%20Canada.