8 financial tips for first-year students

Managing your money may be new, but it doesn’t have to be scary

A hand places a coin into a piggy bank that has a spread of coins behind it. Photo: cottonbro

You might have been doing it for years, but for many new university students, managing your money is just one of the firsts you’ll be experiencing. It can feel overwhelming, but don’t fear! You’re not alone. The trick is to not let your financial situation get out of hand. Here are 8 tips to help you stay in the black during your first year (and beyond).


1. Estimate your costs 

There’s a lot to consider when preparing for university, but your finances should be near the top. They are a major factor that can impact your decisions on a number of things. Your university expenses will vary depending on your program, lifestyle, and level of enrolment. For an estimate of tuition fees, check out Dal’s online fee calculator.


 2. Develop a budget 

Budgeting is an important life skill that everyone needs to develop during their university journey. On top of planning to finance your tuition, you’ll also need to factor in additional expenses, including costs for books and supplies, insurance, phone, food, personal items, etc. Dal has a simple budget calculator to get you started, as does the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. We also have a list of tips to help you actually stick to that budget once you’ve made it.


 3. Explore options for financing your education 

For many students, money for education tends to come from many sources, including scholarships, bursaries, part-time employment, and student loans. You'll want to research all available sources of funding and develop a plan to finance your education. Here are some options to check if you're looking for some financial assistance: 


4. Pay attention to your spending habits

It can be a challenge to keep up to date with your bills during your first year of university. There’s a lot going on, and remembering to keep a tab on your spending can be tough. Reminders are a great way to stay on track. Try setting a bi-weekly reminder to check your bank statement ­to make sure you’re staying on top of your budget!


5. Understand what is a necessary purchase and what isn’t 

This tip goes beyond first year, but the earlier you learn it, the better. University might be the first time you’ve been in charge of making big financial decisions. Splurges can be appealing, but it’s important to understand the difference between a necessary expense and a frivolous one.


6. It’s OK to treat yourself every now and then 

Understanding the importance of necessary purchases is key, but it doesn’t mean you can’t treat yourself every now and then! Just aced your midterms? Reward yourself in the way you want. The key is to be mindful of the money you're spending. 


7. Be responsible with your student loan  

Taking out a student loan is a huge responsibility. While it can be tempting to spend some of the money on personal items or expenses, it’s in your best interest to keep that money allocated for its intended use. You have to pay the money back down the road, so be careful of where and what you’re spending your money on. 


8. Expect the unexpected 

University life can be full of surprises. If you went on a trip, you would want to have some money sectioned off for an emergency or must-have item. Think of university in the same way. It’s always a good idea to have some money kept away just in case you need it for an unexpected situation. If you’re really in crisis, there are resources to help you at Dal.


Have more questions about your finances? Visit Dal’s Money Matters page or reach out to an advisor.