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You’ve chosen Canada as your study destination. Great choice, you’re going to look amazing in snow boots and a winter jacket. Now — let’s talk about money and how to manage your budget as an international student in Canada.

You’ve chosen Canada as your study destination. Great choice, you’re going to look amazing in snow boots and a winter jacket. Now — let’s talk about money and how to manage your budget as an international student in Canada.

Students have so many challenges to think about: living on your own, acing your classes, and thriving in a brand new social scene. As an international student, all those challenges are magnified: you’re not just away from home, you’re in a whole new country! Managing your finances on top of all that can seem overwhelming, so we’re here to break it down and make it easy for you with some quick budgeting tips.

At its core, all budgeting comes down to three big questions:

  1. Money in: How to manage your money?
  2. Money out: What money will you be spending?
  3. Creating a plan: How can you balance your money in and money out?

So, that’s what we’re going to focus on today. Simple tricks and tips to help you answer the three big budgeting questions.

Money in: Tips for managing the money you’ve got

First trick to budgeting: how to manage your money?

Everyone you meet at college or university has a different background and lived experience. This also means that everyone has a different financial situation.

Some students receive financial support from family (typically their parents), others receive financial assistance through scholarships, bursaries, and loans, and some students work while studying in order to afford their education. No matter your circumstances, you can use these tips to maximize the resources you’ve got.

Put your loan, scholarship, or parents’ contribution into a separate account

Are you funding your studies through a large lump-sum chunk of cash, like a loan or scholarship that pays out at the beginning of the school year? Or a big financial gift from family members? Or a Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC) — a type of investment account that study permit applicants can use to show proof of funds (mandatory for applicants through the Student Direct Stream)?

If so, try saving that chunk of cash in a separate account from the account you use for your day-to-day expenses. You can “pay yourself” an allowance out of this account on a regular basis, such as every two weeks — this encourages you, mentally, to plan your finances around smaller amounts of “income.”

Search for hidden income (scholarships, residence supervisor, “wine & cheeses”)

Some students are notoriously good at finding “hidden income” and creative ways to save money.

One of the best places to start is with the financial aid office at your school. Book an appointment with an advisor as soon as you can. These people are trained to help students like you to afford your studies. Often, they’ll be able to suggest scholarships, bursaries, loans, work-study programs, and other types of financial aid that you may not have been aware of before.

Next, look around for cost-saving opportunities on campus. One option available at many schools is to become a supervisor at a campus residence or dormitory. Often, residence supervisors have their rent and meal plan covered as part of compensation for their work.

Finally, get creative! Does your student society offer a free lunch program on certain days? Does your department ever host conferences or guest lectures? Often these events are catered — which means some free meals (potentially including wine & cheese evenings, a staple of Canadian campuses!). These little things add up and can help you stretch a little bit of money that bit further.

Get a job in Canada as an international student

If you need an income boost, well you’re in luck — unlike some other traditionally popular destinations, Canada lets its cohort of international students work off campus and for any employer.

As an international student in Canada, your study permit authorizes you to work up to 20 hours per week during periods of study, and up to 40 hours per week during designated holiday periods. This means that if you want to supplement your income by working, you’re entitled — even encouraged — to do so. Not only will you paid your bank account with a steady stream of income, but you’ll have opportunities to test your academic know-how in real-world work situations, all while growing your contacts. This can be crucial for when you graduate.

Your study permit allows you to work on-campus and off-campus in most types of jobs, but always be sure to check the conditions listed on your study permit, just to make sure you’re not in violation.

Money out: Tips for managing your expenses

As a student, there will always be opportunities for new adventures in Canada: extracurricular clubs to join, late-night library study sessions, and parties to attend. The key to making the most of your college or university experience is finding balance.

As far as your finances are concerned, you can only find balance if you understand both the money you’ve got coming in and the money you’ve got going out. Here are our top tips for managing expenses:

Understand the difference between needs and wants

Do you need to buy a foamy latte every morning? If you buy a $4.00 coffee every weekday for a year it adds up to more than $1,000! (Side note: don’t underestimate the power of investing this sort of sum, as compounding interest really adds up over time. We’ve created a whole separate guide on investing as a newcomer in Canada here.)

If you can understand the difference between the things you really need and the things you want, you’ll save yourself a ton of money over the year — even just through cutting back on smaller purchases, like meals, clothes, and 2 a.m. tequila shots (trust us: you will always regret 2 a.m. tequila shots, and not just financially).

That being said, try to allow some space in your budget for “wants.” Get that latte on Fridays, but bring your own coffee other mornings. Treat yourself to a dinner out after a big exam, but don’t eat out multiple times each week. Find your balance!

If you use credit cards, spend wisely and always make your monthly payments

Credit cards are common in Canada. They allow you to make purchases on credit, “borrowing” money from the credit card issuer. You must pay back the money over time with a mandatory minimum payment each month. Credit cards can be convenient, allowing you to automate monthly payments, make online purchases, and, most importantly.

But — be careful! Don’t spend more on your credit card than you’ll be able to pay back, and always be sure to make your minimum payment each month. Failing to miss a payment — yes, even just one! — can negatively impact your credit score.

Read more: How to start building a good credit score

Shop second-hand to cut your expenses 

Look for opportunities to buy used items, whenever possible. Move into a new apartment and need to get furniture? Check with friends, classmates, and online buy-and-sell groups to see if anyone is selling furniture.

This trick also works with textbooks. New books can be hugely expensive. See if you can buy used versions of your books from students who took the class before you. Resell the books at the end of the course and you’ll be saving a ton of money on books alone.

Prepare yourself for Canadian expenses

You’re going to school in Canada — and Canada has its own unique expenses to consider.

One big Canadian consideration: winter. Winter is a big deal. You’re going to want good quality winter boots, jacket, hat, scarf, and gloves. This is one area where you don’t want to sacrifice quality or you’ll be left out in the cold (literally). If you pay to heat your home, you should also plan to pay a lot more during the winter months.

Creating a plan: Balancing money in and money out

Now you’ve got an idea of your money in and your money out. It’s time to create a plan.

Remember, at its core, budgeting is simply balancing money in and money out. If you’re new to budgeting, we suggest the following “freshman” exercise to get yourself started. Use a spreadsheet to:

  1. Make a list of money in for one month — your income.
  2. Make a list of money out for the same month — your expenses.
  3. Adjust until your expenses are less than your income (ideally, identify ways to increase this surplus while retaining, or even increasing, your quality of life!).

If you want something a little more challenging, we have a more advanced “sophomore” exercise for you: Create a financial calendar for one semester.

In your financial calendar, you’re going to list your anticipated income and expenses over the course of one semester. It’s more detailed and longer-term than an income/expenses spreadsheet, and it allows you to account for seasonal and non-recurring income and expenses.

At the end of your semester, compare your actual finances to your financial calendar and note any discrepancies. This will help you understand your own financial blindspots and identify areas for improvement in your budgeting.