Budgeting for your first year of university

Students walking
Jocelyn Written by Jocelyn (she/her), student

Figuring out finances for university is very stressful for many students because of how much it costs to attend university.

For most students, it’s their first time on their own and they have to learn how to spend money smartly. Budgeting is an awesome skill to learn because it will help you watch your spending throughout your whole life.

A great resource is the Waterloo's budget calculator. It provides a good estimate to figure out how much first year will cost. Those are the basic costs, but what other things do you need to take into consideration? Small things can add up so it’s important to pay attention to those, too.


Forgotten expenses

Tracking expenses is a good way to see where your money has gone. If you're spending too much then you can see which areas of spending you can reduce. These are some expenses that are often forgotten and may catch you by surprise.

  • Subscriptions (Netflix, Spotify, Amazon Prime)
  • Toiletries (toilet paper, shampoo, toothpaste)
  • Travel (weekend trips home, day trips)
  • Haircuts/beauty
  • Gifts (birthdays, holidays)

Leaving room for unexpected costs

Sometimes emergencies happen or things get broken. Be precautionary and save some money for when things come up like a broken laptop, an emergency trip home, or a lost item.

Differentiating between wants and needs

Often times we buy things that we want, but don’t necessarily need. Maybe you just bought a cute top but what you actually should’ve purchased was a new pair of winter boots. Before making any purchases, think about if you really need it or if it’s just something that you want.  

two female students cooking in residence- UWP

Learn more about how to earn and save more money for university


Making the most of your money

There are many things you can do reduce your costs and make the most out of your money, especially as a student.


Having a meal plan is convenient, but cooking for yourself is also an affordable alternative. It is also cheaper than going out to eat every day! Most grocery stores in the city also offer discounts to students on certain days of the week, and the St. Jacobs Farmers' Market is a great source for local and inexpensive produce.

Stick to a grocery list to avoid impulse buys.


Your bus pass for local public transit is included in your fees. If you're heading out of the city, get a Presto card for GO Transit, buy VIA Rail tickets on Tuesdays, or check out the Air Canada Student Pass program.

Go to half-off movie nights and attend free events on campus.

Textbooks & software

Textbooks can be a large expense, especially if you are consistently buying them brand new. If you don’t mind a few crinkles here and there, you can buy used textbooks.

You can drop by the WUSA Used Books Store to buy cheaper textbooks as well as sell textbooks that you no longer need.

You can also take advantage of the free software for Waterloo students.

Part-time jobs on campus

If you're doing well in your classes you may want to apply to some of the many part-time jobs for students on campus, which is a great way for you to earn some extra money while completing your studies. You could work for the Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association, Library, Food Services, Warrior Recreation, and more.


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