How to save money as a student

student sitting infront of laptop

Written by Aujas, student

Do you want to know what one of the most useful skills you can have in first year is? Saving money.

If you aren't mindful, you can end up spending way more than you wanted to. That’s what happened to me in my first term of university and it was tough. Luckily, I learned some practical ways to help cut costs and ensure I stay within my budget. 

Here are my top nine tips to help you save money now and in university.

Make a budget

Making a budget allows you to identify the things you need to spend money on (gas, groceries, phone bills, etc.) and the things you want to spend money on (like clothes, movies, eating out...!). It also lets you know how much money you can set aside each month for your savings or emergency fund.

It's natural that we enjoy spending money on things that make us happy. I’m guilty of spending quite a bit of money on games and going out to movies. And while doing these things from time to time is great, you can quickly get carried away. Budgeting helps in this situation. Give yourself an allotment of money for the fun things and stick with it. Spending a little less on hobbies is worth the peace of mind. 

There are many online tools that can help you make a budget, like Waterloo’s student budget calculator or, if you’re like me and prefer something that’s more spreadsheet style, you can create your budget in Excel. Budgeting is the very first step towards saving money. 

Girl putting fruit in a grocery basket showing one way how to save money as a student

Cook your own food

Eating out for every meal can not only be unhealthy but also very costly. Buying your groceries and cooking yourself is the most cost-effective way to eat. If you have classes throughout the day, you can even pack a lunch or snacks for yourself. Also, cooking is a great skill to have. If you’re interested in learning more about cooking for yourself, check out these simple recipes and essential groceries

If you don’t have the time, energy, or desire to cook for yourself, campus meal plans are also a good way to go. Although not as cost-effective as cooking your own food, they’re still a better option than constantly getting fast food and eating out. And the nice thing about Waterloo is that there’s a huge variety of food options on campus that can make for an excellent culinary experience!

Explore student discounts

Being a student has many perks, and one of them is student discounts. There are student discounts on all sorts of products and services. The local transit system usually has student discount tickets that costs less than regular ones. GO Transit also has student tickets that have helped me save quite a bit of money commuting to Toronto. 

But it goes way beyond just transit. Often grocery stores, movie theatres, museums, clothing/book stores, and even technology and phone companies offer student discounts (sometimes confined to certain days). Some local grocery stores offer 10% off groceries for students on Tuesdays. That’s why Tuesday is generally the grocery shopping day in our house.

Before you plan outings with friends or go out for food, look to see what discounts are available! If you’re considering coming to Waterloo, there are a number of student discounts unique to us that you can look forward to. Student discounts are a great way to save money without missing out on different experiences. 

Also, don’t forget about freebies! Student life is all about looking for freebies; and fortunately, they’re not that hard to find. There are always events on campus (check the WUSA website, too) or even in the city that have free admission for students (and sometimes even free food). And freebies go beyond just food! Many students in both high school and university can get free software through their school (Microsoft Office, Adobe, etc.). And, with your student ID, you can often get into places for free or a discounted rate (like the Art Gallery of Ontario on Wednesday evenings).

Reap the rewards

Being rewarded for doing something you have to do anyway is pretty amazing. There are a ton of reward point systems out there you can use to get a little more bang for your buck.

These could include Scene points, PC Optimum points, and Air Miles. Essentially, they help make things such as buying groceries or watching a movie cheaper for you in the long run. My friend recently bought a plane ticket to Florida using the Air Miles she’d collected on her credit card and saved a couple hundred bucks!

Using reward points is an excellent way to do things in a cheaper way that you’d otherwise have to spend full money on.

Become a smarter saver

Don't replace your electronics

Students often buy new laptops and mobile phones as they’re getting ready to come to university. Even if their old ones work perfectly fine, a significant amount of money is still spent on buying new electronics. This, of course, can be avoided. 

Most of the time, the laptops you used in high school meet the requirements of the software you’ll be using in university. Therefore, before you go out and get the latest device, consider whether or not you really need it.

If you’re determined to start university with new stuff, at least try and sell your old stuff on Kijiji or Facebook. Which leads well into my next tip ...

Downsize to save money

Usually people associate downsizing with retirement and moving into a smaller home. Well, you may not be retiring, but if you’re going to university soon, you’ll likely be moving into a smaller home! 

If you’re in high school, particularly grade 12, now is the perfect time to go through all your stuff and start either throwing it out or selling it. If you have clothes you don’t wear anymore, bring them to Plato’s Closet or somewhere similar that will buy them off you for resale.

In addition to the places I mentioned above, you can sell furniture, electronics, games, or really anything else on VarageSale. Also, check out Bunz. Rather than selling your stuff, you can trade it for something you’d actually use.


You can set aside the money you make from selling old stuff for buying the things you’ll need for university, or you can add it to your savings! 

Money saving students shopping for used books.

Go with used

There are a lot of different places you can buy used things, especially textbooks, which are significantly cheaper. There is a used book store on campus, or you can even look for them online.

Keep in mind, “going with used” goes way beyond just textbooks! You can look for clothes, electronics, and housewares on all the places I mentioned in point #6. If you’re looking for furniture, check out your local ReStore! Over my years in university, I’ve bought refurbished laptops a few times, and not only have they worked well, they’ve saved me hundreds of dollars!

Pro tip: depending on what the course material is and how long you’ll need it for, you might be able to rent it! Check Amazon, Google Books, or even the library. They all have rental options which can be very cheap or even free.

Slash your bills

Be vigilant about turning off your lights and reducing your water consumption to save on utility costs. If you’re using an expensive mobile plan, try and downgrade it. Nowadays, it’s pretty easy to work with 1 GB of data or less (remember, you get free Wi-Fi on campus!). If you have a car, shop around for the best insurance rates. 

All these things can save you a significant amount over time. This is a practice I actually started in high school. Before signing up for anything or making a big purchase (especially if it involved monthly payments), I always did my research to make sure I was getting the best deal. 

If you’ve never done this before, try to assess the services that you’re currently paying for. Do you really need them? Could you live with a cheaper plan? Eliminate the things you don’t need so you have money to use for more important things (like tuition!).

Use campus services

Make the most of the services available on campus. You'll have access to the gym, so you don’t need to pay for an outside membership. You can also sign out projectors to watch movies or board games to play games with your friends. When I lived in residence, many students liked to book the TV room regularly to watch with friends. This is an excellent way to spend time with friends without spending too much money!

So, there you have it! These are just some of the ways you can save money as a student. If things are still tight, you can always get a part-time job to ease the burden. I hope these tips will help you save money throughout your university years (and beyond!).  




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