Back To School Costs: What They Are and How to Cut Back

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Credit: Brooke Cagle via Unsplash

It’s September and that means the school year is back in session. After over a year of remote learning at colleges and universities, Ontario’s post-secondary students are ready to get back to in-person learning. For more students than usual, they’re heading to campus for the first time, too.

Back to school is an exciting time, but it can also be an expensive one. There’s a long list of school supplies, electronics, and clothes that you’ll need to be ready for the school year.

It can be intimidating when you’re using student loans to pay for it all. It isn’t easy to pay off all of your student loans, and the more you spend now, the longer you’ll be paying it back.

With that in mind, these back-to-school saving tips can help you cut down on your costs as you start a new semester.

#1 Buy Used Textbooks

Textbooks are one of the hardest things to budget for. You may not get your reading list until the first day of class, and there’s going to be a huge rush to get a hold of them.

The cost of textbooks varies widely depending on the school and the program, but you can probably expect to spend $600 to $1,000 each year. Buying used textbooks can help you keep those costs under control, leaving you with more money for other things.

#2 Refurbished Laptops

Laptops are an expensive part of student life, but they’re also essential. You’ll be living on your laptop between taking notes and writing papers, while it often also doubles as your main source of media entertainment.

A refurbished laptop can help you save several hundred dollars. The trade-off is worse battery life, as laptops lose their ability to hold a charge with use. However, you can expect the same to happen to a new unit within one to two years.

Another option might be buying open box electronics. These are electronics that have been opened but returned, usually because it was a gift or not quite what the purchaser originally wanted. Buy them from somewhere that tests to make sure they still work before reselling them with a good return policy. You don’t want to be stuck paying extra when you were trying to save.

#3 Take Advantage of Your Student Discount

Once you have your student card in hand, it’s time to start discount shopping. Many businesses offer student discounts, especially around university and college campuses. Do your research online to find out about student discounts, and don’t hesitate to ask about them in person.

#4 Get Household Goods Second-Hand

For many students, the start of school also means moving out of their parents’ home and into a dorm or an apartment. There’s a long list of furniture and household goods you’ll need, from a can opener to a mattress.

Accept anything you can from family, whether new or second-hand. You can also check out second-hand stores to save more money. Check out these tips for buying second-hand furniture so that you don’t wind up wasting money on a faulty purchase.

It can also help to talk to your future roommates and split up responsibilities for shared things like kitchen equipment.

#5 Quality School Supplies

Sometimes, the cheapest isn’t always the most affordable. When it comes to school equipment like backpacks, laptop bags, binders, and anything that’s going to get a lot of use, you want something that’s going to be durable and long-lasting, so you don’t have to replace them part-way through the semester when your budget is already set in stone.

Managing Your Money as a Student

In addition to back-to-school supplies, there are a number of expenses you’ll have to manage as a student. University or college is often the first time that people are responsible for managing their own money, at the same time that they get to enjoy the freedom of living away from their parents. Sometimes, it’s a recipe for disaster. But there are ways to make sure you can stretch your student loans to the end of the year. Try these money-saving tips.

#1 Don’t Ignore Your Spending

By tracking monthly expenses, you can adapt and adjust. If you made a budget at the beginning of the year that gave you an idea of how much you could spend each month, tracking your expenses shows you whether or not you’re on track. This can help you avoid a nasty surprise come March or April when you realize you’ve gone way over budget and you’re out of money.

#2 Live with Roommates

Rent isn’t cheap anywhere in Canada right now, and that makes it extremely tough for students living off of loans and part-time jobs. Living with a roommate can save you thousands of dollars a year. The small price difference between a one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartment often makes splitting a bigger space more affordable.

Roommates open up your options. Living with them usually means you can afford a place that’s closer to campus, allowing you to give up your car until you graduate. You can also split up other living expenses, like internet and hydro bills.

#3 Discount Supermarkets

The grocery store is one of the hardest places to stick to a budget, especially when the cost of food is going up. When you’re living the busy life of a student, it’s usually tempting to just get takeout. Even stepping through the doors of the supermarket can feel like a victory for your budget, but spending can still get out of hand.

One of the best things you can do for yourself when you’re grocery shopping on a budget is going to a more affordable supermarket. Often the same chain will operate budget and premium supermarkets under different brands. You can usually find some of the same products at budget supermarkets at a lower price.

It also helps to keep track of your spending and set yourself a weekly budget. Try learning how to make dishes that will keep well and create lots of leftovers so that you can eat cheaply for days to come.

#4 Give Up Your Car

Do you plan on driving and owning a car during your education? The true cost of car ownership can be a lot, even beyond paying for the vehicle itself. You still have to pay for fuel, insurance, maintenance, winter tires, licensing, and parking.

Do a thorough cost-benefit analysis of car ownership, and don’t leave anything out. If you’re going to be living on campus or close to school, you can save hundreds a year, if not thousands, by selling your car. If you’re saving thousands in rent by living at home and commuting to school, driving may be the more economical choice. It all depends on your situation.

#5 Use a Secured Credit Card

When you’re already living off of student loans, a credit card can be a risky thing. Credit cards make it easy to borrow when you’re short on cash. The problem is that if you can’t pay off your entire balance when your monthly bill is due, the interest charges will cost you. Plus, you still need to find the money somewhere to pay it back, which can be a challenge if you’re only working part-time or not at all.

Secured credit cards require you to put down a security deposit equal to your credit limit. If you fail to pay your balance, the card issuer keeps the deposit. If you’re worried about getting into too much debt, using a secured credit card keeps that from happening.

If you can’t qualify for a student credit card, a secured credit card is also a good way to start building a credit history.

Paying Back Your Student Loans

When you achieve debt free living, your future opens up. You’re suddenly able to save more money, and you can put it toward whatever you want. You can start saving up for a car, down payment on a house, a vacation, or your retirement.

But if you’re struggling to pay back your student loans, it can feel like you’re stuck in a rut. Sometimes it just takes time to pay back your student loans, and other times it can be a hardship to make any payments at all. If your debts have suddenly become overwhelming, talk to a debt expert at David Sklar & Associates.

We can review your options and chart a way forward. You may be able to create a plan to pay it back with a budget and a financial plan, or you may need to explore options like insolvency. We can walk you through the pros and cons of each path, as well as their requirements.

As a student, you can make it easier on your future self by keeping track of your budget now and finding creative ways to save.

Take Your First Step Towards A Debt Free Life

If you are overwhelmed by debt and live in the Toronto area, call us at 416-498-9200 to book a FREE, confidential appointment. We will review your financial situation in detail and discuss all of your options with you. Alternatively, you can fill out the form below and our team will reach out to you. 

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