LowestRates.ca's Back to School Money Saving Guide For Students

Student Guide Cover

Editor’s Note: This post was published in August 2013 and August 2014 and has been updated and redesigned for 2015.

At LowestRates.ca, we know school is expensive. That’s why every September we release our annual Student Money Saving Guide to help students keep their finances -- and their futures -- looking good.

From tracking expenses to choosing a cellphone plan to picking the best financial apps, our guide offers tips and tools that, taken together, help save students thousands of dollars over the course of a single school year.

This year’s updated guide is divided into six parts: scholarships and bursaries, housing, transportation, food, budgeting, and day-to-day spending.

In 2015 we’re also including 10 featured schools where we breakdown and compare the costs associated with attending each institution. Our featured schools span from coast to coast and include Dalhousie University, McGill University, Queen’s University, Humber College, the University of Toronto, York University, the University of Western Ontario, Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, University of Calgary, and the University of British Columbia.

Read on to start your crash course in Money Management 101!

Click on the tabs below to jump to a section:

Scholarships and Bursaries
Housing
Transit
Food
Budgeting
Day-to-Day Spending
Section 1: Scholarships and Bursaries

So you’re going to college or university -- congratulations! Post-secondary education is a great investment in your future, even if the upfront costs are a bit daunting. Why not lighten the financial burden with a scholarship or bursary? There’s a huge amount of financial aid out there if you know where to look.

Aid from Your School

A good place to start your student aid search is at the college or university you’re attending or want to attend. Most schools have a student aid section on their website, while scholarships are often featured in a separate awards section.

Aid from the Federal and Provincial Government

In Canada both the Federal and Provincial governments fund post-secondary student aid on a massive scale. While your school might have information on government-provided student aid, you can also go to these websites directly:

Service CanadaThe Service Canada website has tons of great resources to help you fund your education.

Can Learn With a comprehensive list of government-funded student aid sources, plus useful tools like a Student Financial Assistance Estimator to help you gauge your annual loan and grant amounts, CanLearn’s site will help you find the funding you need.

Aid from Businesses, Charities and Foundations

Did you know that there are thousands of scholarships and bursaries provided by businesses, charities and foundations across Canada? Why not apply for some of them, if not this year, then next?

If you don’t know where to start, don’t worry -- there are actually some really cool websites out there that let you sort through private sources of student aid and identify the scholarships, bursaries and grants that are a good fit for you. Some even help you along in the application process with tools like deadline trackers and dashboards to keep you organized and focused on the right priorities.

These are two sites that many students say they find really helpful:

Scholarships Canada

This site has a free, searchable scholarship and bursary database with some fantastic tools to find student aid.

Yconic

yconic offers comprehensive scholarship and bursary resources, member-exclusive opportunities, and really useful forums for students to share ideas and learn about topics that are important to them.

Aid From Other Unlikely Places

Student aid can come from some places that might surprise you. Here are four:

  • Your parents’ employers. The company your parents work for might offer student aid to the children of employees. It doesn’t hurt to ask!
  • Your employer. Have a full-time or part-time job? Your employer might have a program to help you go back to school!
  • Guilds or Professional Organizations. If you want to study in a certain field, the professional organizations associated with it might offer scholarships and bursaries to enterprising young students.
  • Clubs, Religious Organizations and Community Groups. Think churches, temples, rotary clubs, etc.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the total amount of student aid per student recipient per province. As you’ll see, the type and amount of money available really varies from place to place!

Student AidAcross Canada

**Total Student Aid
$10,494.15
Non-Repayable Student Aid
$3,563.65
% Non-Repayable
34%

Province

Total Student Aid
$10,494.15
Non-Repayable Student Aid
$3,563.65
% Non-Repayable
34%
Yukon British Columbia Northwest Territories Alberta Saskatchewan Manitoba Nunavut Ontario Ontario Quebec Newfoundland and Labrador New Brunswick Nova Scotia Nova Scotia Prince Edward Island
*State of Student Aid Survey **Total Average Student Aid Per Recipient

Please note that Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon data are based on the Canadian average.

Section 2: Housing

Along with tuition, housing is one of the biggest expenses students face as they get a post-secondary education. While the cost of rent varies from city to city, no matter where you go to school it’s going to take up a big part of your budget.

Here are some tips to help you make housing as affordable and painless as possible.

Live off campus and in non-premium areas

The years when you’re a student are not the time to splurge on fancy, well-located digs. Choosing to live in a non-premium area can save you hundreds of dollars a month, which, when you’re a student, is a big deal! Just make sure it’s safe!

Split Rental Costs with Roommates

One tried and tested way to reduce your housing costs is by sharing a rental with other students. By renting a house or a large condo, many students find they can cut their monthly rent by 50% or more!

Get Renter’s Insurance

Renter’s insurance is rarely (if ever) on student minds -- that is, until they need it! A good renter’s policy will cover the cost of any belongings that are lost, stolen, or damaged during the time that you live in your rented apartment or house. Proper renter’s coverage will also protect you from liability in the event someone gets hurt in your home.

The Apps

If you’re going away for school, you may want to use an app to find a comfortable place to live. Here are a few options that we recommend!

Splitwise App

Splitwise allows you to split your bills with friends, family, and most importantly when you’re a student, housemates. All of your shared expenses and bills are organized in a convenient spot to help everyone understand what is owed, who is owed, and where it is owed. Splitwise is available for download on Apple and Android devices.

Homeslice

Homeslice transforms expense tracking into a private social network for roommates. Use the Homeslice Whiteboard to post notes about household bills, whenever supplies are running low, and even whose turn it is to do the cleaning. You can share upcoming events in a social calendar so all your friends know what to look forward to. Homeslice can be downloaded on Apple and Android devices.

Places4Students

A new mobile app developed by Places4Students makes off-campus house hunting a piece of cake. Use this app to hunt for vacant accommodations, roommate wanted notices, and even sublet postings. This app even makes it easier for landlords or property managers to find the best tenants to fill vacant rooms. Places4Students is available for download on Apple and Android devices.

Housing Costs Comparison

Expect to pay a significant amount of money on housing no matter where you choose to go to school. Here’s a quick comparison of the average annual housing costs at some of the most popular schools in Canada.

Average Residence Costs
School Average Residence Cost
U of T: $12,081.13
UBC: $8,317.13
York: $6,218.55
McGill: $9,976.13
Humber: $8,952.59
SAIT: $4,048.00
Queen’s: $11,352.55
Western: $11,340.19
U of C: $8,463.89
Dalhousie: $6,684.45

*weighted average cost of all campus residences **indicates mandatory meal plan included in average cost

Student Housing Costs
Across Canada

Hover over push pins to learn more!
University of British Columbia
  • Founded: 1908
  • Motto: "Tuum Est" (It Is Yours)
  • Cost of residence: $8,317.13 per year (average)
  • Cost to rent: $1,000-$1,600 per month (1BR apartment)
  • Popular student neighbourhood: Wesbrook Village
University of Calgary
  • Founded: 1966
  • Motto: "Mow HOO-luh TOW-gum SU-uss" (I will lift up mine eyes)
  • Cost of residence: $8,463.89 per year (average)
  • Cost to rent: $750-$1000 per month (1BR apartment)
  • Popular student neighbourhood: St. Andrews Heights
SAIT Polytechnic
  • Founded: 1916
  • Motto: "Many Arts and Skills"
  • Cost of residence: $4,048.00 per year (average)
  • Cost to rent: $750-$1,200 per month (1BR apartment)
  • Popular student neighbourhood: Kensington
University of Western Ontario
  • Founded: 1878
  • Motto: "Veritas et Utilitas" (Truth and Usefulness)
  • Cost of residence: $11,340.19 per year (average)
  • Cost to rent: $550-$1000 per month (1BR apartment)
  • Popular student neighbourhood: Medway District
Humber College
  • Founded: 1967
  • Motto: "We Are Humber"
  • Cost of residence: $8,952.59 per year (average)
  • Cost to rent: $700-$1000 per month (1BR apartment)
  • Popular student neighbourhood: Rexdale
York University
  • Founded: 1959
  • Motto: "Tentanda via" (The way must be tried)
  • Cost of residence: $6,218.55 per year (average)
  • Cost to rent: $900-$1300 per month (1BR apartment)
  • Popular student neighbourhood: York University Heights
University of Toronto
  • Founded: 1827
  • Motto: "Velut arbor ævo" (As a tree through the ages)
  • Cost of residence: $12,081.13 per year (average)
  • Cost to rent: $1000-$1600 per month (1BR apartment)
  • Popular student neighbourhood: The Annex
Queen's University
  • Founded: 1841
  • Motto: "Sapientia et Doctrina Stabilitas" (Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times)
  • Cost of residence: $11,352.25 per year (average)
  • Cost to rent: $650-$1000 per month (1BR apartment)
  • Popular student neighbourhood: Queen's Ghetto
McGill University
  • Founded: 1821
  • Motto: "Grandescunt Aucta Labore" (By work, all things increase and grow)
  • Cost of residence: $9,976.13 per year (average)
  • Cost to rent: $550-$800 per month (1BR apartment)
  • Popular student neighbourhood: McGill Ghetto
Dalhousie University
  • Founded: 1818
  • Motto: "Ora et Labora" (Pray and Work)
  • Cost of residence: $6,684.45 per year (average)
  • Cost to rent: $600-$1000 per month (1BR apartment)
  • Popular student neighbourhood: South End
Section 3: Transportation

Even after you pay your tuition, rent a place, and buy course materials and supplies, you still have to get to class everyday. Here’s how to keep your transportation costs under control:

Go with Student and/or Monthly Passes

The city where your school is located likely offers transit deals to students. If you have to get to campus everyday, remember also that it’s usually cheapest in the long run to buy a monthly pass rather than pay for single-day fares.

Choose the Right Permit

Tip: parking lots that are further from campus tend to be cheaper. Plus, you’ll get some exercise on your way to school! You can also cut costs by choosing a non-reserved permit rather than a reserved one – the latter, where you park in a designated space everyday, is always more expensive.

Always Compare Car Insurance Quotes

If you’re driving to school, one big cost you’ll have to worry about is auto insurance. Auto insurance prices can vary wildly among different providers, so it’s important to always shop around for the best deal.

You can use our interactive feature on the next page to see what car insurance should be costing you in the city where you’re going to school. We’ve also broken down all of the transit costs at our 10 featured schools, so check it out!

The Apps

No matter how you get to campus, there’s probably an app out there that will make your trip easier and less expensive. Here are two of our favourites.

Transit App

When it comes to transit, this app does it all: you get arrival times and directions on the transit routes that matter to you most, with real time data. You can even set up the app to deliver push notifications so you’ll know when you should leave the house. The app works across all your transportation options: train, subway, bus -- even Uber and car2go! Transit App is available for download on Apple and Android devices.

GasBuddy Logo

Want to know where to get cheap gas? Look no further than the GasBuddy app! GasBuddy shows you where to find the cheapest gas in whatever neighbourhood you’re in. Simply press the “Find Gas Near Me” button and the app does the rest! GasBuddy is available for download on Apple and Android devices.

See how transportation costs stack up at our 10 featured schools!

Cost of Transportation at different Universities
School Cost of transit pass per month Cost of parking permit per month
U of T: $121 $130
UBC: $38 $91
York: $121 $117.95
McGill: $49.25 $140
Humber: $121 $72.25
SAIT: $99 $141.25
Queen’s: $72 $108.18
Western: $70 $86.74
U of C: $99 $122.32
Dalhousie: $70 $45

Cost of monthly premium for 19 year old male student driver *

Car Insurance Cost Comparison
School Cost per Month
U of T: $384.08
UBC: $92.75
York: $753.75
McGill: $157.50
Humber: $546.33
SAIT: $148
Queen’s $163.42
Western $255.42
U of C: $148
Dalhousie $496.58

(* UBC is a provincial average not a student average) Sources: LowestRates.ca and BCAA.ca

Student Transportation Costs

Car Insurance
McGill University
Average Rate:
$157.50/month
Want to learn more about
car insurance in QC?
Humber College
Average Rate:
$546.33/month
Want to learn more about
car insurance in ON?
York University
Average Rate:
$753.75/month
Want to learn more about
car insurance in ON?
University of Calgary
Average Rate:
$148.00/month
Want to learn more about
car insurance in AB?
Dalhousie University
Average Rate:
$496.58/month
Want to learn more about
car insurance in NS?
University of Toronto
Average Rate:
$384.08/month
Want to learn more about
car insurance in ON?
Western University
Average Rate:
$255.42/month
Want to learn more about
car insurance in ON?
Queen's University
Average Rate:
$163.42/month
Want to learn more about
car insurance in ON?
University of British Columbia
Average Rate:
$92.75/month
Want to learn more about
car insurance in BC?
SAIT Polytechnic
Average Rate:
$148.00/month
Want to learn more about
car insurance in AB?
Cost of monthly premium for 19 year old male student driver *
Montreal metro pass
McGill University
$140.00 per month
Toronto metro pass
Humber College
$112.00 per month
Toronto metro pass
York University
$112.00 per month
Calgary metro pass
University of Calgary
$99.00 per month
Halifax metro pass
Dalhousie University
$70.00 per month
Toronto metro pass
University of Toronto
$112.00 per month
London Smart Card
Western University
$70.00 per month
Kingston Transit Card
Queen's University
$72.00 per month
Vancouver UBC metro pass
UBC
$38.00 per month
Calgary metro pass
SAIT Polytechnic
$99.00 per month
McGill University
$140.00 per month
Humber College
$72.25 per month
York University
$117.95 per month
University of Calgary
$122.32 per month
Dalhousie University
$45.00 per month
University of Toronto
$130.00 per month
Western University
$86.74 per month
Queen's University
$108.18 per month
University of British Columbia
$91.00 per month
SAIT Polytechnic
$141.25 per month
Car2Go
Starting Rate
$14.99/HR
Auto Share
Starting Rate
$8.25/HR
Auto Share
Starting Rate
$8.25/HR
Student Car Share
Starting Rate
$6.00/HR
Student Car Share
Starting Rate
$6.00/HR
Auto Share
Starting Rate
$8.25/HR
Zip Car
Starting Rate
$8.00/HR
Student Car Share
Starting Rate
$6.00/HR
Zip Car
Starting Rate
$8.00/HR
Student Car Share
Starting Rate
$6.00/HR
  • McGill University
  • Humber College
  • York University
  • University of Calgary
  • Dalhousie University
  • University of Toronto
  • University of Western Ontario
  • Queen's University
  • University of British Columbia
  • Southern Alberta Institute of Technology
Special Offer: Car Insurance
Section 4: Food
Save on Groceries

One of the best ways to save money while you’re in school is to cut your food bill. All it takes is a little bit of planning and a few smart choices every week and you’ll be racking up the savings in no time!

Coupons
Eating Out

If you find your schedule requires you to eat out frequently, try to keep the cost as low as you can.

Take Food With You. Whether it’s your coffee or your lunch, making stuff at home will save you hundreds, and possibly even thousands of dollars per year. Invest in a take-away coffee mug and some tupperware containers and you’ll be set for the school year.

Skip The Restaurant. Even if you want to get together with friends, you can still eat in. Make a meal together and simply split the grocery bill. You’ll have fun and you’ll save money!

Avoid Vending Machines. Vending machines seem to lurk in every hallway, ready to take your 2 dollars just when you’re feeling most vulnerable to a food or soft-drink craving. Pack snacks instead.

The Coffee Fix

Want to save on coffee? Simple -- make it at home. With coffee now over $2.00 a cup on most campuses, this one small practice can save you up to $40 or more each month.

If you just have to have coffee on the go, here’s how much you can expect to pay.

Coffee
The Apps

Saving money on food has never been easier thanks to the many wickedly-useful grocery and coupon apps now available to anyone with a smartphone.

Price Cruncher App
Flipp Logo

With Flipp, bargain hunters get all the weekly flyers at their fingertips – simply enter your postal code and Flipp shows you the latest deals in your area. Browse by category, clip items by tapping, and make shopping lists. Flipp even has a search feature – want to find cereal on the cheap? Just type it in the search bar and Flipp will find flyers with the best cereal deals that week.

Trying to compare prices at the grocery store while you’re on the go? The Price Cruncher app let’s you quickly and easily find the best price on a per unit basis. Compare milk, pastas, yogurt or anything else you’re buying!

Grocery iQ Logo

With millions of downloads, there’s obviously lots to love about the Grocery iQ app. Make your perfect grocery list and sort products by aisles, clip coupons and view matching stores nearby, favourite frequently-purchased products and even use voice search to find them later - Grocery iQ is the Swiss Army Knife of supermarket apps.

Section 5: Budgeting

If you’re worried about getting through the school year with your finances intact, probably the #1 thing you can do is make a budget!

Get started by keeping track of your monthly expenses and calculating your monthly income. If you don’t have any actual work income, add up the amount you’ve designated to get you through the school year and divide by the number of months you’ll be studying.

One of the best ways to save money is to understand exactly how you spend it. By tracking your fixed and variable expenses, you can see how much cash you’ll need every month and where you can potentially cut back.

Play around with our interactive spreadsheet below to see how far your money will go!

Budgeting 101

Fixed Costs

Income
Daily Expenses
Housing/Rent
Phone bill/Internet
Heat and Hydro
Total expense
(daily + fixed)
This month's savings

Daily Spending

Groceries Dining Out Coffee Transportation Entertainment School Supplies Misc.
Total Spend by Category
Total Spend for Month
*Based on a daily budget of 30% spending on groceries, 8% on dining, 5% on coffee, 10% on transportation, 12% on entertainment, 20% on school supplies and 15% on miscellaneous items.
The Apps

If manually tracking expenses isn’t your thing, you can turn to one of several mobile apps developed specifically to help people manage money.

Mint App
Mint Logo

Mint is one of the most popular budgeting apps on the market. Mint connects all your financial information in one convenient place, including bank accounts, credit card accounts, and monthly bills. You can even do a free credit check and see your most recent credit score. Mint is available for Apple, Android and Windows devices.

Paypal Logo

If you use PayPal to pay for anything and everything, then this app is for you – send and receive money on the go, check your balance and transaction history, and even order ahead at your favourite restaurant with the Apple, Android or Windows Phone app.

Wally Logo

Wally is a slick new budgeting app lauded by many as a very user-friendly (and indispensable) mobile personal finance tool. Wally helps track expenses, but also lets you calculate savings goals, providing you with an actual target to strive towards. While Wally is wildly popular this year, the app is only available for download to iOS devices.

Section 6: Day-to-Day Spending

Even if you’ve taken the time to get the big things right, like selecting low-cost housing, finding the cheapest transit pass and downloading killer budgeting and grocery apps, you can still crash your finances by letting your everyday expenses run wild. Stuff like cell phone bills, credit cards and books can cost you dearly if you aren’t careful.

Here are some strategies to keep your day-to-day spending in check:

Cell Phones

Unless you are truly old school, you’re one of millions of Canadian students who own a cell phone and use it pretty much everyday. And even though cell phones are nearly ubiquitous on campus, the plans that go with them don’t seem to be getting any cheaper.

That’s why it’s important to take some time and think about how much you will use your phone. If you make a lot of calls, you will likely want a plan with more daytime minutes. If texting is your thing, an unlimited texting plan might be worth the cost. If you surf the web a lot, then a larger data plan probably makes sense. Once you’ve figured out your needs, shop around for the best plan and try to get the most bang for your student buck.

We’ve put together some of the best plans available to Canadian students right now from each of the major carriers. Check them out!

Student Cell Phone Plans

Back to
School
Rogers Telus Bell Fido Koodo Virgin WIND Mobilicity
Plan Name Light Talk
Text & Data
Telus Voice 35 Voice Promo 35 Data, Text & Talk Smart Plan Lightweight Your Talk
Your Data
Smartphone
Plan
Unlimited Plus
Day Mins 200 Canada
wide minutes
150 Local Minutes 200 Local Minutes 300 Canada
wide minutes
200 Canada
wide minutes
200 Canada
wide minutes
Unlimited
(Canada wide)
Unlimited
(Province wide)
Evening & Weekends Unlimited
(Canada wide)
after 6pm
Unlimited
(local) after
6pm
Unlimited
(local) after
6pm
Unlimited
(Canada wide)
after 5pm
Unlimited
(Canada wide)
after 5pm
Unlimited
(Canada wide)
after 5pm
Unlimited
(Canada wide)
Unlimited
(Canada wide)
Txt Msgs Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited
(North America)
Call Display Included Included Included Included Included Included Included Included
Voicemail Included Included Included Included Included Included Included Included
Data 200MB Optional
(150MB)
Optional
(50MB)
300MB 100MB 100MB 2GB Light Data
(social apps, IM chat, email)
Activation Fee $35 $0 (SIM Card Charge $10) $35
($25 credit LTO)
$35 $35 $35 $0 $0
Contract Month to month
or 2 year term
2 year term 2 year term 2 year term 2 year term 2 year term 2 year term 2 year term
Rate $50/month $35/month
$50/month
(w/ data)
$35/month
$42.50/month
(w/ data)
$33/month $28/month
(plus monthly tab charge $0-$15
$35/month
(LTO)
$35/month $35/month
(plus $5 Light Data)
Credit Cards

Should you get a credit card while you’re in school? Personal finance experts disagree on this question but we think it’s probably a good idea. Credit cards have many benefits – not only are they convenient, they also help build your credit score and some even earn you points or cash back. A few credit card providers offer cards designed specifically for students, and you can compare them using online resources like LowestRates.ca.

Scotiabank Scene VISA

The Scene VISA has no annual fee and allows you to earn points toward free movies and discounts at movie theatres.

Scotiabank L’earn VISA

An easy application process and an accelerated cash-back rewards program make this card an attractive option for students. There’s no annual fee either!

Studentawards MBNA Rewards MasterCard

Establish your credit rating and earn great rewards with the StudentAwards MBNA Rewards MasterCard® credit card. Earn 1 MBNA Rewards point for every $1 in eligible purchases. There’s no annual fee and no limit on the amount of rewards you can earn!

Once you select a credit card that suits your needs, keep these tips in mind to help manage your card appropriately:

  • Always pay more than the minimum monthly payment -- if possible, pay the full balance every month
  • Remember the monthly due date of your card, and make a payment on or before this date to avoid interest penalties
  • Go out of your way to avoid extra fees on services like cash advances or withdrawing money at ATMs
  • Apply for one or two credit cards only so that you can track your balances easily and avoid overspending.
  • Always review your statements -- mistakes happen!
Special Offer: Credit Cards
Books
Day to Dat Spending: Books

As a student you’ll spend way more on books than you ever thought possible. Keep your book expenses down with these tips:

  • Ask before you buy. Call or email your professors to gauge if you will really need those “required” resources, and contact friends that may have taken the class a semester before you or in another year.
  • Check used bookstores on campus, and see if there is a used book marketplace online for students at your school. Also try Facebook, Kijiji and Craigslist.
  • If you have an eReader or tablet, try looking for an eBook version of your textbook on Coursesmart.com or rent with Kindle Textbook Rental
  • If you seldom use a textbook and only require it for occasional reference, try finding it at the library… for free!
Other Day-to-Day Spending Tips

Even the thriftiest students have to shop sometimes. Get the most bang for your student buck with these tips.

Buy Used. From cars to furniture to clothes, buying used is a great way to save money.

Get On Mailing Lists. If you are going to buy new, subscribe to your favourite retailers’ mailing lists to get special discounts.

Get an SPC Card. Student price cards are accepted by a huge and growing number of merchants. Display your card and you’ll be eligible to receive discounts of 10 to 20 percent at participating businesses. Check out the full list of stores here: http://www.spccard.ca/store-Locator-Full.aspx

Canvas Family and Friends. You’d be surprised how much extra stuff most people have lying around, from kitchenware to furniture to electronics. You’re a student – why not live like one, with a generous selection of hand-me-downs.

Summary

Good Luck This Year!

We hope this year’s Student Money Saving Guide helps you get through the year with a little more money in your pocket and a little less stress. Be sure to take advantage of the special offers in the guide -- they can definitely save you some cash!

Remember that when it comes to saving money it’s important to be creative, stay disciplined,and have a plan – the habits that allow you to excel academically can help you with your finances too!

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