Tips to Avoid Debt

By: Ashleigh Viveiros

To avoid being in debt once you graduate, you're going to need to start cutting corners now, while you're in school. Lucky for you, it's pretty easy to do, once you set your mind to it. Here are a few money-saving tips to get you started:

Entertainment & Recreation

  • Take full advantage of on-campus entertainment - join clubs, attend student association parties, sign-up for school sports or intramurals. Once you get involved with what's going on in your school, you'll find you can easily fill your free time with any number of free or cheap events.
  • Scrap the public gym membership and head to your campus’ workout facilities instead. Your school gym is likely just as well equipped as any public one, but, as a student, you'll pay significantly less for an annual membership or for one-time uses.
  • Stay home. Split the cost of a movie rental with a bunch of friends, pop some popcorn, and enjoy a fun, thrifty Friday evening every once in awhile, rather than heading out for some expensive bar-hopping. Similarly, an evening spent at a house party will always be cheaper than one spent out at the clubs.
  • Stop paying for cable. If you're in an urban area, you can use good old-fashioned rabbit ears to get several local channels. For more viewing options, log-on to your computer and stream television shows for free off many of the major Canadian network websites. Failing that, start swapping TV DVDs with your friends, borrow from the library for free, or limit your television-watching to whatever’s on in the student lounge.
Food
  • Learn to cook. Packing a lunch or eating at home could save you hundreds, even thousands of dollars a year if you’re the kind of person who tends to eat out a lot. Even with the cost of ingredients, making your own meals is still cheaper, and you'll probably get more than one meal out of it with the leftovers. Just get a simple recipe book and start experimenting. By the way, this also applies to coffee – think about how much you spend on your daily fix, and consider investing in a coffeemaker instead.
  • Buy bulk. If it's something that you're going to use and is unlikely to go bad, you'll always save money by buying things in bulk. Head to public bulk grocery stores, or team up with several friends and split the cost of a membership to Costco, or someplace similar.
  • Clip coupons and look for sales. Don't ever just go to some random grocery store and start throwing stuff you need into your cart. Hunker down with the weekly flyers and spend some time comparing prices, checking to see what's on sale, and, most importantly, clipping out coupons. Then make a list and stick to it (and don't shop when you're hungry!).
  • Buy no-name products. For the most part, the no-name brands probably taste or work the same as the overpriced brand name items.
  • Drink tap water. Unless you're living in some third-world country, your tap water is probably clean to drink. If it tastes gross straight from the tap, try sticking a container full in the fridge overnight to see if that helps. Or invest in a cheap tap filter.
  • If it's an emergency and money's really tight, don’t be too proud to check out your school's foodbank every once in awhile to help tide you over.
Transportation
  • If you live anywhere near your school, walk, bike, or rollerblade to classes. Even if you live a bit further away, see if you can make it to campus in a reasonable amount of time using leg-power. If you can, you'll not only save on transportation dollars, but also get in some exercise (and, if you're biking 30 minutes to school everyday, a school gym membership might not be necessary at all).
  • Use public transit. While in some cities it may not be particularly speedy (but at least you can use the bus-time to sleep or read), it is always cheaper than taking your own car to school. Make sure you get the student rate on passes or tickets.
  • If you must use a car, carpool to split the cost of gas and parking.
Books
  • Buy used. Most schools have used bookstores on campus, but don't overlook online book sites like Books4Exchange, Amazon, or even eBay, as well as public used bookstores and personal sales (check out the bulletin boards first thing in a semester). Also remember that, in most cases, older editions are still perfectly acceptable, but considerably cheaper than the new ones.
  • Borrow. Before buying a book at all, see if you can borrow it from the library or from a friend. This is especially the case with any works of literature, but sometimes certain specialized texts are also available at public or school libraries. Just make sure you’ll have access to it when you need it.
  • Share. If you have a close friend in class with you, you might be able to get away with sharing a required textbook. This works especially well if someone you know is taking the same course as you in a different semester. Again, just make sure access won't be an issue.
  • Wait and see what's actually necessary. Don't buy all the books on your book list the first week of classes. Instead, wait until you can read your course outline or talk to your professor to see just how much a given book will be used – you might be able to get away with borrowing briefly or skipping a non-essential book entirely.
Everything Else
  • Buying used really applies to just about anything. Need clothes? Head to the thrift store and sift through the racks – you'll often find like-new clothes for ridiculously cheap prices. Ditto for furniture, books, movies, electronics … you name it. You can buy the expensive new stuff when you have a job; right now, aim for cheap.
  • Even cheaper than buying used is trading your junk for other people’s stuff. Some schools have groups and events specifically for this purpose, but you can also start your own swapping program amongst your friends and family.
  • Another way to save a few bucks a month is to sign-up for a student bank account. Many banks offer students low-fee or no-fee accounts. Whatever kind of account you have, keep very close track of what you’re spending, so you’ll never have to deal with overdraft fees.
  • Speaking of fees, go over the various student fees you have to pay at the start of the semester/year to make sure that they’re all relevant to you. While most fees are mandatory, a few are not. For example, if you’re already covered by your parents’ health plan, why pay extra for the same coverage through your school? Find out how you can opt-out and get some cash back in your pocket.

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