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Money Matters: Spending Plan for Students


School is starting in a few months, you've got some cash stashed in your bank account, what could possibly go wrong? Nothing…or everything. It's really up to you.

With some effort and planning, you can be the captain of your financial destiny. Creating your own student spending plan will help you get the most for your money and make it last right to the end of the school year.

To get started, check out the Spending Plan Worksheet and follow these seven easy steps:

  1. Identify how much money you’ll have upfront (before school starts).
  2. Identify what expenses you’ll have to pay upfront.
  3. Estimate your irregular expenses and allow for these costs in your monthly plan.
  4. Estimate your regular monthly expenses.
  5. Estimate your monthly income from all sources.
  6. Calculate your monthly balance.
  7. Record, review, revise.

You may need to use some estimated numbers when you start creating your spending plan. Don’t forget to update and adjust your plan as you figure out your actual costs and income.

Let's look at these steps in more detail.


  1. Identify how much money you’ll have upfront (before school starts).
    Take time to think of every possible resource that you have. This is the money you will have in hand when you start school in September - scholarships, grants, bursaries, family support, tax refunds and any other savings you managed to sock away. If you are applying for, or need information about, student loans, grants and scholarships, make sure you visit the Student Aid Alberta website at studentaid.alberta.ca before you start creating your spending plan.

  2. Identify what expenses you’ll have to pay upfront.
    Of course, tuition, books, supplies and other fees will make up the bulk of these one-time costs. But remember to think about things like damage deposit, utilities hook-up, moving expenses and anything else you may need. For example, if you are living on your own for the first time, you may need some basic furniture, linens, and kitchenware (although friends and family may also be able to give or lend you these items).

  3. Estimate your irregular expenses and allow for these costs in your monthly plan.
    Many people overlook irregular expenses when creating a spending plan. It can be difficult to allow for these expenses on an already tight student budget but you’ll save yourself many unwelcome surprises and headaches by planning in advance for these costs.

  4. Estimate your regular monthly expenses.
    The next step is to figure out how much you will spend. You may know some of the actual expenses - such as your rent - or you may have to estimate. If you have to guess on some of the numbers, estimate slightly higher rather than too low.

  5. Estimate your monthly income from all sources.
    Look at all your sources of income. This could be part-time or casual work, RESP money, loan/grant money and other income such as tax returns, spousal support or family support. If some of these are lump sum amounts, divide them by the months you are in school and add this amount to your monthly income. This should give you an estimate of the income you have on a monthly basis.

  6. Calculate your monthly balance.
    This step requires some basic math: Subtract the expenses you pay upfront from the money you have upfront and calculate an upfront resources total. Now divide this amount by the number of months you are in school and add your monthly income to determine your available monthly resources. From this, subtract your monthly regular and irregular expenses.

    Tip: plan for one additional month of regular expenses. Otherwise, your May bills could be due before you are working full-time and have received a paycheque.

    This will give you your total monthly balance. If the number is positive you have enough money to cover your costs for the school year. If the number is negative, you need to make adjustments to your spending plan or find additional sources of income.

  7. Record, review, revise.
    Your entire money management plan hinges on this step, even though it can be a bit tedious. Make sure you hang on to all the zillion slips of paper that document your spending: receipts, credit/debit card transaction records and cancelled cheques. Once a week, transfer these slips of paper into an expanding file.

    If you spent less than you planned, you're laughing. If you spent more, you have to revise your budget. This is a polite way of saying you either have to spend less money or make more money - or you'll be eating macaroni and cheese until the end of the school year. It's as simple as that!

Relevant Tips (alis.alberta.ca/tips)

Additional Reading (alis.alberta.ca/publications)

Resources

  • Canada.ca - for a budget estimator, an education cost calculator and an online budget planner
  • Money Mentors - This service will help you understand how credit works and smart ways to spend your money. They can assist you with any money management challenges, provide options to repay and reduce debts, and show you how to establish or re-establish your credit. Visit your local Alberta Works Centre. To find the office nearest you, call the Alberta Career Information Hotline.

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