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Education & Training

Shop Smart

Small daily treats or impulsive purchases can add up over the year. Shopping smart isn’t about how much money you have-it’s about how you spend it.

Here are some practical ideas on how to get best value for your money and make it last through to the end of the school year.

Show your student card

Your student ID card can get you discounts or even freebies at many stores and restaurants, and for services. Do an online search for businesses that offer student discounts or ask about this at your Students’ Union. The discounts range from local stores and services to online shops. Also, get into the habit of asking when you’re shopping-they might not realize you’re a student.

The little things add up

What may seem like little daily purchases can lead to big amounts of money spent over the year. Take a look:

Daily costs:

  • Morning coffee: $2.00-$5.00
  • Chocolate bar or chips: $2.25
  • Takeout lunch: $10.00
  • On-demand movie: $6.50

After a year, these daily costs can add up to:

  • Morning Coffee: $480.00 – $1,200
  • Chocolate bar or chips: $585.00
  • Takeout lunch: $2,600.00
  • On-demand movie: $1,690.00

Take a few minutes and think about the things you spend money on regularly. Use the form below to get annual costs of items you buy.

Buy (and sell) used textbooks

I bought a used textbook but then discovered it was an older edition. When I checked with my prof, she told me the only difference was one updated chapter. I just made notes on that chapter from my friend’s copy.

You need textbooks, but you don’t always need brand new ones. In many cases you can buy them second-hand or even borrow them.  You can find the reading list for each of your courses – most universities and colleges will have course outlines (or syllabuses) online - before the class starts. Here are some ways to save on books:

  • Post messages on social media indicating that you are looking for people who took the course in the previous term and ask if you can buy their textbooks.
  • Check bulletin boards around your program area for books for sale.
  • Check with your school’s students’ union or student’s association to see if they keep online listings of used textbooks for sale.
  • Look into renting the textbooks you need. Check your school or program’s website. You’ll get to have them all semester and then return them, at a cost that is much lower than buying a new textbook.
  • Some universities and colleges have started lending textbooks through their libraries. Check to see if your instructor has put any on reserve at your school’s library. This costs you nothing, but keep in mind that there might not be many copies, and you might not be able to borrow them for the whole semester.
  • You don’t always need a physical textbook – check into getting ebooks instead. Downloads and even printing of various textbooks can usually be accessed through your school’s library.
  • Share books and other materials with friends, roommates, or colleagues.
  • Check if the textbook you need is available online. You might find it selling for less than at your school’s bookstore.
  • When you’re done with your textbooks, sell them the same way you got them – on a used textbook registry, through posters near your program’s classes, or online.

Save on supplies

You need school supplies, but they can get pricey. Follow these tips for saving:

  • Be frugal. Keep unused paper, binders, and pens from one year to the next.
  • Be realistic about how much paper, and how many pens and pencils, you’re going to need. Many students take notes on their laptops, and instructors often accept emailed or shared online assignments.
  • Compare models of laptops or tablets, and focus on how you can use them for schoolwork.
    • Check out major technology companies, stores and office suppliers for student discounts.
  • Go to job fairs, trade shows, and other corporate-sponsored events which can be a great source of freebies like pens, pencils, notepads, folders and even memory sticks.
  • Shop back-to-school savings in July and August.

Save on clothing

I shop at second-hand and consignment stores and find great stuff for a lot less than in regular stores. I also sell clothes I don’t wear anymore on consignment. If it’s in good condition, why not? I get money for things that would otherwise just be taking up space in my closet.

Dress for less with careful planning and shopping:

  • Plan to shop at outlet stores and second-hand clothing stores as they usually offer a good selection at greatly reduced prices. Plan to shop on their sale days to save even more.
  • Build a clothing cash reserve into your budget. Plan ahead (and save) for buying those big-ticket items like a new winter coat and boots.
  • Check the care labels before you buy. “Dry clean only” items are going to be expensive to maintain. “Machine wash” clothing will be easier, and cost less, to care for.
  • Host a clothing-swap party with friends.
  • Shop seasonal sales for great deals.
  • Think about the cost per wearing. A $50 item that you wear only a couple of times may not be such a good deal. A $150 pair of boots could last for years.

Save on furniture

If you’re living away from home and off-campus, you might need to buy furniture. Most used furniture-like a bed frame, table, and chairs-will be in good shape. Here are a few ways to furnish for cheaper:

  • Look at online students’ union listings and buy and sell websites for used furniture. Students might opt to just give away furniture if they’re moving.
  • Shop garage sales. Many will be advertised in local classifieds the week before. Take advantage of community-wide sales or special fundraiser sales for the best one-stop selection. If you find something you want, explain that you’re a student and barter on the price.
  • Take a look around your room, your parents’ house, your aunt’s attic, your cousin’s garage. What furniture would they let you borrow?
  • See if current renters are willing to leave some of their furniture behind or sell you some for a reasonable price, if you’re taking over their apartment.
  • Save on furniture by renting a fully furnished place.
  • Ask furniture stores if they have an “as-is” section, with slightly damaged items at reduced prices.

Save on food

To keep meals affordable, your best options are probably home-cooked meals or campus meal plans. Eating out can be costly. Here are a few tips to help stretch your dining dollars.

Meal plans

My roommate and I belong to a food co-op. We each put in a couple of hours of work a month sorting groceries. In exchange, we save quite a lot. We couldn’t afford to buy much organic or environmentally friendly stuff if we didn’t do it through the co-op.

  • If you’re living in residence on campus, you’ll probably have the option of signing up for a meal plan. Consider all the options carefully. Some meal plans charge by points, while others charge by the meal and let you go back for more food at mealtime. Some plans may allow you to cash in unused meal points.
  • If you’re not living in residence but are spending long days on campus, your school may offer a meal plan for you, too. A meal plan can give you access to at least 1 hot meal and may save you money. Check with your school.
  • If you purchase a meal plan, make sure you use it.

Do-it-yourself meals

  • Brown bagging your lunch at school can save you money. Create a little variety by taking something you can heat up in a microwave. Invest in a reusable lunch bag, a thermos (for coffee, tea or soup), and an eco-friendly water bottle.
  • Cook your favourite 1-dish meals or stir-fries in large quantities, divide them into meal-sized portions, and freeze them for later.
  • Buy yourself some quick snacks in bulk. That way you won’t be so tempted to purchase them from vending machines or convenience stores, where they’re most expensive.
  • Make your coffee or tea at home and bring it with you.
  • Pick a café with a customer loyalty program (frequent buyer card), If you’re going to buy a hot beverage away from home

Grocery shopping

  • Get the most from your grocery money, by planning your meals a week in advance. Make a grocery list, take advantage of what’s on sale, and shop for a week at a time. This way you won’t run out of things and have to go to the corner store for last-minute purchases.
  • Subscribe to online flyers and shop the sales. If you have transportation, shop around. If not, figure out who has the best overall prices and shop there. Ask if the grocery store has a loyalty card that provides discounts. Some stores also offer points toward free groceries.
  • Use coupons to help save you money, but only if they’re for things you normally buy.
  • Eat before you shop. If you’re hungry, you might make impulsive food choices and blow your grocery budget.
  • Buy fresh fruit and vegetables in season. Buy generic or house brands and share the food and cost with roommates. Buy non-perishables (dry foods that last) in bulk. Ask friends to go in on bulk items, then divide them up.
  • Read the labels. Look for best-before dates. Compare unit prices when you can. Check the lists of ingredients and nutritional content - the main ingredients are listed first.
  • Use student food banks if you find yourself really short of money. It’s tough to be a good student without good nutrition.

Dining out

  • Always ask about a student discount and show your student card.
  • Take advantage of 2-for-1 coupons, slow-night specials (usually on Mondays or Tuesdays), and all-you-can-eat buffets.
  • Order the daily special and skip or split dessert.
  • Ask to have your meal packaged up so you can take it home, if you can’t finish it. You’ll have a gourmet lunch the next day.
  • Take turns to host friends for dinner which can be much less expensive than going out to restaurants. “Dining out” can be at a friend’s place rather than a restaurant.
    • Ordering in can be just as expensive as eating out, when you add in delivery charges and a tip. If you really want to order in, try picking up the order yourself from a restaurant you can walk to.
    • Limit yourself. Dining out is a treat, not a need.

Save on cleaning up

Try these money-saving tips to keep your house and laundry clean.

  • Use half the recommended laundry soap per load. You probably won’t notice any difference, and your soap supply will last twice as long.
  • Bring your own detergent, if you use a laundromat. Save money (and time) when drying by popping your clothes into a dryer that’s still warm from the previous person. Or hang your clothes to dry at home.
  • Use crumpled newspapers instead of paper towels to clean mirrors and windows. Reuse old tea towels and washcloths to use as rags.
  • Make your own house cleaning solution by adding 1/8 cup baking soda and 1/4 cup laundry detergent to a pail of warm water.

Save on Fun  

Everybody needs a break now and then. The trick is to make sure your entertainment choices are affordable. Here are some ideas:

  • Check online streaming services for student discounts. Or, you could share the cost of an account with roommates or friends.
  • Skip the snacks at the movie theatre. Popcorn and snacks can easily double your cost for the show. If you just can’t do without, buy or make snacks with a friend.
  • Share the costs of a TV, cable, and internet with roommates.
  • Borrow books, music, movies, and video games for free from the library. Many libraries offer these online.
  • Look on campus for free or cheap concerts, theatre, and visual art shows.
  • Go to museums and art galleries that offer discounted or even free admission for students.
  • Watch for posters around town and ads online or in local papers for festivals, which usually include free entertainment.
  • Volunteer with festivals, and athletics or arts groups, and you’ll often be rewarded with free tickets.
  • Check out the athletic clubs and recreational facilities on campus. You could learn a new sport, join the gym, or go on organized hikes, bike rides and outdoor adventures for less than you’d spend privately.
  • Go to your school’s sports teams’ games. You’ll be supporting them, and ticket prices are usually low.

There are lots of ways you can save money here and there and have a great school year. Put a bit of time into planning before you buy. It will make a difference.

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