Having a budget and sticking to it is crucial for not running into financial trouble at university.

“If the kids want to make it through their year and through their program, I would say that’s No. 1,” says Frances Cody, the housing and financial aid manager at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax.

Students must also distinguish between needs and wants when putting together a budget, says Dr. Laura Stanbra, the director of financial aid and awards at Concordia University in Montreal.

It’s important to think about more than tuition and books, and think about other costs such as transportation, rent, food and clothing.

“They can add up pretty quickly,” says Stanbra.

Part of the challenge of managing one’s finances in university is it’s often the first time students have had to do it. The good news is if students need some guidance, most universities offer free counselling to help them straighten out their finances and perhaps provide some financial aid.

“We’re here to help them figure out how to save money and how to access other sources of funding,” says Claudia Barrett, the associate director of student awards and financial aid at the University of Calgary.

When students do encounter financial difficulties, the key is to be open about it, says Dr. Eric Kirzner, a professor in the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. He says all kinds of people face financial struggles, so there isn’t any reason to feel ashamed about running into financial difficulties

“This is not the time to be shy,” he says. “This is not the time to let a small problem escalate into a big problem.”

Kirzner recommends budgeting on a monthly basis. A weekly budget is too tight and two months is too long. He recommends stretching and being frugal early on, so it leaves a little cushion to splurge later. This breathing room can be crucial if unexpected expenses pop up down the road.

“Most students live rather modestly,” says Stanbra. “When you have a budget and there’s very little wiggle room, one unexpected expense can really mean the difference between making and breaking that monthly budget.”

Barrett says some other tips for saving money are to take a close look at banking expenses and know what your plan includes and excludes.

When making purchases, pay by cash whenever possible. If you have to use a credit card, be sure to pay the monthly balance in full and on time. This way you won’t have to pay interest charges and you’ll help generate a positive credit rating. Pay attention to the interest rate as well.

Cody advises students who are staying off-campus to look for eight-month leases, rather than leases for one year.

“A lot of students get stuck trying to find subletters for the summer months,” she cautions.

Cody also recommends using the web to find scholarships on sites such as www.studentawards.com.

She also recommends checking with local community and civic groups about potential scholarships.

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