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The real price of student life in Alberta

The real price of student life in Alberta

Posted on: August 19, 2017
Author: Staff

Average tuition, housing, and food costs in Alberta—and ways to save

With the new school year right around the corner, two things are for certain: your workload is about to get heavier and your bank account is about to get lighter. Much, much lighter.

Time management will be critical in getting you through the school year, but so will money management. In the spirit of higher learning, here's some insight into the real cost of living on your own in Alberta and how you can save some cash.

Tuition At $5,738 per year, Alberta has the sixth highest average undergrad tuition fees for Canadian full-time students. You've heard it before, but scholarships, bursaries and grants are the best way to trim your tuition costs, saving you anywhere from $200 to $5000 a year. If you haven't applied before school started, you can still apply during the school year. You can also take fewer classes—it'll bump back your grad date, but your tuition and book costs will drop and you'll have more time for a part-time job.
Books You can easily spend $700 on books per semester—more if you're studying sciences. New books smell nice, but used or rented books are nice on the wallet—saving you 15–20% off the list price. If you absolutely need the current copy, try buying online and sharing with a non-coffee-spilling or highlighter wielding classmate.
Housing In Alberta, the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment is close to $1,300. Vacancy rates in many Alberta communities are higher than they have been in recent years, so you should have lots of apartments to choose from.

University residence is another housing option. Although the monthly cost may be more than rent, being on campus might be worth the extra money.
If you don't already have a roommate, consider getting one—preferably a responsible one. This should cut your rent and utilities by 50%. Living further away from campus can also cut your rent, but it will probably increase your transportation costs.
Transportation Parking spots on campus can run from $100-$200 per month—not including the cost of gas and insurance, of course. Post-secondary schools in Alberta's biggest cities often provide a transit pass (paid for in your student union fees). That's the cheapest way to go. If you have to drive, carpooling and parking off campus are good ways to be green and get fit.
Food According to Statistics Canada, the average Alberta household spent $8,740 on food in 2014, which comes out to $290 per person per month. You'll spend more if you eat out often. Resist the urge to eat out and learn how to cook a few simple meals. You don't have to be able to cool like Gordon Ramsay - stir-fries and spaghetti are easy to make and feed lots of people. Also, shop the smart way by paying attention to prices and flyers. Even if you don't use coupons, the flyers will show you which stores have the best deals.
Miscellaneous You can expect to pay $50 per month for electricity, another $80 for heat (if it's not included in your rent), and about 50-$100 for a phone plan. Cable and internet could add another $100 to your cost of living. Being more energy efficient can save you about $30 per month. So, at the risk of sounding like your parents, turn off the lights when you leave a room.

If you have a sweet smart phone plan and spend a lot of time on campus, you may be able to scrap home internet.


Throw in an extra $100 for incidentals, and your monthly expenses will hover around $2000.

If you follow these good spending habits, you can trim your monthly expenses by $500 or more—which means an extra $4000 in your pocket by May.

Other money-saving tips

  • Use your student card to get sweet deals at restaurants, stores, the movies, and more. Not that you should be doing a lot of that anyway, but if you're going to spend, make sure you get a discount!
  • Consider getting a no-fee student account for your day-to-day banking. With lots of free transactions, these kinds of accounts are built for student life.
  • Review our article 6 easy ways to save $180 per month for some more tips.

The bottom line

Alberta can be pricey, especially for post-secondary students. If you balance studying, spending and saving, you'll graduate with a degree - not a mountain of debt.

Other articles you may be interested in:

13 good financial habits to build on
13 common financial blunders to avoid
6 easy ways to save $180 per month