5 financial tips for high school grads as they head to post-secondary
By ATB Financial 2 April 2020 5 min read
Whatever your ambitions and whatever post-secondary you’re heading to, taking the time to get a picture of your finances and set up a basic budget can simplify student life. Here are a few simple tips to get you started.
Set a budget
It sounds simple, but this step is one of the easiest ways to set yourself up for financial success.
Start by figuring out how much money you have coming in—from parents or guardians, scholarships, grants, savings, part-time or summer jobs and loans. Then do the math and figure out how much will be covering the not-so-fun, but essential fixed expenses like tuition, rent, insurance, car payments, and utility bills.
You can divide whatever’s left to cover food, books, entertainment, activities, gas, bus fare, clothing, personal care products, and other miscellaneous expenses. Feeling unsure how to budget expenses you’re not used to? Talk with your parents, guardians, relatives or book an appointment with an expert at ATB to get some advice. You can get started using our budget worksheet.
There are lots of online money management tools that can help you create (and monitor) your budget. ATB TrackIt is embedded in both our online and mobile banking platforms. You can track your spending at over 10,000 North American banks and retailers, see it automatically broken up into categories and subcategories, and create budgeting based on your previous spending. Plus, it’s free to use and super convenient, since it’s synced with your actual spending. Apps like Mint or You Need A Budget (YNAB) also work.
Looking for more resources? Check out our Student Survival Guide.
Decide if you'll work or not
Lining up a part-time or seasonal job can help you manage the cost of university and maybe even get a little extra spending money.
It comes down to knowing yourself—how much work can you handle while balancing your classes, health and social life? Also, how much money do you need to make school work for you? Asking yourself these questions can give you a pretty clear idea of how much you’ll need to work during school.
Beyond making your budget easier to manage, you’ll also learn the ins and outs of the working world. You may even build networks that will help with your post-university job search.
If you’re an international student, or don’t have a lot of spare time on your hands, you could look into on-campus jobs. They tend to have more flexible shifts and are allowed under many student visas.
If your university is within commuting distance to your family’s house, you may be able to cut your living expenses in half by waiting until after graduation to move out.
If living at home isn't an option, look into the cost of your housing options. These could include on-campus dorms, apartment living or splitting a house with a group. On top of rent, make sure to include any costs like gas and commuting, maintenance fees, utilities, parking and meal plans that can come with the university housing you choose.
Plan to save
Saving is an important part of creating a budget that works for you. Plan to set aside a fixed amount of money each paycheque to go towards saving. You can also take a certain percent of any gift money you get and put that in your savings account as well—it may not sound like the fun option, but these regular contributions can add up and allow you to to save for what matters to you in the future, whether that’s your own place or a dream vacation.
Looking for some support to kickstart your savings? Give ATB Prosper a try. Tell us your savings goal, put money towards it using your personalized plan and follow your progress on your own dashboard. It’s investing made simple (and free).
Feel in control of your debt
While debt might not be your first choice for getting through school, there are ways to make borrowing work for you. Student loans may be a popular choice, which makes sense since you don’t have to pay interest while you’re in school and for six months post-graduation. Keep in mind that the rate can be high after you graduate, making it harder to pay off.
Another option is getting a line of credit (LOC). The pros of this option: they have a lower interest rate. If you’re working and can pay off the amount you pay regularly, this could be a great option for you to save some money in the long run. The cons: LOCs are revolving—this means that as soon as you repay the money you borrowed, you can borrow up to your limit again without going through another loan approval process. While this could sound like good news, it’s easy to fall into debt this way if you don’t have consistent income. Think over the pros and cons of lines of credit to see whether this could be a good option for you.
We recommend steering clear of relying heavily on a credit card (they’re a notorious form of “bad debt”) for fun, but non-essential purchases. If you have a credit card, paying it off every month is a great habit that can set you up to have a good credit rating, which is helpful in the future for things like qualifying for a mortgage.
Once you’ve figured out how much debt you’ll need to get through school, include this in your budget under your expenses to avoid needing more loans to get through school. Also, calculate how much you’ll be repaying per month after you’ve graduated. This will help put your borrowing in perspective.
Setting up a budget, deciding on whether you’ll work, finding a housing option that works for you, starting to save regularly and managing your debt are simple ways you can take control of your money so you can be more confident and independent in school and after you graduate. Want more good advice to support your post-secondary journey? Check out our resources curated for Alberta students.
Editor's note: This article was previously published and has since been refreshed to make sure the insights we bring you are timely.