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my money coach

Seven financial mistakes to avoid at university

Part II

by Tim St Vincent

Here is Part II of my article from last month. If you missed it, I suggest you get a copy of the mid-May edition or read it on line at, under “My Money Coach” in the Features section.

To continue…

4. Spending beyond your means

Living frugally doesn’t mean doing without; it means being smart with your money and getting value. It also means having a clear understanding of the things you need, the things you want, and the line that divides them, called the things you can afford. While there are some costs that you can’t control like tuition, there are lots of areas where you can minimize your spending. For example, buy used books, avoid buying the latest technology, use your student ID for discounts, and take advantage of free or low cost events.

Make every dollar count. Before spending anything, stop and ask yourself if you need to spend the money. I visited a campus last spring and was amazed at how long the line-up was for coffees and lattes at the local coffee franchise. Three lattes a week could lighten your bank account by $1,000 a year! If you need a caffeine fix, make your own and save about 90 per cent per cup!

5. Missing out on scholarships, grants, and bursaries

There is over $100 million available in scholarships, grants and bursaries in Canada each year. Each year millions of dollars remain unclaimed! The big scholarships are snapped up quickly, but there are lots of $250 – $1,000 grants and bursaries available that can help cover school costs. Contact the financial aid office at your school for more information and talk to your school counsellor. Many large campuses have smaller colleges right on them, and each of these colleges has its own bursaries, grants and scholarships. Join a college; doing so could open up more financial avenues. Investing time up front could potentially bring in hundreds to thousands of additional funds.

6. Not working part-time while attending school

Working during the school year will help cover your expenses. You can build upon this by working full-time in the summer months and substantially reduce, or eliminate the amount of money you’ll need to borrow next year. Depending upon your field of study, there may be opportunities to enter into a co-op program where you attend school for part of the year and then work in your field of study. Co-op and work-study programs don’t just help your bank account; they’re a great addition to your resume. If you’re really lucky, you may even find an employer who wants to take you on full time, and cover the costs of your continuing education.

7. Choosing a school for the wrong reasons

Graduates who come to the Credit Counselling Society for assistance often question the value of their education in relation to the debt they’ve incurred. It’s not pretty and it could have been minimized if students, with some help from their parents, a high school counsellor or an academic advisor, worked through the different financial scenarios of:

  • Living away from vs. living at home
  • Attending a community college and then transferring to a university
  • Attending a prestigious vs. a community university
  • Attending university vs. working until you have a clearer idea of your future

The time spent working through these different education options could end up saving a person tens of thousands of dollars. You may even come to the realization that, overall,l things would be better if you waited a year or two so that you can gather more funds and a better idea of what you want to study.

The bottom line: knowledge

A solid plan and good decision making are the keys to avoiding the common money mistakes students make during their post-secondary years. While you may not be able to graduate completely debt free, if you avoid these seven money mistakes, you will graduate with a lot less debt, a lot less stress, and you’ll be able to move forward financially more quickly.

Tim St Vincent is a retired CFP (Certified Financial Planner) and is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance with the Credit Counselling Society (CCS), a non-profit organization. If you wish to contact Tim or the Society for further information or to request / attend a workshop / webinar, please call 1-888-527-8999 or go to or

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