Student Budgeting Guide

Money Matters: A Student’s Guide to Budgeting

Bills, bills, bills.

As a student, it can feel like all you are doing is giving money away faster than you can earn it. The list of expenses is long; tuition, housing, food, transportation, phone, health insurance, etc…. and that doesn’t even include anything fun like a Starbucks date with your friends.

While money may not be the most important thing in life, financial struggle can be stressful, and it can impact your overall quality of life. If you are looking for ways to save money and become more financially stable, this guide provides an overview to help you improve your financial knowledge and help you get that coffee you deserve!

Step One: Educate Yourself

Becoming money-smart doesn’t happen overnight for most of us. Learning how to budget and making wise financial decisions is dependent on the knowledge you have, so why not take some time to get informed? Don’t let banking terms and concepts overwhelm you- educate yourself so that you can be in control of your money. There are several sources you can consult to expand your financial awareness.

  • Family and Friends: Do you admire someone in your life for their financial decisions? Ask them if they would be willing to sit down and have a chat! Learn about their financial journey and consult them for advice for your personal situation.
  • Community Resources: Seek out professional advice from community resources such as those provided by the Credit Counselling Society (CCS). The CCS offers a variety of services for debt solutions, financial planning and education.
    • Online Webinars: Join a free community workshop from the comfort of your home! You can sign up for webinars on topics including how to budget, understanding credit, ways to save on household expenses, and more. Check out their schedule here.
    • Credit Counselling: Struggling with debt? You can arrange for a free and confidential financial assessment with a certified credit counsellor; they will analyze your situation and help come up with a plan to save money and get out of debt.
  • Online Learning: Study and learn at your own pace by taking a tutorial through PrepStep! Access the section on Personal Success Skills for courses and practical exercises  on the following topics:
    • The Basics of Money Management
    • Managing Debt
    • Why Credit Matters
    • Understanding Insurance and Taxes
    • Investing for Life

Click here if you need help registering for PrepStep.

Step Two: Create a Budget

Before you start a budget, it is important to find a method that works for you. Budgeting used to be something you did with a notebook and pen, and lots of paper receipts. Thankfully, technology has progressed a little and we now have some great and easy-to-use resources at our fingertips. Let’s examine a few different methods and Apps you can use to keep track of your budget.

Mint Budget Tracker & Planner

Mint is a free App you can use to link all of your bank accounts together. This allows you to have an overview of all of your spending and savings in one place so you don’t have to jump around to track your finances.

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Mint also categorizes all of your spending so that you can easily see where and how you are using your money. With this information, you can easily create a budget on the app which matches your spending patterns.

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Your spending is tracked by Mint and is automatically categorized so that you can quickly review your finances. 

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Mint Pros:

  • Free and user-friendly
  • Sync and access all of your banking information in one place
  • Provides a breakdown of your spending in easy-to-read charts
  • Set-up bill payment alerts and reminders
  • Available for Android and IOS 

Mint Cons:

  • Requires access to your banking information
  • Doesn’t allow you to link accounts with another user
  • You still need to review your spending since Mint doesn’t always categorize your spending correctly

Summary: Use Mint if you already have a solid plan for saving money and you only want to track your spending and bill payments.


Goodbudget is a budget tracking app that is based on the digital envelope method and follows three basic steps.

  1. Each time you receive a paycheck, you divide it based on your budgeting criteria. 
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2. When you need to spend money, you choose the correct envelope based on the purchase.

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3. After making a purchase, update the corresponding envelope on the app to reflect your spending. This allows you to stay on budget and avoid overspending.

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Goodbudget Pros:

  • Basic version is free and user-friendlyAllows you to plan your spending rather than simply tracking itTrack your debt payoffSync and share your budget with others in your householdAvailable for Android and IOS 

Goodbudget Cons:

  • Some features are only available through the Plus version ($7/month)Transactions need to be updated right away to keep your budget accurate

Summary: Goodbudget is a great place to start if you do not currently have a budget in place. This App is also useful if you want to share your budget with others in your household- although you may have to pay for additional accounts for this feature.

YNAB (You Need a Budget)

The software from YNAB operates on a zero-based budgeting system. This means you only budget the money you actually have in your bank account (similar to Goodbudget’s envelope method).YNAB follows four basic principles to help you reach your budgeting goals:Rule One- Give Every Dollar a Job: As soon as you receive some money, you decide what each dollar will be used for before you spend it.

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Rule Two- Embrace Your True Expenses: Set money aside on a regular basis for infrequent expenses so that you are prepared when these fees arrive. Examples of what you could set money aside for include: holidays, car maintenance, birthday presents, etc.

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Rule Three- Roll with the Punches: Life happens, and sometimes staying on budget just isn’t an option. Simply re-adjust your budget when this happens by moving money from a less essential category, keeping track of your changes as you go.

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Rule Four- Age your Money: By following the first three rules, YNAB helps you to break out of the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle. With time and careful spending, the money in your accounts will stay there longer, meaning you will be able to start living on last month’s income.

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Watch this video to learn more about YNAB’s Four Rules for Successful Budgeting.YNAB Pros:

  • College students qualify for one free year of YNAB. Find out more here.You have the choice of linking your bank account(s) or manually entering your expensesSync your budget with other members in your householdOffers personal support, video courses and free online workshops every weekAward-winning software for IOS and Android devices

YNAB Cons:

  • Monthly/annual fees after the first 12 months

Summary: If you are serious about saving money, than YNAB is for you. Their budgeting tools offer the most flexibility, and following their Four Rules leads to proven results. 

Step Three: Follow your Budget

Regardless of which budgeting method you prefer, the key to being successful is to stay consistent. Since this isn’t always easy to do, consider putting a plan in place to keep you accountable. Ideas for Personal Motivation:

  • Ask a friend to start a budget too so that you can support each otherShare your budget with someone who’s advice you respectReward yourself! Plan rewards for yourself as you reach your budgeting goalsFollow the budgeting app you use on social media for regular tips, tricks and reminders 

Looking for more information or resources on budgeting? Contact Student Services at