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A First Year’s Guide to Budgeting

So second semester has started, and you still find yourself cringing in physical pain every time you come close to checking your bank account balance. Rest assured, you’re not alone. Plenty of students fall into the money trap that is first year, and between all the money spent on the sale rack at SAQ, jars of Nutella, and one too many thursdays at Tokyo Bar, you could find your bank balance at an all-time low.

All is not lost though! It’s a new year, a new semester, and a chance to learn how to spend your money wisely. Here are some tips to get you back on track towards a balanced budget this semester:

1. Be realistic. The only way to find a solution is to first understand the problem. Go ahead and check your bank statements to see how much you’ve been spending, and ask yourself if you can afford to keep spending this much for the rest of the year, and by extension, the rest of your time at university. It may be uncomfortable at first, but think of it as ripping off a band-aid. Once you’ve gotten this process over with, budgeting becomes a lot easier.

2. Assess your expenditures. When looking through your previous bank statements, try to get an understanding of where you’ve been spending your money, and how much money you’ve been spending in each category. Understanding the dynamics of your spending habits will help you better prioritize where you’re putting your money.

3. Create a weekly budget. Establish an amount that you will limit yourself to spending per week. This can be whatever amount you consider feasible based on your previous expenditures. Within this budget, create different categories, such as ‘Food’ ‘School’ ‘Clothing’ etc and designate a certain amount of your budget towards each category. This will give you a rough objective as to how much you should be spending per week, and will make saving money a lot more concrete. Also, remember that having a budget doesn’t mean you need to spend the maximum you’ve allotted per week, but it also doesn’t mean that you can’t spend one cent more than what you’ve budgeted. If you go over budget on one particular week, it’s not a big deal. Just take whatever overage you’ve spent out of next week’s budget to keep yourself on track.

4. Look for savings. For a lot of your expenditures, there are probably more cost-effective alternatives. While ordering a pizza is a good way to escape your meal plan for a night, you will begin to see the effects of this behaviour adding up once you’ve done it every night for 2 weeks in a row. Don’t like dining hall food? There are many places on campus that accept Flex dollars, some that you may not even know about. A full list can be found here: http://www.mcgill.ca/foodservices/locations/retail . Along with food, try to limit yourself to the amount you spend on alcohol every week. Your wallet (and your liver) will thank you.


Remember that $190 vintage-looking sweatshirt you bought from Urban Outfitters? Montreal has a ton of great boutiques and thrift shops in the Plateau area that can offer you more unique items at reasonable costs (a list of good thrift stores can be found here). This can even encourage you to get out of the McGill bubble and discover the city a little more.

With these tips in mind, go out into the world and spend wisely during your second semester. And also remember that occasionally, it doesn’t hurt to treat yourself.

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Maya is a first-year student at McGill University with a passion for social justice and international relations. When she isn't writing, she can be found traveling, swimming, or desperately thinking of ways to make her bio more interesting.
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