When I think back on my time at university, I often reflect on the things I wish I could tell my first-year self.
Throughout my four years, I learned important financial lessons that will remain with me now that I've graduated. I only wish I'd known them sooner to save myself some time and money. If I could travel back in time, here's what I would tell my younger self when I started university.
1) There are fun things to do on a budget
Instead of heading out to a sit-down dinner or making a beeline for a pricey cocktail bar after class, I wish I had known that inviting my friends over for a night of playing board games, having tea at a cute café, or making a nice dinner at home were more cost-effective and equally fun alternatives to my regular Friday night plans.
2) You're never too young to have a budget
Just because you're only 19 and devoid of any big financial responsibilities, it doesn't mean you can splurge on a new wardrobe or an expensive outing whenever you want. Creating a budget is as simple as deciding where your money is going for that month or that year. Make sure you have the funds to allocate to important expenses—like tuition—before spending on unnecessary things or luxury items.
3) Know your student loan situation
In my final year, I attended a one-hour online seminar about how to pay back my loan. I connected my loan account to my bank account, and I learned that interest adds up starting the day after you graduate. Had I taken these steps in first or second year, I would've been much further along in repaying my loan. The sooner you learn how and when to start paying your loan back, the better. It's also good to look into grants and bursaries you can apply for, since you don't have to pay those back.
4) Eating out every day adds up
That $2 tea I had every morning ended up costing me $60 a month. My $5-$10 lunches worked out to about $100-$200 a month. You can save hundreds of dollars during a school year by bringing tea from home and brown bagging a lunch. You can treat yourself once a week or every two weeks by buying lunch or tea.
5) Prioritize school
All throughout university, I was working 2-3 jobs a year and about 20-30 hours per week. My university recommended a student work a maximum of 12 hours a week to maintain a school-work-life balance. I wish I had prioritized school and understood that while working three jobs had a high monetary return, focusing on school, networking, and gaining relevant experience would help my career and earning potential in the long run.
Ultimately, every university student has a unique financial situation, which will affect the number of hours he or she may need to work and the amount of spending money he or she may have. What I realize now is that smart spending and saving habits can start in school and carry with you after you've graduated.