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How to budget, save and build a credit score as a student

25 July 2022Tassie Milne 6 min read

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Congratulations! You’re looking into becoming a student, which means you’ve entered a new phase of adulthood or are at least thinking about it. Going to college or university is an exciting time, and for many Canadians, it’s their first taste of freedom and independence – and financial independence as well. Post-secondary education is a time for you to learn and experience new things.

Unfortunately, school isn’t always rainbows and butterflies, especially when it comes to affordability. Canadian universities and colleges are some of the most expensive in the world. According to Stats Canada, students enrolled full-time in Canadian undergraduate programs will pay on average $6,693 a year.  If you’re an international student, the cost is even higher – around $33,623 per year.

So, if you’re a student or about to be one, you may have a few questions about how to budget, save, and build your credit score as a student. We’ve got you covered with the important lessons so that you can spend more time on your studies.

The first step to having excellent financial habits is to set a budget and stick to it. It can be difficult with considerable expenses and exciting things happening on campus, but your future self will thank you for spending responsibly. Here are some items you’ll have to budget for as a student.

Cost of tuition

As mentioned above, post-secondary education comes with a hefty tuition price tag. The price of tuition will largely depend on the type of education you are receiving and things like:

  • The program you study
  • The school you attend
  • The location of the school you attend
  • Your residency or citizenship
  • Whether you’re a full-time or part-time student

Be sure to check out your school’s website for specific course costs and administration fees, so you can accurately build your budget.

Books and other course materials

The cost of books and other course materials will vary with the program and school you choose, but you can expect to spend between $800-$1,000 per year on your studies. Some courses may also require electronic devices, which can quickly add up.

Costs of living on-campus or off-campus

Living on campus can be pricey but has many other perks, such as accessing a campus meal plan or less transportation costs. However, living on-campus isn’t always an option, especially after your first year of school.

You’ll want to do your research and evaluate the pros and cons of your options, or whether commuting from your current home is a viable option. Your college or university will have detailed information online about the different housing options and you can decide what works best for you and your budget.


Whether you’re on- or off-campus, you’ll need to find a way around. Walking and biking are healthy and cost-effective options, however, these options are not always realistic – especially during the Canadian winters. Luckily, many services will offer discounted metro passes.


Part of the post-secondary experience is about having fun and memorable experiences. While you may be tempted to overspend in this area, creating a realistic budget can help you determine what’s worth spending or cutting back on.

Now that you know what to budget for as a post-secondary student, you can create a budget to suit your needs. You can do this in a few steps.

Step #1: Track your income and savings

If you have a part-time job, you can start by taking a look at your income. If you don’t, you can take a look at your savings and overall spending.

Step #2: Evaluate

Review how you spend and what you spend on. Many banking apps now include monthly breakdowns, which can help provide more information.

Step #3: Set goals

While it’s definitely hard to save when you’re a student, you can set financial goals for yourself to limit spending.

Step #4: Review and adjust

After a few months, you can always come back to your budget to reevaluate and review what is or isn’t working. You’ll also have a better idea of what you can cut back on in some places and spend more on in others.

Now that you know how to budget as a student, let’s talk about saving. While it may seem impossible, there are a few things you can do to help you save some of your money while you’re in college or university. Any little bit helps, and the more debt you can avoid while you’re a student, the better.

If you have time, apply for a part-time job

School takes time, effort, and commitment. But, finding a part-time job that you can adequately manage can provide some financial relief and peace of mind. Most schools will have online job boards and postings, and if you’re lucky, you could potentially find work related to your studies.

Get into couponing

We get it – couponing may not seem like the most exciting or fun thing you could possibly do in your spare time, but couponing can help you save money on the essentials while living away from home. You can scour the flyers in the mail for coupons at the stores in your area, or you can use apps like Flipp that help you price match right from your phone.

Reuse, reduce, recycle

Going green may be trendy, but being good to the earth is also good for your wallet. Before you go shopping for all the school essentials, you can check to see if there are any used book stores on and around campus. The same goes for furnishing your new place – be sure to look around at thrift stores in the area before buying brand new.

Community is key

New friendships are one of the most wonderful things about going to school. Finding a few great friends to live with is also beneficial and can help you save money. And, you can save more by splitting on groceries and cooking together.

You’re almost ready to go off to school! Now that you know about the costs of post-secondary education, setting a budget, and how to save money, it’s time to learn how to build your credit score as a student. Developing good financial habits can benefit you in the long run and impact your financial future.

How to improve your credit score as a student

There are many different ways to improve your credit score as a student. Let’s take a look at the most efficient ways to build your score.

Get a secured credit card

A secured credit card is a great way to safely and securely build your credit score when you’re just starting out. When a credit card is secure, it means that money is deposited with the credit card issuer to open the account as a way to safeguard the account.

You can build your credit history by borrowing and repaying money borrowed every month. Over time, this will provide the credit bureau (either Equifax or TransUnion in Canada) with a good history of paying bills on time. Then, once the issuer gains confidence in you, you should be able to increase your credit limit.

If you have issues getting approved for a credit card, you can ask a parent to co-sign to get approved easier.

Keep your credit utilization low

Your credit utilization is based on two numbers – the total amount of available credit that you’re using compared to the total amount of credit that’s available to you.

If you owe $3,000 on your credit card and your limit on that card is $10,000, then you’ve used

30% of the total amount of credit available to you. Generally speaking, credit bureaus suggest that you should keep your ratio below 30%. In order to lower your credit utilization ratio, you can increase your credit limit when you’re more comfortable and can get an unsecured credit card (a card without a deposit).

Limit how often you apply for new credit

Anytime you apply for new credit, the financial institution will check your credit, otherwise known as a credit inquiry. A “hard” credit inquiry can slightly lower your score, whereas a “soft” credit check (like when checking your free credit score with ClearScore) has no impact.

Try to be mindful of how much new credit you apply for and the number of credit card accounts you have. If you apply for new cards, make sure you don’t do so too frequently, as this behaviour may look irresponsible to creditors.

What’s the average student credit score in Canada?

While we don’t suggest comparing yourself to others, sometimes we can all wonder about what the average credit score is in Canada. There isn’t a ton of information about the average credit score for students, however, it can be estimated that a credit score of a student is about 650, which is in the “fair” range.

In most cases, the credit bureaus simply don’t have enough information on the student to provide an accurate score.

Even if you’re just starting out, getting your college student credit report with ClearScore is a great way for students to learn about their financial health. By building and improving your credit score now, you could have a better chance of accessing better financial products in the future.

Plus, you’ll get clear, personalized insights about your credit score and tips on how to improve it, so you can save money during your post-secondary years and beyond.

Tassie Milne Image

Written by Tassie Milne

General Manager - ClearScore Canada

Tassie heads up ClearScore Canada. She lives in Toronto with her husband and two young boys. In her free time, she can be found at the family lake house or playing ball hockey.