An eye on the bottom line
In August, I will be leaving on exchange to Paris. I realize the most important part about living in a new city is making sure I don’t run out of money, so I decided to meet with Stephanie Sarik, Director of Concordia’s Financial Aid and Awards Office who specializes in assisting students with public and private aspects of financial assistance.
“The goal of our meeting is to make a realistic budget planner to give you an idea of your expenses,” Sarik said, explaining that the planner would calculate my total revenues against my total expenses. “I always include an extra 20% for the ‘unforeseen’ costs just to be safe.”
Before the meeting, I had no clue how I was going to manage my budget. I knew Paris was going to be expensive. I qualified for a monthly bursary from Quebec’s Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisirs et du Sport (MELS), and I hoped the bursary plus my summer earnings would do the trick. I would just be careful how much I ate out and would cut costs wherever I could.
“You don’t want to cut costs to the point where you’re starving or stuck eating Kraft Dinner. You’re going to Paris, it’s impossible not to eat well,” reminded Sarik. “Plus when it comes to clothing, you’re going to see something chic and be tempted to buy it.”
As we continued to go over the list of expenses, I realized I had forgotten to take into consideration the most basic items such as household utilities, school books and supplies. “Obviously, locally you’re going to want to take advantage of everything you can,” Sarik says. “Museums aren’t that expensive, but what you have to keep in mind is how much you want to spend on touring the city.”
The expenses kept piling up and I felt my eyeballs bulging out of their sockets. “What about travelling around Europe? You have to do some travelling while you’re there. London is right across the Channel!” Sarik said.
One of the things I’m most stressed out about is finding a place to live in Paris. It’s one of the most expensive places to live in the world, and I’ll be happy if I find a closet to live in for a few hundred euros near my host university, Sciences Po. As the expenses piled up, I realized how ill-prepared I was for my European journey.
“We can’t forget the most important part … gifts for the parents and Grandma,” reminded Sarik. After clicking the enter key on her computer screen, the bad news was fairly clear to see: I was in the red! “Kraft Dinner and no gifts for Grandma,” I mumbled.
Sarik tried to explain to me that learning to limit my expenses is a positive thing. “These are your basic expenses: rent, food, insurance and transportation fees. The 20 per cent unforeseen is a ‘worse comes to worst’ addition.” When she removed the 20 per cent, I was back in the clear.
Feeling a sense of relief, we looked at the possibilities for additional revenues. First, Sarik said many students don’t realize that large corporations, such as banks or media companies, are interested in helping students by offering external scholarships or rewards.
The next step, she said, is to explore clearing-house sites such as that help students narrow down searches for grants and scholarships in specific fields. Among them are scholarshipscanada.com, studentawards.com and the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada site (aucc.ca). Sarik also recommended I check what scholarships and awards are offered by my department and my Faculty.
Since I was at a meeting at Financial Aid and Awards, I asked Sarik if I could apply for the upcoming in-course bursaries. These are available to students who have completed at least one term of full-time study at Concordia University. “Absolutely,” she said. “Every application is accessed by level of financial need and how compelling the student’s situation and letter are.”
“If I live with two working parents, will that affect my chances?” I asked. She explained that it could but there is no hard and fast rule because every individual is assessed by a committee on a case-by-case basis. “Financial need is the primary consideration, in combination with the specifics of a student's situation. My advice to you and other students is to take a chance, because you never know.”
How do you plan to manage your budget for the fall term?
• Financial Aid and Awards Office
• Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisirs et du Sport (MELS) Bursary
• "New director of financial aid and awards appointed (Stephanie Sarik)" — NOW, November 2, 2011