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Financial Skills for the Real World

How to create a budget, rein in your spending and consume smarter
February 2, 2016
By GradProSkills


What are the components of a budget? How can I effectively save money on a day-to-day basis? Our Finance Basics workshop on Jan. 19, part of the Financial Skills for the Real World series led by Concordia PhD student Alex Gavrila, covered tips on making (and sticking to) a budget that’s reasonable for you, negotiating lower prices, being a smarter consumer, and making your money work for you.

Where to start

The first step to reining in your spending is knowing exactly how much you spend. Track your expenses by keeping receipts for every purchase, recording spending (either on paper or on your phone), and by reviewing each bank and credit card statement for discrepancies. Don’t forget to tally up occasional (like tuition and textbooks) and irregular expenses (such as gifts, or repairs to your car or home) as well. Do so for at least a three month period.

When it comes to actually creating your budget, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) offers both a budget calculator and a financial goal calculator. If you have a goal for trimming your spending, try aiming for something moderate - you’ll have an easier time sticking to it. If your goal is to increase your savings by $120 a month, decide how exactly you’ll reach that goal. Do you eat out for lunch five times a week? If that costs you $50/a week ($10 a day), bringing a packed lunch three times will save you $30 a week, tallying up to your targeted $120 in a month.

Additional resources:

The FCAC has a video on how to prepare a budget which breaks down the process step-by-step.


Small changes, big differences

Remember that small changes in behaviour can be more sustainable, and will add up over time.

  • Cutting back on your cell phone bill: Call up your service provider and ask how you can cut back on your monthly bill, and if they have a better plan or deal to offer you. Consider bundling services (such as Internet, cell phone and cable bills) with one provider to save money.

  • Saving on food: Planning ahead will make all the difference when it comes to saving on food. If you’re like most grad students and short on both time and money, consider buying in bulk, cooking one big dish over the weekend and freezing it in individual portions to eat during the week. Cutting back on your meat consumption in favour of veggies will also make a dent in your grocery bill (try having Meatless Mondays!) . Just stay away from cauliflower-based recipes for the time being.

  • Reining in impulse buying: Again, taking small steps in cost-cutting is instrumental. Try leaving your credit cards at home if you’re going to the store or shopping mall and only carrying the cash you are willing to spend. If you tend towards buying online, sleep on a potential purchase to see if you still want it the next day.

Additional resources:

  • Know your rights as a consumer by consulting the Consumer Protection Act.

  • Did you know that if there is a difference price between what’s shown on the shelf than on the register, the merchant must either a) give you the item for free if the item costs less than $10 or b) sell you the item at the shelf price, minus $10, if the item costs more than $10? Read up on your rights pertaining to price accuracy and extended warranties.

Banking and credit cards

Check how much you are paying in monthly service charges and ATM fees. Make an appointment with a financial advisor at your bank to see if you can get a better deal as a student or with a different account.




Do you really need to use and own a car? Before making a decision, add up the real costs of ownership (including gas, insurance, depreciation, interest & maintenance). Could you get by by using a ride sharing service like Communauto or Car2Go? If you do need a vehicle on a regular basis, calculate whether leasing or owning a car is more advantageous to you.

For public transit, students under 26 are eligible for reduced fare with a registered photo OPUS card. Concordia students can register directly for their OPUS card online by following the directions at

All in all, being smarter with your money does require some planning and legwork, but with small, sustainable changes you will notice a big difference in your pocketbook.

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