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The 5 levels of Maslow's hierarchy of needs pyramid (top to bottom: Self-actualization, Esteem, Love/belonging, Safety, Physiological)

Start with the basics

A good way to start feeling financially well is to look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, as pictured in this image.

As Maslow suggests, if we think of each level as a base upon which the next level can be built, the first thing that needs attention is physiological need. These are the basics — food, water, shelter, clothes — the essential things without which people can’t function.

From a financial perspective, it means we need to put our money first into satisfying this need first. For example, Do I have enough money for rent? For food? Can I make ends meet to cover these basics?

If the answer to this question is no, some further serious questions need to be asked. Is there room to either cut back expenses or increase money coming in? Check out our budgeting tips.

The Financial Aid and Awards Office can help you assess your budget and discuss with you where changes can be made. Please email our office at for an appointment with an advisor.

Budget to your values

Once the basics are covered, it’s time to start thinking about what’s important to you, and gearing your spending habits towards those priorities both right now and for the future.

Think about right now

You’ve chosen to come to university and gain a degree — amazing! But, this is often the first major expense people face and it can be a challenging time financially. So, what to do to keep financial stress at bay?

Based on our experience working with students, we recommend making sure that right after your base needs are covered, your university expenses get paid (tuition and fees, books and supplies, including computer supplies). This may mean cutting back on some things you like such as fancy coffees, beer, designer clothes or the latest phone, but if your education is what you value most, then doesn’t that make sense?

Take advantage of campus activities, most of which are free or inexpensive — check out this events list.

Also, there are lots of activities that you can do off campus that don’t eat into your wallet: Montreal is a great city to walk — check out Old Montreal, Mount Royal and Ste-Catherine Street to name a few — all accessible from Concordia for free — and you get the health benefits of walking, too! Watch the student newsletters for free events around the city too. Here are some past suggestions.

Remind yourself of the good reasons you’re making the choices you make — completing your degree with as little debt as possible is a good thing.

Think about your future self

It is very easy to borrow to make life “more comfortable” now and figure out how to pay for it later. That’s not a good way to use credit and you can really create a large financial burden for yourself. We recommend using credit wisely to establish a good credit history — use your credit card to spend on things you need, but pay off the balance each month. This will help you establish a good credit rating which will also help you later when you’re looking to buy a car or a home.  

Another important way you can help yourself feel financially well is to have a plan for your post-university life. What type of job will you have; and how much can you expect to make when you start? Knowing some basics about this can help you make wise choices now — both about your courses and your spending. If you need some help in planning your career, check our Career and Planning Services.

Other resources

If you’ve got your financial plan together, covered your basic needs and put your money towards your values, but still feel financially stressed, talking about it with a counsellor can help. Concordia offers individual counselling, events and workshops for students.

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