Based on our personal experience, here are 5 practical ways to financially prepare for University. Some of these came about after trial and error… but the most important decision we made was to include our kids in all of this.

Heading off to University is an exciting time. It’s filled with new experiences, new friendships, and new freedoms… While adapting to a different academic environment, there are more complex financial considerations to be made. Increased opportunities to spend money and lose track of where it’s all going… this can all be overwhelming… especially if not properly prepared.

“Sometimes, this is the first time that they’re actually starting to manage money on their own, without their parents being right there with them to help them along the way,” says Doug Schantz, director of the Office of Student Accounts at a University in Ohio and founder of “For those of us who have been managing our finances, you assume that this is basic financial information—but the fact of the matter is, it really isn’t.”

I have two kids at University. Our oldest son is going into his third year (it would be his last year but he took a 5th year at High School to improve his grades; increase the level of scholarship and earn more money) and our daughter enters year two this fall. They both attend Trinity Western University (TWU) in Langley, British Columbia; a private faith-based liberal arts university on Canada’s west coast. Over 4,000 kilometres away from where we live (near Toronto). Our third child graduates High School in June 2020, so his post-secondary experience is just around the corner.

5 ways to be financially prepared:

  1. Create a college savings account with your child. For us personally… we wanted our kids to participate in the financial responsibility of their post-secondary education. We sat them down while they were in High School and explained what we were able to help with. Thankfully we had contributed to an RESP (Registered Education Savings Plan) for each of them, which helped pay for year one. Then we discussed the importance of honouring God with their own finances. When you honour Him, He honours you. Before they started their summer jobs, we broke down their paycheque; 10% to tithe, 10% for their summer spending, and 80% into their school savings account. (Our kids don’t have monthly expenses like cell bills, car insurance, etc).
  2. Research Financial Aid, Awards, and Scholarships. Students may receive financial assistance, for need and/or merit, if they meet certain guidelines.
    • “Students should always talk to whomever is their High School’s designated career counsellor early in grade 12 as they can help them to apply for bursaries & scholarships. Many bursaries go unclaimed because students don’t know about them. They can also talk to a university’s awards and scholarship office/financial aid ahead of time for bursaries etc. There are so many available for grade 12 students to apply to, and bursaries can add up. I used to work at a university in student recruitment and it’s surprising how many bursaries go unclaimed.” Michelle Sutter, Blogger at Powered By Mom.
    • Check with your University’s financial aid department to complete an application for internal aid, grants, awards, and scholarships. On need: being the children of pastors, our income is limited. On merit: grades matter! This helped my kids take school seriously. They get money for tuition based on good grades, the higher the GPA – the higher the award.
    • My kids are involved in leadership at their school. Being on the school council has provided them with additional scholarships from the school they attend.
    • Check with other online resources for an additional list of external financial aid and scholarships;
      • Canada Student Grants and Loans
      • Scholarships Canada, find scholarships, student awards, and bursaries.
      • Yconic, is an extensive, searchable database of scholarships, student awards, bursaries, and grants. You’ll also find information about student loans, applications, and budget planning.
      • University Study delivers more than 3,500 scholarships each year to young people interested in pursuing higher education.
    • Service Clubs, check if you or your parents are or were members of community service clubs like; Lions, Rotary, Shriners, Kiwanis for bursaries. via Cyn Gagen, blogger at Creative Cyncronicity.
    • If your kids are attending a faith-based post-secondary school, check to see if they have a “Church Matching Grant.” Donations sent from your church to the school, for your child, may be eligible for up to $2,500 in scholarship money. This means, that your $2,500 donation could result in a $5,000 grant.
  3. Don’t be afraid to CUT costs. Our kids wanted a car at school, so badly. We talked to insurance companies and got quotes, took into account the cost of a car payment, gas, parking passes, etc, and determined it was too big of an expense. They live on campus and can take public transportation or find a friend with a vehicle if they want to go into town. Other ways to save money;
    • if they’re on a meal plan, purchase a lower level. They won’t starve. After our son’s first year, we found he had an abundance of unused “swipes” that were wasted. He didn’t need 3 meals a day, 7 days a week. Our daughter started with a low-level plan, she had classes during breakfast hours so only had time to grab a protein bar and an apple from her room. Their dorm rooms are also stocked with granola bars and popcorn for those snacky moments during late study nights.
    • most colleges and universities have a used book sale day. Encourage your child to look for used books for their classes.
    • check online marketplaces and local churches for free or inexpensive furniture. Our son found a free couch for his room on Kijiji.
  4. Explore campus jobs. Working on campus is one way for students to cover personal expenses and help contribute financially to their degree. There are positions from cafe attendant to teacher’s assistant. TWU recommends students don’t work more than 10 hours a week in order to keep up with their studies. Other ways to earn a scholarship;
    • after the first year, they may be able to apply to become a Resident Advisor (RA) which can offer a steep discount. A young lady in our church, who doesn’t have financial help outside of herself, was an RA for year 3 and 4 to help pay for University.
    • run for a leadership role on student council. My son is President of the Student Association and my daughter is the Social Sciences Representative for 2019-2020 school year. They both had to run in an election for the positions last year. Each received a scholarship for this year.
    • try out for one of the sports teams. My son’s girlfriend is getting a scholarship for getting on their Rugby Team.

and finally…..

5. Consider all the expenses, before they arrive. Brought to you by the letters B. U. D. G. E. T. …. You don’t want to be taken by surprise, by anything.

  • Transportation. We have to take a few extra things into account when budgeting for school. As we live 4,000 klms away from where they attend school, we have to include airfare as well. Multiple flights to and from school, multiple times a year.
  • Dorm room. Since they fly… they had to go shopping when they arrived at school. Which meant bare bones on the shelves at the local big box stores. For a list of what to bring: Dorm Essentials – Decor Tips.
  • Travel and medical insurance. In my son’s first year on his own at University… during reading week in the spring, I noticed on Instagram, a picture that looked like the pacific coastline. I quickly reached him to ask where he was. Nonchalantly he responds, “Bouldering in California.” I FREAKED OUT! He didn’t have travel insurance, didn’t know he needed it. Didn’t get it before leaving Canada. Didn’t tell us so we could get it before he entered another country! He’s learned better and since then we’ve found a credit card that covers the kids for trips up to two weeks.
  • Entertainment. School is stressful. They will need to get off campus and have some fun from time to time. If you don’t budget some fun money, they’ll blow the basic budget quickly.
  • Degree/course-related expenses. Some may be responsible for purchasing their own equipment or tools prior to the class start date. “Tools for their trade. Oldest took tourism and hospitality and had to buy pricey knives. My son went for plumbing and spent a fortune on plumbing tools just to take the course.” Kim Logan, blogger at Tales of a Ranting Ginger.
  • Personal items budget.
    • Clothes: My kids quickly found the closest and coolest second-hand store (aka vintage). It helped with their need for raincoats, wool sweaters, and rubber boots. It rains a whole lot more in British Columbia than it does in Ontario!
    • LAUNDRY MONEY! And money to buy laundry detergent. (PSA: Parents! Make sure your kids know how to do their own laundry before heading off to College. My kids couldn’t believe how many didn’t know what to do.)
    • Hygiene products: soap, shampoo, toothpaste, feminine products, cleaning supplies, etc. Things you add to your grocery cart each month when they’re at home without thinking.

Part of parenting is helping our kids become responsible adults. Keeping them in the loop with the finances is a big step towards that. One thing a friend of mine, who works as a Financial Assistant for a local college and blogger at You Pinspire Me said, “No one is born with money management skills.” It’s so true, it is a learned art!


I'm the Cool Mom of 4, Married to the Preacher Man, but at times I'm a little more Sass than Saint!

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