Budget for student life—How much will your post-secondary education cost?

Having a good idea of how much your post-secondary education will cost will help you prepare financially.

Use our Student budget worksheet and the information below to help you put together a realistic estimate.

Once you have put a realistic budget together, the next step is thinking about where the money to cover the expenses will come from. See Sources of money for your post-secondary education for more information.

Estimating the cost of your post-secondary education

Your costs will generally fall within three major categories:

Tuition fees 

Tuition fees depend on the program you choose, the school you plan to attend and the province or territory where you will study.  However, in 2013 and 2014, the average cost of a year’s tuition at a Canadian university was $5,7721. A college program may cost less but it will depend on the program you choose to study.

If you already know what program you want to study, visit the websites of the universities or colleges that offer it to find out current tuition costs. If not, look at tuition costs for a few different programs to make a reasonable estimate.

1. Source: Statistics Canada http://www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/l01/cst01/educ50a-eng.htm

Books and other course materials 

For many undergraduate university programs, $800 to $1,000 per year is a reasonable range for planning for the cost of books and other materials. For college programs, costs are often a little lower. However, keep in mind that costs can vary a lot, depending on the program you choose to study. For a better estimate of costs, ask someone in the program you want to study or check with a school that offers the program.

To reduce costs you may consider:
  • buying used books
  • getting the electronic version 
  • if it is practical, share some resources with roommates or friends in the same program.

Living expenses 

You have more control over how much you spend on living expenses, and the choices you make can have a big impact on where you are at financially when you finish your studies.

The biggest factor that will affect your living expenses is whether or not you can continue living at home with your family. If that is a realistic option for you, it can cut your living expenses by thousands of dollars a year.

If you plan on living in residence, check residence and meal plan costs on the website of the university or college that you hope to attend. Some schools’ websites also provide estimated costs for living off-campus. If you plan to live off-campus and will need public transportation, look and see how much a public transit pass will cost. If you have a car, check and see how much you will need to pay for gas and parking.

Whatever your living arrangements, there will be some other costs to consider, such as clothing, computers, cell phones and entertainment. Look for ways to save by focusing on your “needs” and cutting down or your “wants,” or non-essential expenses.

Your costs will likely rise

Keep in mind that over the years, costs usually rise. For example, the average tuition cost 3.3% more for the 2013/2014 school year than the previous year. The cost of your books and your living expenses are more likely to rise than not, even in the short term. Whether you’re budgeting for next year or five years from now, remember to include cost increases to have a better idea of how much money you’ll need.

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