Dear Heather

Dear Heather,
I’m a full-time student living on government loans, and I find they just don’t cover my costs. How can I reduce my expenses without giving up everything I enjoy?

-Penny(less) in Abbotsford

Dear Penny:

It’s true that student loans are rarely enough to meet basic expenses, much less those little extras we all love. However, economizing isn’t as difficult as it may seem. To make this as painless as possible, first decide which things you absolutely refuse to give up. Then, try to reduce the expense of those things, while eliminating everything else you can.

Here’s an example. Say you love to eat in restaurants, and you decide that’s the one thing you can’t give up. So, allow yourself to eat out once every two weeks. But do it on the cheap! Don’t order an appetizer (or order just an appetizer, no entrée). Go somewhere that has a special. Go out for breakfast or lunch (dinner is almost always more expensive). If you want to go in the evening, eat supper at home and then just go out for dessert and coffee. (I love to do this because I can go to as fancy a restaurant as I like and sample really decadent desserts, usually for less than $15.)

Meanwhile, take a hard look at the other things you’re spending money on. I’ll assume you’ve already considered the more obvious solutions, like getting a roommate and cancelling your cable TV, so I’ll try to stick to the ones you may not have considered.

First and foremost, if you have a car, consider getting rid of it. If you add up your vehicle-related expenses (car payment, insurance, gas, parking, etc.) you will probably find that it’s one of your largest expense categories. Only you can decide if it’s worth it, but if your car is eating up a third of your monthly budget, you’ll have to give up nearly everything else if you want to keep it. Taking transit, walking or cycling can save you a small fortune every month.

Aside from that, most people find they spend most of their money on little things. Saving in those categories can really add up. Buy a travel mug and make coffee at home, instead of spending two bucks at Tim’s every morning. Cancel your gym membership and take advantage of no-cost alternatives: climb the stairs in your apartment building, dust off your inline skates, or let the sidewalk be your treadmill. Whenever possible, use the library instead of the bookstore. Use e-mail or instant messaging (or even regular mail) instead of long-distance phone calls to keep in touch with far-flung friends and relatives. If you don’t already have one, get an AU photo ID card, and ask for a student discount (on everything from bus tickets to used books). By paying attention to where you spend your money, you can identify ways to spend less. Every dollar helps! I’m amazed by how little I can live on if I really make an effort- and without sacrificing the things I really love.


E-mail your questions to Heather at Some submissions may be edited for length or to protect confidentiality: your real name and location will never be printed. This column is for entertainment
only. Heather is an AU student offering objective advice to her peers; she is not a professional counsellor and this column is not intended to take the place of professional advice.

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