The first week of your university career is a lot like being at an amusement park. Most of what you’ll be doing is waiting in lines, getting lost and overpaying for stuff. Except instead of going on rides, you’ll be receiving textbooks and attending lectures. They truly are the greatest years of your life.
Realistically, the two biggest areas where your bank account will feel it the most are textbooks and food. The textbooks — like everything else in university — are quite expensive, however, you should be aware of a few things before you head to the campus store. First of all, do not buy your textbooks on the first day of class. Wait a week or two and see if you really need the book or not. Sometimes you can get by without the book at all, as some professors will only test you on material from lectures and/or online resources. Then there are some classes that require a $130 loose-leaf book that is printed on receipt paper causing each page to rip every time you flip one — and an additional $80 fee to register for an online resource that you’ll use once. Ugh.
If your housemate is in the same program as you, you can absolutely share one and each pay half. A lot of times a professor will ‘recommend’ you buy a scholarly formatting guide to assist you with writing; there are dozens of free formatting resources online (owl.purdue is great) that work just as well. There will be times, though, when you’re going to have to pay full price for a book. But on the bright side, for every hundred dollars you spend on textbooks, you get five whole dollars back in campus cash. I think ‘spend $500 on books, get a free hat’ sums up university pricing pretty well.
The food will catch up to you sooner or later, but you will undoubtedly discover tricks of your own to save some money. For example, if you want some chips, make sure to buy it with a meal so you can use your meal plan dollars instead of those oh-so-coveted flex dollars. Also, always carry a water bottle with you — that way you can fill up for free at any fountain and avoid buying a drink at every meal. While it may seem tedious, if you’re buying a bottle of water per day, the $2.25 price tag will quickly snowball over time.
Ordering food can also be dangerous, as those delivery fees will add up over the course of a semester. It’s when you get sick of the cafeteria food (trust me, you will) that the Skip The Dishes app starts batting its eyelashes at you. Definitely order in every now and then, but there are other alternatives that can be cheaper. If you’re in a dorm with a kitchen, cooking your meals will always be cheaper, healthier and probably better than the cafeteria food. Or at the very least, different, which is about the best you can ask for come December and April. If you’re in a non-kitchen dorm, go out and buy some fruit or other fresh items for your fridge. Last year I bought a box of strawberries after my umpteenth cafeteria burrito and felt like a Survivor castaway who won the steak dinner reward challenge. Everybody’s financial situation is different, so you will have to figure out the best way for you to spend and save based on your needs. If you are able to, there are hundreds of on-campus jobs that can help you earn some money. Don’t let it interfere with your classes/workload, but if you can afford the time, a bi-weekly paycheck can help a ton. If you ever find yourself really struggling to keep up money-wise, Fallsview Casino is only 20 minutes away.