The ABCs of budgeting in Vancouver

Simple ways to keep on top of your financial A-game

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PHOTO: Diane Helentjaris / Unsplash

By: Hailey Miller, Staff Writer

Vancouver has been ranked as the second most expensive Canadian city, and inflation just keeps getting higher. How are we supposed to get by in a market that’s overflowing with increasing expenses in all aspects of everyday living? Here are some tips to keep on top of your finances and budget accordingly as a university student in this ever-changing market.

Allocate amounts for all expenses.

A simple way to start budgeting is by allocating specific amounts for each related expense. Every month, set aside appropriate amounts for things like groceries and essentials, rent, tuition and school expenses, phone and other monthly bills, transit and/or gas, going-out costs, financial contributions, utility costs, miscellaneous costs, and unexpected expenses. Writing your budget down on paper, in a spreadsheet or a budgeting app, or using tools like SFU’s online budget estimator, helps to keep everything organized. Most banks and credit unions offer online budget calculators, too. Once you’ve established a set amount per category, you’ll have a better sense of how much you spend per month on each expense. The remainder that you have left can go towards savings.

Buy for quality, not for quantity.

Whether it’s fashion, essentials, household items, or other goods, cheap makes don’t last forever. These products not only waste materials and are a major cause of environmental exploitation, but they also empty your pockets and waste your hard-earned cash. Online stores such as Shein and other big-box conglomerates advertise the idea of huge discounts, when in reality you’re just wasting your money on cheap products that won’t last. You will find that the quality of a single high-quality item goes a long way compared to that of multiple poorly-designed products. 

Let’s not forget the poor working conditions for workers employed by these conglomerates. If you buy into these products, you’re supporting the lack of workers’ rights and contributing to the problem. So, avoid fast fashion and mass-consumerism as much as possible. Instead, save up for good quality items while shopping local and supporting small businesses. But, if you trully can’t save up, or simply can’t afford products beyond that price point, my suggestion would be to look for well-reviewed items. Pay special attention to reviews on the quality of clothing. Spending money just for the sake of scooping up a sale is still an added expense. 

Create a budget routine.

Knowing when certain expenses are due to be paid is a great way to help set aside allotted amounts at the appropriate time. Be aware of when your monthly bills and expenses are due — including rent, phone bills, subscriptions, car insurance, etc. — so you don’t fall behind on payments, later having to pay interest or fees. Not paying your expenses on time flips your budget plan backwards, causing you to pay more than you originally would have in the first place. This can lead to more financial stress and lower the wiggle-room in your budget. If you’re overwhelmed by all your monthly costs, consider which are most important, and which you might be able to eliminate. Plan accordingly and set reminders to pay on time.

Don’t shy away from discounts.

Don’t be ashamed of a good discount, as long as you’re not spending aimlessly (re: tip two). Use student discounts to your advantage for things like online subscriptions and platforms (such as Amazon Prime, and premium accounts for YouTube and Spotify), because we know our precious discounts won’t last forever. If you’re absolutely in need of new items, do your best to get things on sale, but remember, quality over quantity. This may be difficult when most sale items and discounts are applicable to products in high demand from big-box stores and corporations, but when it comes down to financial need, if you absolutely need a product, go for that discount and keep your eye out for sales and coupons. Thrifting is a fantastic way to save money and help the environment at the same time. Facebook Marketplace and your local Free Groups are essentially the online version of thrift shops these days — another great way to scoop up used items for a better price, and often for free. Some local, small businesses will have discounts on items, too — especially if they’re clearing stock. 

Engage in conscious spending. 

Avoid buying things “just because” you think you might need or want them, or because it’s a trend or fad — trends fade, and fads go out of style faster than they appear. Do you really need to dip into the latest fashion trend? Why not start your own? Do you actually need a new phone, or is it just because your contract is coming up? Think twice. Are you wasting your money on subscriptions you never use and shows you never watch? Cancel those unused subscriptions for a while; you can always re-subscribe later. Do you really need useless gadgets and miscellaneous items, or is it just because a random influencer told you to do so? Forget wasting your money, the planet is wasting away, too. That’s not to say you should never treat yourself, but be mindful of these things and the costs you accumulate.

Factor in unexpected expenses.

No one likes an unexpected expense, but it’s always good to set some cash aside for a rainy day in case you ever need it in an emergency. Whether it be a leaky roof, a broken appliance, or an uninsured health cost, factoring unexpected expenses into your budget is one of the smartest financial moves. This allows for more flexibility in times of need, and helps reduce financial stress in an already difficult situation.

Grow your savings.

How are you expected to grow your savings when there’s barely enough to pay for the everyday expenses, you ask? Well, by dividing up monthly costs and prioritizing the importance of each category, you’re able to see what you spend your money on, and what you have left over to put into savings. Savings should be factored in from the get-go — essentially, they should be another category in your budget. Set aside an appropriate amount that you can contribute to each month. This way, you’ll be able to see how much your savings are increasing. Any leftover income or cash that you have at the end of the month can either be factored into more savings or an expenses buffer for whenever you may need it. If you’re strategic, investing money can be a good way to increase your savings, but remember to invest appropriately!