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24 Ways to Save Money as an Online Student

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Last Updated on October 6, 2023 by Alexandra Markin

No matter how you look at it, any kind of university degree is expensive. But when it comes to trying to save money, online students have slightly different needs compared to more traditional students. Although we aren’t on campus, we still need to eat properly and purchase materials that help us complete our degree. This post outlines some of the most creative ways to save money as an online student.

If you live in an expensive city while going to school, saving money is probably near the top of your list. I’ve lived in Vancouver for almost a decade, so I’ve had plenty of time to find the best ways to save money.

24 Ways to Save Money as an Online Student

Even though this post is focused on ways to save money as an online student in Canada, many of these tips can be applied anywhere in the world. Students learning on campus can benefit from some of these as well.

Financial awareness is important at every stage of life, but even more so when you’re paying for education.

Here are 23 ways you can save money as a student in Canada.

School

1. Buy Used (Or Digital) Textbooks

When registering for an online course, purchasing the “required” textbook is generally optional.

For maximum savings, note the textbook name, author(s) and required edition and see if you can buy the textbook used. Check with your university to see if they have a used books program, join textbook swap groups on Facebook or take a look on Facebook Marketplace.

Universities usually charge a bit more for the printed textbook (plus a shipping and handling fee) so check the pricing on the publisher’s website (Pearson, McGraw-Hill Ryerson, Wiley, etc.) before you buy.

Buying the digital only version of the textbook is another cost effective option. This can be much cheaper (and much less bulky) than using the physical textbook. The eText is usually a fraction of the cost, but can come with limited access so read the fine print before you buy.

2. Take Courses Sequentially That Use The Same Textbook

In addition to saving money on the required textbook, you can save hundreds by planning your degree to take courses in sequence that all use the same textbook.

When possible, take courses sequentially that use the same textbook so you don’t have to buy the new, updated version. University courses often update the course material to include the new version of a textbook. Sometimes you can still use the older version, but not always.

For example, I’m currently taking Java Programming and am on the second of three courses that all use the Java Foundations Fifth Edition textbook.

TIP: This method will help you get better grades in the subject as you won’t have forgotten what you learned in the prerequisite course as opposed to taking the courses out of order.

Related content: How To Study When You Don’t Feel Like It

3. Seek Out Free Software

Did you know that Microsoft 365 is free for most university students? This is an excellent way to save money as a student in Canada.

Start by checking with your university to see what software they offer for free. You might be pleasantly surprised!

4. Consider An Online Degree Vs. A Conventional Degree

Most online degrees have a lower cost per course as there is no physical, in-person instruction. There are pros and cons to this of course, so if you’re not sure if online learning is right for you try taking one course as a test run before you jump and and register for a program.

As an online student since 2017, I’ll be the first to say that online learning isn’t for everyone. However, if you’re looking to save money on higher education costs, an online degree is a good way to do it.

Doing your degree online may allow you to take out less of a loan, therefore allowing you to pay it back faster.

5. Apply For Scholarships, Grants & Bursaries

Applying for this kind of financial aid award is a great way to save money as a student in Canada, if you want to put in the time.

Many students skip this because frankly, it’s really time consuming. Each award has individual criteria in addition to a potential entry essay.

It’s overwhelming to even know where to look, but if you’re interested in pursuing this start with your university and see what they have available for scholarships, grants and bursaries.

Exhausting that, try these two websites to get you on the right track:

6. Watch Out For Added Fees On Tuition

It may be convenient to pay your course fees with your credit card, but some universities charge an extra fee for this. Before putting in your credit card number, ask your school if there are any extra fees involved when paying with credit.

Even if you get points or cash back with your credit card, the added fee may zero out any benefits you might have earned.

Shopping

7. Plan Ahead And Buy On Sale

Most things you need as a student will eventually go on sale. With a little planning ahead, you can save yourself hundreds of dollars a year instead of panic buying at the last minute.

For example, NordVPN often has deals on their VPN and password manager services which can save you a bundle on the original price.

Wondering what a VPN is, and if you need one? Read the post Do I Need A VPN As An Online Student?

This is one of my favourite ways to save money on all the beautiful stationary, pens, highlighters and bullet journals!

Related post: Essential Bullet Journal Spreads for Online Students

Life lesson I’ve learned the hard way: last-minute laziness = expensive.

8. Buy Second Hand Items As Much As Possible

I’ve been shopping second hand long before I became a student.

Check out thrift stores, consignment stores and local charity shops to get some great deals at a fraction of their regular price.

It’s quite possible to furnish most of your desk setup via Facebook Marketplace. I got my Structube Lumo LED table lamp for $40 (full price $79 + tax) and my white leather office chair for $80 (full price $284 + tax) on Facebook Marketplace.

Buying second hand allows you to buy both luxury and everyday items for a fraction of the price. And bonus: someone else has already paid the tax.

9. Avoid Impulse Shopping

Although planning each purchase will take some effort, careful consideration of each purchase can save a lot over the course of your degree.

Getting clear on your goals and the type of life you want will help keep your spending in check. Remind yourself that this is a temporary time in your life where your cash flow may be more limited than you’d like. Every dollar adds up, even though it doesn’t seem like much when taken at face value.

Before you purchase anything, ask yourself “Does this purchase contribute to my goals?”

Sticking to a shopping list and taking a day to think about large purchases will help curb unnecessary spending.

10. Use Your Student Card

When in school, your student card is a very valuable piece of plastic. It can save you money almost everywhere: on transit, at the mall, during online shopping and on capital expenditures such as computers and laptops.

Did you know that even huge companies like Apple offers student discounts? I saved $130 on my MacBook Air and $30 on AppleCare+ just by showing my student card. I had no idea they even offered a discount until I asked.

TIP: Lots of students discounts aren’t advertised, so make it a habit to ALWAYS ask!

11. Save Money On Ink Cartridges

If you print a lot for your studies, you could save $100 + per year on ink cartridges with HP Instant Ink.

HP Instant Ink is a monthly fee subscription service for you home ink or toner cartridges. You pick a plan based on a maximum number of pages you think you’ll print each month. HP remotely monitors your ink levels, shipping you ink before you run out.

Not only is this super convenient, but a 100 page per month plan is under $10 and includes full colour and black and white. One page is counted as one page, no matter if you print full colour diagrams or black and white notes.

I used HP Instant Ink for 20 months and highly recommend subscribing if you print a lot at home. Read my post Review: Is HP Instant Ink Worth It For Students? for all the pros and cons.

Banking

12. Get A No Fee Student Credit Card

Living without a credit card is almost impossible these days, especially if you do a lot of your shopping online. When you’re a student, you have the option to apply for a student credit card.

TIP: Always check several different banks and offers before applying to make sure you’ve chosen the best card for you. There’s nothing worse than finding a better card after you’ve already applied and taken the hit on your credit score.

Bonus: Boost your credit score by mastering these essential credit card tips for university students!

13. Utilize Student Bank Accounts

Most of the big banks in Canada offer student bank accounts that allow you to pay little to no monthly fees.

BMO’s student Plus plan offers a $0 monthly fee with a limited number of transactions. Saving $10.95 per month may not feel like much, but over a year you’ll save $131.40 – the approximate cost of a textbook.

Visit your bank to see what they offer, and don’t be afraid to look around for the best deal.

14. Pay Your Bills On Time

This seems simple enough, but life gets busy quickly with assignments, exams and life in general so it can be really easy to miss a due date. Watch your dates carefully. By paying your bills on time, every time, you’ll save money in late fees.

TIP: Set up automatic payments to avoid late fees.

Food & Grocery

15. Meal Prep

Just because you don’t have to attend in-person classes doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of meal prep. Cooking still takes time, so maximize your available study hours by preparing meals in advance.

You’ll thank yourself mid study when all you have to do is pull a container out of the fridge and heat up a delicious meal.

Meal prep is just one way to cut down on food costs. Read the post Smart Ways to Save Money on Food as a Student for an entire list of creative ideas.

16. Look For Cheap (And Healthy) Take Out Options

Because no one can realistically meal prep 100% of the time, occasionally you’ll want (or need) to grab some quick take out. But before your mind immediately jumps to McDonald’s, know that healthier (and cheaper!) options exist.

Whole Foods offers a meal deal at their prepared foods counter. You can get a vegan protein + two sides for $10, or a non-vegan protein + two sides for $12. Cheaper than McDonald’s and much better for your health.

whole-foods-vegan-meal-deal
$10 vegan meal deals from Whole Foods.

Some Whole Foods stores (like their Cambie Street location in Vancouver, Canada) even reimburse you for your parking cost with a minimum spend, usually around $8 – $10.

17. Make Coffee At Home

This one isn’t too hard to implement since online students aren’t required to (ever) leave their house if they don’t want to.

There is so much financial advice out there that says to stop buying expensive lattes. David Bach even has a book based on the concept – The Latte Factor, which I highly recommend reading especially if you’re in the beginning stages of taking charge of your finances.

I can say from personal experience that investing in making coffee at home has saved me thousands over the years. I have a Breville Duo-Temp Pro, a Essenza Mini D Piano Black & Aeroccino and Cuisinart programmable coffee maker and I’m not ashamed to say I use them all.

The only time I buy coffee now is when I’m travelling, and maybe once a year at home if I’m out and really craving a Starbucks half-sweet vanilla oat milk latte.

TIP: Ask you parents, grandparents, boyfriend, etc., to buy you your desired machine as a gift for your birthday or end of semester present and save on the capital cost!

Related post: Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas for Female University Students

Entertainment

18. Choose Streaming Subscriptions Wisely

You don’t need every streaming service out there. If you do like to relax with a good movie or series, pick your subscription wisely.

I prefer Amazon Prime over Netflix. Not only does Prime have a student rate, it comes with added benefits like 2 day delivery, reading and music. Can’t get that from Netflix.

19. Look For Free Activities

Depending on the time of year in Canada, walking or hiking outdoors is a beautiful escape. Not only is fresh air a great way to take a study break, exploring new areas of your city can spark new ideas.

Other great free activities include:

  • Networking, by attending free events or meeting new people through friends
  • Hosting a get together at your place
  • Checking out that library book you’ve been dying to read
  • Attending free admission nights at museums

Looking for some fun new activities? Scroll through the post hobbies for women in their 30s – not all hobbies have to cost a lot (or any) money.

20. Make Use Of Your Public Library Card

Public library cards are widely underused. Did you know you can check out DVDs (even TV series) and borrow eBooks from your local public library?

Use your library card to rent a movie or check out that book you’ve been dying to read.

Related content: What To Bring To A Library Study Session

Living

21. Evaluate Your Housing Options

For some of us, moving back in with our parents is not an option while we go back to school to finish our degree. But if that is an option, there is no shame in moving back home no matter how old you are.

If you do move back home, it’s important to set up a study area where you can focus without distractions.

Can you get a roommate, friend or family member to move in with you for the duration of your study? Done under the premise that it won’t be forever, this could help you save a ton of money (and your sanity!)

22. Transportation

One of the major benefits of online study is not having to spend the time or money on commuting to and from class. Even though there are student discounts for public transportation passes, it’s still expensive.

If you drive, your car will get much less use staying home to study. It saves your car from putting on miles, wear and tear, and in the era of inflation, fuel costs.

Health

23. Use YouTube To Keep Fit

Some gym memberships can be really expensive, but depending where you live in Canada, outdoor exercise is not always an option.

Thanks to all the time I spent in my living room due to the pandemic, I found some great free workout channels I still use today alongside going to the gym in my building.

If you want to save extra cash, forgo the gym membership fees, buy some home workout equipment (check Facebook Marketplace for some good deals!) and find a few YouTube fitness channels you like.

Two of my favourites are:

Health is wealth, so don’t neglect exercise while going to school no matter how busy you are!

24. Opt-In To Your School’s Health & Dental Plan

Not all online students are automatically enrolled in their universities’s health and dental plan. Check to see if you’re eligible and opt-in if you can!

University extended health and dental plans are significantly cheaper for students. Right after you register for your first course, the next thing you should do is check their health insurance plans if you don’t have coverage through work, your spouse, etc.

TIP: Some universities allow you to opt-in to extended health coverage while enrolled in only one course. For those of us who are too busy to take more than one class at a time, this can be a life saver!

What ways have you used to save money as a student in Canada? Share in the comments below!

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