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Two Totally Different Approaches to Budgeting When You're a Student

Living on your own in a foreign country can teach you a lot about managing your money.
International Students Spending and budgeting

International students coming to Canada typically pay four times as much tuition as their Canadian counterparts for the same courses. According to the Canadian Bureau for International Education, the high quality of education Canada is able to provide as well as its reputation as “a tolerant and non-discriminatory society” are top reasons why people come here to study. These are all factors behind the boom in Canada’s international student population, which has tripled to nearly half a billion in the last decade.


Average tuition in Canada for a Canadian citizen is $6,838 CAD for an undergraduate degree, while average tuition fees for international students are $27,159 CAD per year. Combine that with the fact that most students from abroad have to shell out to live on their own––because living with your parents to save money isn’t an option––and it goes from pricey to super expensive really fast. International students contribute $15 billion annually to the Canadian economy. VICE spoke with two students from abroad who are both living in Toronto, one of the country’s least affordable cities, who have very different approaches to budgeting.


Jazz Wong, 19.

Wong is an international student from Hong Kong, studying philosophy at The University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus. Wong says she isn’t used to managing her money, spending on average $2,716 a month on living expenses. She admits that budgeting is something she’s still trying to figure out. “I worry because I know that the way I manage money now will be harmful for me in the future,” Wong says. “My mom supports me for now from Hong Kong, but soon I’ll have to do it on my own.”


Nicki Kirui, 21.

Kirui is an international student from Kenya, studying film at the Toronto Film School. She says she has somewhat mastered the art of adulting on a budget, spending on average $1,063 a month. “I use an app called Mint, it goes through all my transactions for me and it shows me a chart on what I’m spending my money on,” Kirui says


In the past, this technology helped her figure out that 40 percent of her spending was on Uber rides alone. It’s something she admits is ridiculous, and now she opts for transit to get around every day and has since gotten into the habit of putting away 10 percent from every check she earns towards her savings.

Rent Money

Living in Toronto is expensive and probably going to get even pricier this year and this one expense is both womens’ biggest item by far.

Wong pays $1,800 in rent every month for her one-bedroom suite in Scarborough, which is a suburb East of downtown Toronto. With financial support from her mother, paying this large sum of money is possible each month. Wong says she knows it’s a lot, but that’s the price to pay for a place to live by herself, that’s close to her university.

Kirui on the other hand, op-ed for what many international students and domestic students alike decide on when moving out of their parents’ home: having roommates. She shares a three-bedroom home with two friends and her share is $700. This simple adulting hack can be the easiest way to bring down your rent costs.


Kirui has been a student in Canada for almost four years and in that time, she says she has learned the ins and outs of a successful food shopping day, spending no more than $60 a month on groceries.

She says the idea that buying healthy foods is way too expensive is a myth, and it all depends on your priorities. Kirui suggests finding a way to buy food that’s good for you by saving money on almost everything else and putting some of those savings towards what you eat. For her, another bonus to living with roommates is splitting the grocery bill or sharing food costs.


Wong’s says her most expensive bills after paying her apartment is the groceries, spending on average $350 every month. She admits it’s because she doesn’t look for deals and tends to buy more then she needs so she won’t have to constantly go back and forth every week.

Learning how to make a food budget is not has difficult as it seems. It’s about looking at where you can cut back, calculating your income and executing the right purchases.

Having Fun

Both Wong and Kirui say they can’t stress enough the importance of having funds set aside for a good time. Especially with the demands and pressure that come with being a full-time student, with the stress of mid-terms and projects looming over their heads. Kirui says that being a busy film student in the downtown core has pushed her to buy take out often or have dinner with her film school friends.

Kirui spends on average $150 a month on nights out, covering both food and entertainment. Jazz spends less, at about $100 a month.


Wong says she spends on average $200 a month on shopping expenses. Granted, many of her purchases are for her dog, Bruno, who she says has good taste in toys among other things.

“I buy a lot of stuff for Bruno on Amazon, I like to spoil him,” says Wong. She recently got a second dog, and she says cutting back on her shopping is more important than ever.

Kirui has managed to keep her shopping expenses down to $30 a month. She says she does this by only splurging on one item she wants.


Coffee Time

Wong, a self-proclaimed coffee enthusiast says she buys on average two coffees a day. In one month alone she dishes out $150 on coffee which she says she needs to get through her full-time school and work schedule.

However, to other students, there’s an unspoken golden rule when trying to save big: if you can make it at home don’t buy it elsewhere. Kirui applies this rule everyday by making her own coffee or tea from home and taking it in a to-go mug, which she says saves her a fortune. “I don’t taste the difference between the coffee I make at home and a cheap coffee.”


Both women agree that taking public transit––whether that’s the subway, streetcar or bus––is the most affordable way to get around Toronto. They both spend around $116 monthly on TTC passes.

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