Balancing the cost of learning

What can we do to make ends meet?

There’s no question that students today face high costs of tuition, textbooks, rent, groceries, internet and phone bills, with these costs rising over the past few years. 

This has left many to wonder what is driving this increase in costs, what can be done to help students balance their budgets and where are things going in the future? 

Students can be proactive in our financial planning and take steps to improve economic wellbeing through budgeting, financial planning and using existing income savings or supplements.  

But we can also continue impressing upon post-secondary institutions and the government the negative impact of rising tuition fees and issues, such as housing and inflation, on students.

PennyDrops and living expenses 

Nicholas Pinsent is the President of PennyDrops Dalhousie, a student-run, non-profit organization that provides workshops on financial literacy and budgeting around campus and at local high schools.

Regarding the burden of expenses carried by students, Pinsent says, “It has definitely been a source of stress for students today. This burden is also growing recently in seemingly all forms.” 

What is driving this increase in the financial burden on students? One area of concern is rent. 

Rent in the HRM has increased steadily over the past few years, as housing demand has outpaced supply. With many students renting, this rise in rent results in students struggling to find housing or being forced to live far from campus. In turn, this results in longer commutes. 

Students can expect to see some relief on this expense, however, as the provincial government recently committed to maintaining a two per cent cap on residential rent increases until the end of 2023, building 1,100 affordable units and creating a province-wide student housing strategy.

Another area of concern for students is tuition. Tuition fees and rates at Dalhousie University have also increased for this academic year, both for international and domestic students. As rent and tuition are the largest expenses for most students, these increases have had a significant impact on the cost of student living. 

The big picture for students

On a national scale, according to Statistics Canada, the inflation rate hit 4.4 per cent in September 2021, the highest it has been in 18 years. This has resulted in price increases on items such as groceries, books and clothing, further compounding financial pressures for students. Not just at Dalhousie, but across the country. 

It remains to be seen what exactly the Bank of Canada, which has controlling inflation as its primary goal, will do to address this issue. 

When asked about what changes, tips or techniques students can use to help make their lives more affordable, Pinsent recommends that students begin budgeting and setting financial goals. “In terms of budgeting, there are tons of free resources out there, from online templates to features that most banks offer.”

Pinsent also recommends that people apply to the provincial and federal governments for loans and grants.

 “It is always shocking to me how few students seem to be applying for scholarships and bursaries, especially when Dalhousie does have many to offer,” he says.

There are also scholarships and bursaries from businesses and non-profits that exist for students. Students can also use the Loaded Ladle to reduce food costs or gain employment through on-campus jobs with Dal and the DSU.

The prospects for off-campus jobs have increased following the rise in remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Positions that allow employees to work online provide students with opportunities that may not have been available prior to COVID-19. 

Proactive financial planning

PennyDrops Dalhousie offers a learning session on budgeting and financial planning, and Pinsent encourages interested clubs, societies and groups to reach out about having this workshop delivered to their members. 

These events can help students increase financial literacy and learn the basics of budgeting and financial planning, which will be critical to addressing the growing financial costs of student life.

In terms of what more can be done, Pinsent acknowledges that it is a “tricky” question but says working to address rising tuition and housing costs is important, and that additional support should be targeted at students facing financial need.

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