For all the new friends, carefree nights, culture, and bragging rights that come with attending a Toronto university, student life in the city can take a brutal, soul-crushing toll on your bank account.
In fact, we’ve broken it down for you – not including the cost of tuition – and you’ll need between $17,922 and $22,630 just to survive through an eight-month school year.
The good news is that is possible to live in Toronto on a super tight budget, it just requires a bit of shameless strategy.
Use the Flipp App
Even if you have a meal plan, odds are you’ll still make a few grocery runs here and there – especially if you have a mini fridge in your dorm room. Once your parents aren’t footing the bill, you’ll be surprised at how quickly the grocery tab adds up. Download the Flipp App to shave dollars off your groceries. The app essentially gives you grocery store coupons for over 1000 retailers for you (because nobody has time for coupon cutting).
Get Your Hair Cut at a hair school
If you want a salon-quality experience with a barbershop price tag, hit a hair school like King East’s Aveda Institute. Here, you can enjoy appreciated perks like complimentary coffee or tea and a massage, and will get a quality cut, colour, or style for a fraction of the cost, complete with Aveda products.
See movies at indie theatres
Anyone who has seen a movie at one of the city’s newer, shinier theatres knows that catching a film – with popcorn and a drink – can set you back a chunk of change. Luckily, Toronto has managed to keep some smaller theatres around – like Market Square in the St. Lawrence Market neighbourhood, or Carlton Cinema near Yonge and College. At these spots, everything is significantly cheaper – and the butter on the popcorn actually tastes like it should.
Hit the AGO on a Wednesday
Getting your culture fix doesn’t have to break the bank. On Wednesday evenings, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) offers free admission to its collection galleries (not special exhibits, however, they are discounted on Wednesdays), from 6 pm to 9 pm. Tip: To avoid the sometimes long lineup (people love free admission), arrive right at 6 pm.
Book trips on the Megabus
While extravagant vacations may be out of the equation while a student card is still a staple in your life, you can still take an affordable(ish) trip thanks to the good, old Megabus. While there’s nothing overly glamorous about it, the bus heads to places like New York City, Montreal, and Quebec City for a lot less than the cost of a flight. You can take the long drive to catch up on studying and essay writing – each bus is equipped with Wi-Fi.
Earn Pizza Points
If you order pizza regularly (as university students historically do), take advantage of both online coupons and points systems that entitle you to a free pizza after accumulating a certain amount of points. If you’re a semi-regular recipient of Domino’s pizza delivery, for example, it won’t take long at all to accumulate enough points to redeem for a medium two-topping pizza.
Get the Wi-Fi password
This should come naturally to a university student, but ask for the Wi-Fi password wherever and whenever you can to avoid going through your own data and racking up a pricey phone bill. By this point, every coffee shop and local restaurant should readily have Wi-Fi available. Of course, taking full advantage of the campus Wi-Fi is a no-brainer.
Volunteer at a Yoga studio
If you have a love of yoga that your wallet can’t currently support and are ok with time management, you could volunteer at one of the city’s yoga studios in exchange for free classes. At Yoga Tree, for example, their Energy Exchange Program allows you to exchange 2.5 hours weekly for five yoga classes at any of their studios.
Take Uber Pool if the TTC is a no-go
If you’re a student on a budget, the cheapest way to get around is via bicycle or on the TTC (a TTC post-secondary monthly pass costs $116.75). While the odd Uber ride is inevitable, try to opt for the “pool” option as much as possible to save money. Who knows, you may meet some new friends on your journeys.
Go where the cheap drinks are
I’m not going to pretend that university kids don’t drink, so the advice is to be strategic in how you drink. While the city is full of pricey spots – the tabs at downtown pubs can add up – there is also no shortage of cheap drinks if you know where to find them. Places that still serve drinks $5 and under include Wide Open (where you’ll find dirt-cheap daily specials), Sneaky Dees, The Bar With No Name, and AAA Bar.
Take advantage of discounted sushi
If you have a minor obsession with sushi that’s starting to dent the wallet, take advantage of end-of-the-day sushi specials. At the Eaton Centre food courts, for example, the sushi is discounted at least 30% by about 7:30 pm – and it’s still delicious.
Get a Student Price Card
The longtime student staple Student Price Card (SPC) offers deals on over 450 brands. For the $10.00 cost of the card (for a one-year period), the SPC card provides deals of 10-20% off everything from fashion to food. Card-holders can expect savings at places like Shoppers Drug Mart, Little Burgundy, Forever 21, The Brick, Roots, Pita Pit, and Jack Astor’s, to name a few.