Crash course on cash

Were students ever taught how to handle their finances?


Whether it’s applying for OSAP, buying textbooks, or budgeting one’s personal expenses, university is the first time many students deal with money matters. Many of them come unprepared for the experience, and either flounder or forward everything to their parents. Should more be taught on the subject prior to university, rather than leaving it to students to catch up and find out things for themselves?

According to an article published by the Guardian in 2011, 84% of Canadians believe young people are ill-prepared to manage finances when they enter the workforce, and 85% believe that learning how to handle money while in school would benefit us in the long run.
Second-year students Monique Swaby and Emily Bryk believe that being in university has given them the skills they need to be independent outside of school.

“This year, now that I have to pay for textbooks and stuff, I’m really trying to budget myself and find alternative methods,” says Swaby. “Last year, I bought everything new, my mom paid for it […]. When I first started working, I thought, ‘I have a hundred dollars; that means I can afford everything!’ I now realize that I can’t. I still have to pay for gas and all that stuff. It makes me be more responsible, so I’m learning a lot.”

Bryk believes the whole university experience is about becoming more independent, including living alone, getting a job, and managing money. She believes these skills should be taught in schools as an ongoing process.

Evidently, high school hasn’t prepared many of us for money management. As university students we now recognize the necessity of that skill.

“High school didn’t prepare me to manage money,” says Janny Huynh, a third-year psychology student. “It was all a learning experience from first year. It was the biggest transition. […] It’s not enough just to show people money management in a textbook. It’s more about a practical thing—you have to get out there and do it yourself and manage yourself.”

Students are pushed into the deep end in first year, often not knowing how to manage their finances.
Renu Kanga Fonseca, a financial advisor at UTM’s Office of the Registrar, points out that late budget planning also has repercussions when applying for OSAP.

“Because of the time required to process OSAP documents and students often applying quite late, their funding can be released late,” says Fonseca.

Fonseca also suggests coming in to chat with a financial advisor well in advance, and adds that there are a lot of online sources and OSAP information that students receive in the mail, and taking the time to read it all can really pay off.

Canadian universities offer a range of financial services to enrich students’ financial literacy, including online sources where students can find information on OSAP and scholarships, opportunities to meet one-on-one with a financial advisor, and workshops that cover a range of topics. UTM offers all three services. The U of T website hosts information on OSAP and budgeting advice. Students can also consult with a financial advisor regarding student loans or general questions about personal finances.

In addition, the Office of the Registrar offers OR 101, a series of free workshops on OSAP, student loan repayment, budgeting tips and tricks, and student awards and scholarships that starts on Welcome Day, and continues throughout the year. The presentations are posted online afterwards.

There are also several useful apps that can help students keep track of their finances. Many of them allow users to check their bank accounts as well as look in on their credit cards and loans. Some will even inform you on how much to spend in relation to your income with notification emails.

Maybe the reason money management isn’t being taught in school is because it’s perceived as a skill best learned through experience. But perhaps it’s through a combination of experience and textbook methods that students are truly learning how to manage their money.