Walmart is not your friend.

Summer is now just a glance over our shoulders and school has finally rolled in—with the exception that for many of us, university is a totally new page in our lives.

In high school, countless friends, relatives, and teachers tried to educate us in the issue of the “real” college experience: long lectures with no time for note-taking, all-nighters in the library, potential friends from all over the world, and a newfound freedom that is dangerously delicious.

But what about that pointless (and pricey) grocery shopping extravaganza? Or those overpriced textbooks? And where in the world were those $400 apartments during the summer? Small tips, such as where to buy books for less and how to buy dinner, do make subtle yet surprisingly effective differences when it comes to managing time, money, and resources in college as a first-year. The following tips are the result of hands-on experience, courtesy of yours truly; they are economic, effective, and will definitely come in handy for the typical freshman at UTM.

Skip the Walmart Splurge

Many poor, unaware freshmen (including myself) who choose to live in the dorms set out for their first year with the firm belief that grocery shopping will become a sacred, weekly habit, similar to doing laundry or cleaning the bathroom. But a harmless 10-minute stop at the grocery store will unexpectedly stretch into a 45-minute walk through temptation, and that once-empty shopping trolley will start towering with random and very useless items such as Shea butter face masks (that yield no result whatsoever) and fork-and-knife sets.

UTM freshmen: supermarkets are forbidden! But if you don’t go, how else will you get food and toilet paper? Well, this very considerate university has devised a smart way for all students (first- or upper-year, on residence or off) to have access to food and confectionary items year-round: the Student Meal Plan.

Yes, the meal plan is an economic and efficient way to survive both semesters. Why? It’s paid in advance (probably by a parent or another funding source), so for students who have only their monthly allowance as a source of stable income, worry not. No allowance need be spent foolishly since T-Cards magically transform into wallets whenever Spigel Hall or Tim Horton’s is nearby. For those extremely lucky ones who live at home, surely a stocked refrigerator (or better yet, a loving mother) will suffice when it comes to battling those hunger raids. Once again, skip the supermarket splurge and save big money! Not only will money restraints become knot-free, but that precious time spent examining and impulse-buying the many different kinds of consumer products can be invested in study, socializing, or recreation.

Second-hand books all the way

Many, many first-years make the annual mistake of buying every single required textbook fresh off the bookstore stacks. Sure, those books have that brand-new smell and clean, wrinkle-free pages, but who wants to spend $100 on one book? Not only is the price a little high, but any one book will practically expire for the average student over the course of two semesters.

The average UTM  student takes 5 courses per semester; each course requires at least one textbook. If you spend an average of $100 for every required book, and multiply it by 2 (counting next semester too), then the final amount of money spent on a single year’s worth of textbooks is probably in the four-digit range. That’s definitely not the kind of money that any student wants to spend on books, especially if that money is coming out of allowance.

The perfect solution? Tusbe, Alibris, Amazon, eBay, and other online textbook resellers. Let’s look at the first one, Formally known as Toronto University Student’s Book Exchange, this online second-hand book database not only provides affordable textbooks, but they also generally match the requirements for UTM courses (except for the professors who demand new editions, though you can sometimes get away with it). This website is an essential tool for resourceful education, and it comes at a much more affordable price than at our dandy university bookstore.

“For my Logic class, the book was going for $75, used—when they finally fixed their mistake and even listed it,” noted second-year student Luke Sawczak. “I got it for $25 plus shipping, and a week before everyone else.”

Whether this whip-it kit may be applicable to this year’s freshmen or not, a bookmark on your browser will surely come in handy next semester or in the coming years; make it a point to be an early surfer, however. You can’t wait till the third week of class to get your books, and also, those cheap textbooks run out in a matter of seconds!

Ask around town for the low-down

It’s managed to become a much-discussed issue and has transformed into a household hot topic: relying on the most random of places to get the most substantial, knowledgeable information on everyday queries and questions. Parents implement this technique into every aspect of their lives, including long-term investments such as real estate and simple means of survival like what kind of meat to buy at the butcher’s.

Of course, us adolescents are reminded of the value of this technique from time to time, but do we really take this “research” mechanism in hand? We definitely should. When it comes to renting an apartment for the first time, settling for a tour with your dad and a broker is not such a smart idea, simply because adults with actual jobs tend to focus on what other adults with actual jobs can afford in terms of accommodation.

A simple fix that surprisingly slips by us day after day is the notice boards that fill the walls of the South Building and the Student Centre. Countless fliers and advertisements offer accessible and affordable apartments; they’re just waiting for students to take the opportunities. Many options are available, and regardless of the type of accommodation, whether it’s a studio or a two-bedroom apartment or even another student with a townhouse to share (for a price, of course), the price range is a stable one, starting around $400 and going up to $600. Yes, apartments worth those amounts do exist. All that is needed is a set of open eyes (or perhaps a pair of glasses).

Apartment-hunting is not the only job you can do more easily with the “scavenging” technique. Just about anything on or off campus has better and worse ways to get it done. That tip-off about Tusbe? It certainly didn’t come from a professor. On the contrary, a fellow UTM student was the source of this priceless find. For direct insight on courses, there are hundreds of friendly students on campus who are more than willing to share their experience and offer advice; all that is required is to ask! It’s quite simple: when you want something, go look for it. Whether looking for it will lead you to a random student or those sweet ladies who work in the cafeteria, the search will not go to waste. The people that work side-by-side with us are the most knowledgeable in the simple issues of our everyday life.

Three tips, three pieces of free advice, and more than three years to try them out. Share them, and even add to them; I can only guarantee a more economic and effective college life!

  • A REAL student

    I don’t even know where to begin with this article…How is it “economical” for me to spend ~$3000 on a meal plan like I did in first year when I spend about $50 a week on groceries from No Frills as an upper year student? Not every student has a parent or “funding source” to fork up a few grand to have someone else make your meals, and the grocery selection in Colman Commons is hardly comparable to a real grocery store. Is this realistic for anyone living off-campus? Should I be walking to school every day to get my lunch? What kind of a tip is this?!? No investigation was even done to find out if it is actually cheaper to buy from the school (which I highly doubt it is). We’re not all getting “a monthly allowance” to spend “foolishly” on food, unless you consider my two OSAP installments allowance. Pathetic.