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Money matters: Tips to keeping a budget

By: Isioma Uwadiunor
August 08, 2023

Money matters: Tips to keeping a budget is a part of the International Student Guide —  a resource carefully curated by current international students to equip new international students with the essential knowledge and insights you need to thrive in Toronto. View the full list of articles on the International Student Guide web page. 

Studying in Toronto comes with a lot of benefits: you’re surrounded by cultural diversity, you have access to a strong job market, efficient transportation services, community and networking opportunities, etc. However, as an International student planning to live or study in Toronto, it is very important that you understand the expenses that come with moving to a big city and are able to avoid any potential financial challenges. 

Let us provide you with tips, insights and strategies for making the right financial decisions when it comes to essentials like housing, groceries, transportation, and student discounts.


Your grocery bill will look different depending on what grocery store you decide to shop at. Many students prefer to get their groceries from Freshco (external link)  and No Frills (external link)  because their prices are budget-friendly and they have almost any grocery item you might be looking for.

 Located right by the George Vari Engineering and Computing Centre, Metro (external link)  is a grocery chain offering a 10% discount to TMU students on Tuesdays and Thursdays! 

Tips to save money on groceries

  • Compare prices and make use of weekly special offers and promotions
  • Take advantage of stores around campus like Dollarama (external link)  and IKEA (external link)  for affordable household essentials like cleaning products and kitchen tools
  • Plan your meals and make a shopping list to stick to a budget and know what to expect 
  • Opt for the generic brands at your grocery store instead of branded alternatives. More often than not, the quality is the same

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You may be able to substantially reduce your total living expenses with savings on transportation, especially if you are a commuter student. 

 Commuter students: Most students at TMU are commuter students, which means they live away from campus and either drive or take a 30 minute to 1 hour long (or more!) train or bus in order to get here.

Being a big city, Toronto offers a lot of cost-effective transportation options ranging from trains to street cars that are pretty reliable.

Tips to save money on transportation

  • If you are a commuter student who comes to campus daily, purchase the monthly TTC Post-secondary Monthly Pass (external link)  or the 12-Month Pass to save money on your total costs  
  • Try to avoid taking rideshare services unless it is an emergency. Downtown Toronto traffic regularly contributes to surge pricing

You can save money on commuting and make the most of your budget by learning about the different transport options available in Toronto. Learn more in the Find your way around: Transit in Toronto article.

 Tip: Rewards Cards are a great way to save money on your bill at many different stores, from grocery shops to clothing stores. 

With rewards cards, you can get discounts on certain purchases or collect points any time you shop at select stores. Rewards cards help you save a lot of money in the long run and give you flex dollars to spend on secondary items. Most cards have electronic versions you can access via a mobile app to reduce plastic waste! Here are our recommendations: 

Scene+ (external link)  (free)
A reward card you can use to get money off movie tickets, discounts on food, and so much more. You can register for a free account at select stores or online. 
 Where to use Scene+ near campus: BestBuy, Apple, Sobeys, FreshCo, SwissChalet, Harveys, Cineplex

PC Optimum Card (external link)  (free)
This card can be obtained by shopping at Shoppers Drug Mart, a very popular pharmacy and market chain found all around Toronto. You can accumulate points quickly and redeem them for rewards like movie tickets, skincare products, grocery items and more. 
 Where to use PC Optimum near campus: Shoppers Drug Mart, No Frills, Loblaws 

Student Points Card (SPC) (external link)  ($11.99 CAD/year)
This card is for students only and it gives you access to a variety of discounts and deals in participating stores, from clothing and tech to food and travel. 
 Where to use SPC near campus: The Eaton Centre, Pizza Pizza, Apple. 

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You can choose to live on or off campus. Living on campus is more convenient in terms of distance to classes and many essential stores. Consider all your costs associated with living on campus versus off campus, and make your decision based on that. 

Tips to save on housing costs

  • Live with roommates 
  • Seek out affordable utility providers and take advantage of student offers on wifi services 
  • If living on-campus isn't an option for you, consider areas outside downtown Toronto where you'll likely have cheaper rent but have to commute to campus

Learn more about your housing options in the Your home away from home: Navigating housing options in Toronto article. 


The city has dozens of entertainment options catering to various interests and lifestyles. There's something for everyone here, from cultural events and outdoor activities to sports games and concerts. Our favourites include: attending festivals, outdoor movie screenings, and visiting art galleries (external link)  and museums (external link) .

Tips to save money on entertainment 

  • Browse the free festivals and events calendar (external link)  on the City of Toronto website 
  • Find many affordable events by visiting BlogTO
  • Participate in TMU student clubs that host a lot of fun and free/affordable events throughout the year  
  • Plan your activities in advance to know how much you'll need to allocate for entertainment every month

Isioma's Spending

Isioma Uwadiunor

"My expenses vary every month according to my priorities. Even though I strive to manage my money properly, I may spend more during certain months because of special occasions or unexpected events. In order to balance meeting my basic needs and enjoying occasional fun moments and ensure I remain financially secure, I constantly try to stick to my monthly budget."

Isioma Uwadiunor, International Student, Nigeria

Budget Breakdown

  • Rent and utilities (wifi, etc.): $1300 monthly 
  • Groceries from Freshco: $100-$200 monthly 
  • Transportation: Under $50 monthly, Isioma lives nearby campus and walks to school and to her on-campus job 
  • Toiletries and skin care: $100 monthly on average
  • Entertainment and leisure: $150 monthly to cover activities like going to the movies, amusement parks, shopping, etc. Isioma's budget for entertainment is subject to change depending on the month. 
  • Emergency fund and savings: After paying for her expenses, Isioma transfers whatever money she has leftover from her pay check to her savings account. She ensures to put away $100 per month to establish an emergency fund for unexpected expenses. 

It can take you a while to feel confident in your financial responsibility and budgeting, and that's okay! We encourage you to stick to a budget and save money to prepare for emergencies, keep a peace of mind and overcome financial challenges. 

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