Watching your debts


Teenagers headed off to university face challenges adapting to their new lifestyle in everything from finding new friends to learning a new city.

One element of that change that can sometimes be overbearing is finances.  If students move away from home, they may receive less financial support from their parents, as well as increased living and entertainment expenses.  It’s just one more thing to add to a growing list of stresses in a new life.

John Stipetic, branch manager for Scotiabank on the Carleton University campus in Ottawa, says there is help for students easing into their new situation to ensure they make good decisions with their money.

“We offer full student bank accounts,” says Stipetic “which offers students the opportunity to have a full-service bank account, with a highly reduced rate to what a working individual would.”


Stipetic says the presence of trained financial advisors in all bank branches is another way to help individuals who feel they need the guidance of a professional.

“They can meet with individuals and discuss one-on-one the availability of different investments and offer some advice and direction,” he says. “We would have to speak to the individual and find out what their particular needs are.”

One of the best ways for students to manage their finances, says Stipetic, is to avoid activating a credit card and incurring debt during their time at university.

“The best advice I can offer any student is, if you can graduate debt-free, you’re in a much better situation than graduating with high debt load.”

While many students use the services available on campus (Stipetic says the branch’s busiest month of the year for new accounts is September, the start of the school year), there are some who feel confident enough to figure things out on their own.

Tyler Brooks, 22, a fourth-year history major at Carleton, says he maps out a plan at the beginning of each school year, deciding how much to allocate to each aspect of living and studying away from home.

“I sit down and plan for the next eight months based on how much funding I’m getting, and how much I plan to work,” says Brooks, who earns about $260 per week at his part-time job at the university library. “I usually aim low so it works out to more money, if I get more hours.”


Brooks says that he has never sought the advice of a financial planner, but agrees with Stipetic’s idea of carrying as little debt as possible.  He follows this practice very carefully, and claims to not put more than $200 per month on his credit card.  Even then, he says he pays it off every couple of days after spending, weeks before the bill is due.

He also sets aside about $360 a month for rent, $200 per month for food, and roughly $50 per month for entertainment. The latter is the section that is most difficult to follow, he says.

“It’s sometimes difficult to stick to it, because certain variables come up,” he says.  “When I grocery shop, I tend to aim for items that are on sale, but sometimes you have to stray away from packaged foods and things like that.”

“It can be difficult to not go over the budget.”

Most students might not be as comfortable with that type of project, however, and banks are prepared to help students along.  Stipetic says that Scotiabank offers seminars on campus to educate students on such topics as directions for investments, such as RESPs, as well as things to consider before becoming a homeowner.  This is also practical for students who have lived in residence for their first year of education, then plan to move off campus.

Saving money, and learning how to spend it best, is not a black-and-white scenario.

“There’s no set amount we recommend you should save, especially as a student, who are on very tight, confined budgets,” says Stipetic.

“It really is a matter of what works best for the individual.”