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carrick on money

Hi, I’m Jack Denton, a summer staffer with The Globe and Mail and a student at the University of Toronto. I’m filling in for Rob this week while he’s on holiday. Today, I’m writing about the unexpected costs students rack up and the not-so-unexpected ones we like to ignore.

When I moved into my first student apartment – a three-story, shabby house with five other guys – I soon realized how much furniture we’d need to all live comfortably in the space. I was prepared to cover tuition and rent, but furnishings were not costs I’d thought to include in my shoestring student budget.

Couches, tables, chairs, televisions, microwaves and futon beds are big expenses, and my first instinct was to save money on one-time costs and buy the cheapest thing possible. What I learned, however, is that it pays to balance cost-saving with quality and make sure that things like the futon mattress you’re buying are in good enough shape to last the four years it takes to get your degree. After all, replacing it every year might end up costing more than it would have been to buy a good one in the first place.

Keep an eye out for end-of-summer sales at furniture stores such as IKEA. You might be able to get a bargain on a new mattress or find other apartment furnishings at a discounted price. But the best deals, and in my experience the sturdiest and coolest furniture, can be purchased from graduating students. Use Kijiji to search for items being sold in areas close to university campuses and get access to the Facebook group(s) your university community is bound to have for selling furniture and other items. At U of T, this group is called “Free and For Sale,” and I know that name is used elsewhere, too. But again, make sure you are buying quality stuff in good condition. Or be prepared to go shopping again in a few years.

Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver and Montreal are also home to Bunz, a trading platform where money is not allowed and items are traded for other items like transit tokens, beer and wine, or art. Bunz has an app as well as public Facebook groups.

For those in shared accommodation, work out ahead of time who is bringing what, and whether and how you’ll share big expenses like furniture and kitchen appliances, or pots and pans. Minimizing roommate friction can be as important as saving a few bucks.

Another unexpected cost that can sneak up on you are monthly bills for streaming services – Netflix and Spotify or Apple Music are essentials in student digs without cable. Whether it’s videos or music, even a couple of these streaming services to cover the basics can add up to $30 or so each month. If you’re transitioning from using family accounts or streaming for the first time, these monthly costs on your credit card can come as a bit of a shock.

Of course, streaming isn’t possible without access to the Internet. There are budget options like, which I used for the last year, that are worth price-checking against the stalwarts, especially if you live in a big population centre and have viable internet alternatives. It’s broadly applicable advice, but I’d recommend not skimping out on something as vital as internet service, especially if you can shoulder the financial load with roommates. When it’s a rainy Wednesday night and everyone is trying to watch Netflix in their rooms, you’ll thank me.

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Today’s financial tool

My geographic bias is showing, but I can’t sing the praises of an app called Feedback enough and hope for the sake of other students it expands beyond downtown Toronto. Feedback partners with restaurants to guarantee customers during off-peak hours. In return for grabbing a late lunch you can score deep savings and help a local business pare food waste. And a part of each purchase goes toward donating a meal to a person in need – what’s not to love?

Podcast of the week

I like to listen to podcasts on my walk to campus or at the gym. If you’re searching for a new show and have even a glancing interest in economics or finance, you have to give Odd Lots a listen. Episodes run the gamut from how science fiction explains the U.S.-China trade war to how cryptocurrency is being used in Venezuela – and in the process you might just learn what an inverted bond-yield curve is and why negative interest rates aren’t as crazy as you might think.

Globe Personal Finance journalists on campus

For years now, Rob Carrick and Globe and Mail personal finance editor Roma Luciw have been doing personal finance visits to college and university campuses across the country, talking with students about how best to manage their money. The sessions cover challenges young adults will face during their school years: managing student loans, learning to budget, handling debt and what awaits them in the job market. Rob and Roma are happy to talk about anything financial; the important thing is getting these conversations going. If you’d like to discuss the possibility of a Globe and Mail personal finance session on your university or college campus, contact Rob at or Roma at

In case you missed these Globe and Mail personal finance-related stories

Do you have a question for Rob? Send it this way. Sorry we can’t answer every one personally. Questions and answers are edited for length and clarity.

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