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Most of my friends graduated school with debt. I did too. For the 60 per cent of students cited in a recent RBC survey who revealed they would also graduate with some form of debt, implementing a few smart strategies could likely help relieve some unnecessary stress.

Managing our money as students is essential to successfully arriving at the end of our post-secondary years as little in the red as possible. The key is to have a plan to get there from the beginning. Below are a few tips to help new students get started.

The Globe's Back to School Guide

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Create a plan and track spending

A spending plan is not sexy, or necessarily fun, but it's a must. Figure out how much money you have, or will have, by listing all of your income sources: part-time job, scholarship, mom and dad, savings. Then list all of the expenses you can think of for the year: tuition, food and books, travel costs. Tools like the Student Budget Check will help you to calculate the average cost for all major purchases in college and university and then allow you to calculate the money you need to get through the entire school year. Online financial management tools and Apps make it much easier to track where your money is going and how much you are spending.

Pick the right plastic

I was offered a different credit card everywhere I turned during frosh week. They try to suck you in with free t-shirts, gift cards and goody bags. It's tempting but dangerous to sign up for the first card you're presented with. If you already have a card, search online to ensure you're heading off to school with the best interest rate and the best card for your situation. If you're looking for a new credit card, sites like and the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada will help you easily sift through your options based on your preferences and needs.

Search for scholarships

Searching for opportunities online is likely the best way to find scholarships. Sites like feature millions of dollars in available awards. The best part is that when you create a personal profile, you'll automatically be matched up with the scholarships best suited to you. Some sites like will require more work in searching, but it's worth the trouble once you see the potential opportunities for free money.

Make extra dough doing something you love

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The majority of students polled also said they plan to work during the school year in order to pay the bills. If you're going to be working part-time though the school year, it's important to look at not only what will make you the most money for the time spent away from school and socializing, but also what you will enjoy doing and could potentially further your career after graduation. I lived with the same four girls in university and throughout our years we did a number of things to earn extra money: tutored local elementary and high school students, taught aerobics, contacted the psych departments to take part in upcoming research studies, freelanced in our area of study, etc. What could you do to make a little extra dough on the side? Every bit of extra money helps.

Aside from the expensive essentials, the little things also add up - the latte on the way to morning class, dinner with friends on campus and tickets to a local concert. The right strategies and saving habits will lead to less stress during the school year, and less debt upon graduation.

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