Higher education is expensive, and while you've likely planned ahead for the big-ticket items, it's often the smaller, unexpected expenses that cause a real strain on your budget.

As you prepare for the first or next semester of post-secondary schooling you probably have a detailed plan for covering the major expenses that come with student life, namely tuition and living expenses. But if your budget only tackles the major expenses, you might be setting yourself up for financial trouble as the school year rolls on. That’s because there are a range of under-the-radar costs most students will have to manage soon or later, whether you anticipate them or not. These are the four most commonly forgotten expenses for college and university students.


While you may have a plan for paying for the course itself, you may be shocked to discover the price of the textbooks you're required to purchase in order to complete it. College and university textbooks unfortunately often cost more than you think, and a high school-sized book budget won't do it. In fact, according to the Canadian Federation of Students the average postsecondary student spends between $500 and $1,000 on textbooks and course materials each semester.

You can help manage those costs by purchasing used books and digital copies instead of hard cover originals, but you can still expect a hefty price tag for those required course materials. Check out our tips on how to buy your books for less.

School supplies

It's not just the books that seem to pole-vault in price between high school and post-secondary studies. If you've been using the same school supplies throughout your high school career, you’re likely overdue for an update, as supplies like backpacks, pencils, notebooks and binders typically aren't built to last more than a few years. As you advance in your educational career, elementary-student sized equipment probably won't do, and those more adult-sized supplies can add up quickly.

In a recent study by RetailMeNot.ca, they found that back to school shopping is one of the most expensive shopping occasions of the year for about 70% of Canadian families. The online coupon provider suggests sticking to a strict budget, buying in bulk and tackling the back to school list well before the late-august rush in order to ease the burden.


Whether you're taking public transit, parking your car on campus or walking to class, getting around as a student isn't cheap. It's not just the daily commute to and from school that can add unexpected costs; even those living on campus will need to get around town somehow.

If you're going to be moving away for school you should probably budget for a few visits home, at least for the occasional load of laundry and home-cooked meal.

You can help reduce the transportation fees by carpooling whenever possible, taking public transit or walking instead of paying for cabs and ride sharing apps. You can also try finding hotspots in the surrounding area to avoid regularly travelling to another part of town.

Check out our advice on how to cut costs when planning visits home.

Activity fees

Whether you want to join a fraternity, a sports team or the debate club, there's likely going to be a fee connected with the activity. While these fees can range widely, they often come right at the beginning of the school year, and can add up during those first few weeks. You don't want to have to decide between joining the intramural hockey team and buying a textbook, but if you haven't planned ahead you might not be able to afford both.

Though it won't cost as much as a semester's worth of textbooks, failing to budget for some extracurricular activities could mean you need to miss out on some great memories. Also, since enrolment is often limited, you may risk of losing your spot if you need to take some time to find room in your budget.

Before heading to campus for your first day of classes, be sure to take a look at your institution’s website to explore the extracurricular actives they offer, and the associated fees of those that you’re most interested in, so that there are no surprises.

Want to check out more tips and tools for your upcoming school semester? Visit our newly launched Student Hub here.


Legal Disclaimer: This article is provided for information purposes only. It is not to be relied upon as investment advice or guarantees about the future, nor should it be considered a recommendation to buy or sell. Information contained in this article, including information relating to interest rates, market conditions, tax rules, and other investment factors are subject to change without notice and The Bank of Nova Scotia is not responsible to update this information. All third party sources are believed to be accurate and reliable as of the date of publication and The Bank of Nova Scotia does not guarantee its accuracy or reliability. Readers should consult their own professional advisor for specific investment and/or tax advice tailored to their needs to ensure that individual circumstances are considered properly and action is taken based on the latest available information.