How Students Can Lead A Budget-Friendly Gap Year

If you've got money on the brain, or if you're worried that your gap year may be “expensive” and you won’t be able to afford it, we’ve got you covered.

In this episode, we bust the most common myths around money during your gap year and offer up helpful tips that make this process easier and more comfortable.

Come learn the importance of establishing a budget, goal-setting and the exact processes you need to go through to manage your income and expenses. You’ll also walk away with a solid understanding of how to handle larger sums of money to invest in yourself or your personal development.

Stick around closer to the end when Michelle dives into valuable insight on how to creatively earn more money and travel smarter to help close income gaps. Discover private and government-funded youth scholarships and organizations that provide financial aid options and how to leverage your own skills to work with them in exchange for discounted scholarship programs.

Topics Discussed

  • Learn how to become familiar with handling larger sums of money so that you are comfortable making investment decisions for yourself.

  • A full overview of the steps needed to create a budget and how to keep track of your income and expenses.

  • Traditional and alternative ways to help you create more income and achieve financial stability.

  • Three examples of well-known scholarship opportunities.

  • Practical examples that will help students reduce their costs during their gap year.

  • Ways to work with gap year programs that have financial aid scholarships or bursaries built into their funding structure.

  • Three affordable government-funded youth programs.

  • The importance of setting goals before establishing a budget.

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Connect With The Canadian Gap Association


Episode 67 - How Students Can Lead A Budget-Friendly Gap Year


If you've got money on the brain if you're worried about how you're going to afford your gap year, you have got to listen in as we bust some money myths about your gap year, and we will leave you with very tangible ways to have a fulfilling gap year, no matter what your budget is. You've got to take a listen!

[Music & Intro]

Welcome to the gap year Podcast where we explore the who, what, where, when and why of gap years. It's real people sharing their stories, ideas, and experts diving deep into how you can make the right decisions in order to have a meaningful gap here. This is the place to be no matter where you are on your gap year journey. I'm Michelle Dittmer. Your resident gap your expert, let's jump right in.

Hey there and welcome to the gap year podcast. My name is Michelle Dittmer and I am your gap year expert and host of the podcast. Today, we are talking about one of the most popular sessions that I run sometimes at our gap year expos that happen throughout the year. We're talking all about budgeting, and how you can lead a budget-friendly gap year, which is really important because one of the things that stresses us out the most is money. And when I talk about gap years, people often have this idea that their gap year is going to be a huge expense for them. So, I always like to start off and say that there is a gap year for every budget. Whether you are rolling in the dough, or you don't have two pennies to rub together, there is a gap year that is going to fit that budget. I have seen gappers spend 10's of 1000's of dollars, I've seen people come out of their gap years with the exact same amount that they went into. So, they had a neutral gap year. And I've had folks coming out the other end having saved 10's of 1000's of dollars to put towards their school. So, really the spectrum not only goes from 0 to 100, it goes from 0 to 100 and 0 to negative 100. So, it really can be anything you want without compromising what you want to achieve what you want to get out of your gap year. Rest assured that no matter what your budget is, there is something out there for you. And I want to help to give you some tips that are going to make this process easier and a little bit more comfortable for you. So, let's jump into those tips.

Number one! I want you to get comfortable with talking about money. Because this is a new territory for a lot of people after their grade 12 year or mid-post-secondary is actually talking about money. And I'm not talking about the $14 an hour that you are going to make. I'm talking about $2,000 or $3,000. And those are much larger sums of money than asking your mom or dad to borrow $20 bucks to go to the movies, we're looking at things that are probably more expensive and more costly, than you have ever talked about before. So, the first thing is to just call out that no matter what when you leave high school, you're going to experience a lot of sticker shock. Once you realize how much things actually cost and are going to cost. That's a real reality of life. While those numbers seem big, and really intimidating. I also want you to know that when you pay for things, it's actually an investment in yourself. And I know this sounds cliche, but it's very, very true and believe it or not, it's been happening your entire life. Spending money on yourself is actually such a value that you can attribute to who you are today because of the way that you and your parents have chosen to allocate funds. Just think back to your entire life. Were you part of a sports team? Well, there was $1 value associated with that. Did you ever have a tutor? Well, yeah, that cost money too. Did you take music lessons or art classes? Did you do Driver's Ed? Those things all have pretty significant price tags attached to them. So, whether you were paying for them yourself, or you had the support of a parent, they were all investments in you. Investments in you developing skills, investments in you, or in your interests, investments in your mental or physical health, and investments in you developing new interests and skills that are going to lead potentially to a career or something you find really fulfilling. And yes, believe it or not even all of the vacations you have ever taken, all of the trips you have been on, those have had price tags, and they are an investment in your well-being and in your development. So, when we pay to experience things, or to learn things, we're paying for that personal development, we're paying for that professional development. And that's a concept that's new to a lot of people coming out of high school, and it's not your fault. It's not anybody's fault. That's just a reality of becoming an adult, is understanding that in order for things to happen, often money is involved. Often, we are turning value in things that we value, we're actually showing that through the dollars that we spend. And all of these things are really strong potential to help you get jobs in the future to make sure you're leading a fulfilling life to taking care of your mental health.

Really, if we look at the cost of these things, we can actually just replace money with value. So how much value do you place on that, and maybe there's $1 amount that you can exchange for that, that is something that's important to me, therefore, I am going to spend money on it. And it's not about buying things, that's a very different thing. If you need to buy a whole bunch of candles, or a whole bunch of books, or a new pair of hockey, skates, whatever that is, those are things. It's very different to invest in yourself through experiences and learning. And those are the things that we can really attribute personal value to. So that's the first thing that I want you to really get comfortable talking about being comfortable with dealing with larger sums of money and being comfortable investing in yourself. I'm not saying that you should go out and spend $100,000 on yourself here, that's unreasonable. But the money that you are going to be spending on experiences and activities, that really truly is an investment that will pay off in the long run. And part of the reason why I say that, and this is a really big key takeaway in that money mindset is that money is a renewable resource. Money is going to come and go in your life, that is just a reality, we are going to earn money and we are going to spend money. And you want that to be part of your gap year ethos as well. You want to be comfortable with that, that there'll be times for earning money, and there'll be times for spending money. And when you spend it, you have to be comfortable knowing that you will get more money again, when you are in that earning phase. So, it's a renewable resource, it will come to you again. Now the flip side of that is that time is not a renewable resource.

So, you've only got one gap year, you're going to be moving on to other things after that. So, while money will come and go your time is very precious. And your energy is very precious. So, how are you going to spend that in a way that's both financially responsible, but also making sure you're making the best use of your time. There's my note on really getting comfortable talking about money, because that's going to lay the foundation for being able to have a year that is going to be feel really good to you. My tip number two is pretty basic, actually, is that you just need a budget. So, this isn't a budget where you need to know to the exact sense where money is being spent or where money is being earned. But the process of budgeting is a life skill in itself. So, on your gap year, this is a great place to start to hone that skill. When you are creating your gap year plan. Quite often it's actually done in conversation with anyone who is going to be contributing financially to your gap year. So, whether your parents are supporting you or your grandparents or a caregiver, whoever that might be, this is a really great opportunity to sit down with them to not only talk about the numbers but also learn from them about the process of budgeting. Let me give you an overview of how we should put this budget together and what steps we really need to go through to make sure that we're going to be able to have a gap year that's fulfilling but still stays on budget. We need to start with a list of where that money is coming from. How much money are we gonna have to play with?

How much money? Are we going to have to spend or to use or invest in your gap year? Make a list? Do you have any personal savings yourself that you're going to be contributing? Are your parents going to be making a contribution of any kind? And then are you going to be earning money? So, are you going to be getting a job? And how much money do you think you're going to be earning during your gap year? Well, the first two are pretty concrete, it's a pretty fixed number. Because it's a lump sum, you're going to have to make a guess an educated guess on about how much you think, or you want to or need to earn over the course of your year. So, this is a little bit of a guess. And it doesn't have to be exact, but you can do some ballparking. How much? Are you going to make an hour? How many hours a week? Are you going to work? And how many weeks are you going to be working? We'll give you a pretty good calculation that you can work with in terms of creating your gap year budget. There we go! We've got all of the incoming funds. But now we want to make a list of what are we actually going to be spending it on.

The first thing that you need to have in your list of expenditures is actually an idea of how much do you want to save up. So, if you are expecting to save up $2,000 to be able to put towards your books and your residents for first-year university or college. Then that should be the number one line item that should be the very first thing on your list is $2,000. Not so much that you're going to be spending that on your gap year, but you want to have that amount in the bank. So, it's considered how you're going to spend it. So, $2,000 in your savings. There you go, that's your first line. Then you want to list the other things that you want to do. So, do you want to travel? What are the expenses that go along with travel? Are there flights? Is there insurance? Is there hotels? Or hostels? Are there admission fees to museums and events? Are there concert tickets? What are those things that are associated with that travel? Maybe you want to take some courses? Or lessons, what are the fees that are associated with those. So, I think that listing out all those experiences you want to have right below the savings, again, would be a really, really great place to start. Again, we're just ballparking at this stage, we're not looking for dollars and cents, we're just looking for a ballpark. We also might need to list out some gear that you might need, you might need a new bathing suit, do you need a new camera or shoes for hiking? So, listing that out too, will fall into the expenditures? And then the last kind of section that I want you to put on there is what expenses do you have? Do you have to pay your cell phone bill? Do you have to put gas in the car? What are those other things that are going to add up over the course of your gap year? In here you should also include all of those incidental things like how much are you spending on coffee? How much are you spending going out for meals with your friends? All of those pieces should be included in this. Now you get to look at those two categories, what's coming in, what do you think is going to go out, and you're going to see how close those numbers are. And I can almost guarantee you that your costs are going to exceed what you have budgeted or what you have in your budget. And that is absolutely positively normal. So don't give up. Don't say this isn't for you, or it's never going to work. Totally 100% Normal. Now you've got a job to do, you've got these two numbers that do not line up, they do not match. Now it's time to get to work. Now it's time to see how can we bring those numbers closer together. That's the job at hand. And now there's two ways to do that we can either make more money, or we can spend less. So, let's look at those two options here about how to make this happen for you because we want those numbers much, much closer together. And so how are we either going to make more money or we're going to spend less.

So, let's tackle the first one making more money. There are so many different ways that you can make more money, you can work more hours, you can get multiple part-time jobs, you can look for a job that has higher pay, there is nothing wrong with getting a factory job that's gonna pay you $35 an hour. Nothing wrong with that on your gap year. In fact, it's a great experience to have and to be able to have that financial stability is such a great thing to do. So, looking at that is there a way you can adjust your working ability to change that to change the amount of dollars that you're going to be having coming in the door. Another option is to actually push back some of those expenses. So, let's say, I'm going to use travel a lot as an example here just because it's very concrete and clear and people understand it. So, it doesn't have to be travel, this could be anything. So just replace in your head, what you would be spending it on maybe delaying your travel by a month, it will give you another month's worth of earnings in order to be able to afford that trip. So those are all ways within your earning potential for you to do it. But that's not always the only way to do it, we got to get a little bit more creative. We got to think outside of the box. And there are other ways of getting money. So, think about any time that you might receive a gift, whether this is your grade, 12 Grad, maybe it's your birthday money, or Chinese New Year, or any holidays. Anytime that folks would be spending money on you anyways, perhaps you want to ask for gifts of cash or gifts of gift cards that would support you in your gap year activities, or a particular supply. Let's say you are working towards getting a new camera, maybe you'll get a gift card towards Henry's. It's not going to pay for the whole camera, but it's a step in the right direction and something that's not going to be coming out of your budget then. So, thinking of that is there a way that you can leverage those opportunities to direct the generosity of your family and friends to something that's going to help you achieve your goals of your gap year. other creative ways, maybe you want to have a fundraiser, fundraisers aren't just limited to raising money for a charity. You could bake cupcakes and have a cupcake fundraiser at your synagogue, or at your church, or on the sidewalk in front of your house, or as part of your baseball team. Whatever that is, there are opportunities for you to host your own fundraiser to support your gap year. And this isn't selfish. This is saying I want this particular experience and it's outside of my financial reach. But I'm prepared to work for it will you help me out. So, whether you are a jewelry artist, and you want to sell some of your items, or you are a photographer, and you will exchange photography for a donation, so fundraising is a great way to be able to do that for yourself.

Now, you can also crowdsource so this is kind of like your fundraising. And I've seen it done really, really well, where folks have set up a crowdfunding page and what they've done is they've created different tiers. If you donate $20, to my campaign, I will send you a postcard from the road. If you donate $50, I will zoom you from the road when I met in a hostel one night. If you donate $100, I'll take your Stephie with me and we'll do a little photo journal of them on this trip. Maybe you're a photographer, if you donate $100, you will get a framed print of the best photo I take on my trip. For $50 maybe you'll get a souvenir from one of my destinations. So, if you set up those tiers and have rewards for that some of your friends and family might really be engaged with that. And it's a way to say thank you for their generosity. And it's amazing. If you had five friends who each gave you 20 bucks, there's 100 bucks towards your dreams for your gap year. So crowdfunding, again, just thinking outside the box a little bit.

Not everybody knows this. But there are scholarship opportunities for folks on a gap year. You got to get out there, you got to do your research, and you got to see what you are eligible for. So, I'm going to give you three examples of scholarships that exists that you can put towards your gap year.

The first of which is called the RBC Future Launch Scholarship. Now, this is a $1,500, yup $1,500 that you can put towards anything that's going to be skill building for you. That's not formal education. So, a really great opportunity to apply this to your gap year because really, that's what your gap year is all about. We'll link to these in the show notes to give you a hand to find them. So, RBC Future Launch Scholarship, that's one.

The Youth Travel Foundation. This is a Canadian charity that offers scholarships for folks who are travelling. A really, really great organization and they have funds for people travelling on a group trip or travelling independently. So, a great opportunity to get some cash there.

And the last one I'm going to mention is the Travel Access Project. So, in years past, they have had 10, $3,000 scholarships, and it has been an incredible source for a lot of young people to fund the gap year of their dreams.

So, you are not alone on this financial budgeting gap your journey, you have the resources of your friends and family. You have scholarships, and you can make amazing things happen when it comes to bringing in more dollars.

Now let's look at the flip side of that. What about spending less? How can we make that happen? Again, if we're looking at travel, one of the easiest ways is to change the duration of your trip. Because accommodation and food is a fixed cost per day. So, if you were planning on going for three months, maybe you got to shorten it down to two months or one month. And that can drastically affect the daily cost of what you are spending it on. I'd also recommend that you really take a look at perhaps changing the activity. And I'm going to give you a concrete example here, because I think it's really important that we look at the activities that we've chosen, and really get down to the core of why we chose them, because maybe a small adaptation in the activity that we choose can help us still achieve that goal, but in a very different way. So, the example I'm going to use is that you wanted to go to Paris, that was one of your goals for your gap year. But if you sit back and you think about it, why did I want to go to Paris, like maybe that is just fundamentally out of the question to go to Paris for three months, and just be a bum around the Champs-Élysées say. Maybe you wanted to go to Paris to learn French, maybe that was actually what you wanted to get out of this experience? Well, let's scale it back, maybe not France for three months, but maybe going to Montreal or Quebec City for three months. That might be a way to still check that box of learning French, being in a French community without the overseas cost of flights, and not having to exchange currency. You could even work in Quebec City or Montreal. There's opportunities there by changing the location. But let's say you wanted to go to Paris, not to learn French, but to learn the French culture. Maybe that's something that's important to you. Well, then, instead of going and being a tourist for three months. Maybe you want to go over there and become an Au Pair. Au Pair is live in childcare. So, you would go and live with a family in France, and help take care of the children during the day and you've got your evenings and weekends to explore. So, you actually have a job while you're in the country, but you are living in and amongst a family there. So, you're actually really getting a good sense of French culture, while making it financially attainable for you. So again, that slight change, you're still going to Paris, but instead of being a tourist, you're going to be an Au Pair. Now, what if you wanted to go to Paris to see the sights, maybe that was your goal, you always wanted to see the Eiffel Tower. You always wanted to have a cafe and a croissant, while overlooking the river. Whatever that you're the sights are that you wanted to see.

Maybe instead of just going and being a tourist, you want to do a Work Away. So, WorkAway is an organization that partners, folks who are looking to have a project done, maybe they need to retile their bathroom, or maybe they're painting their barn, or maybe they're harvesting their large garden and they need some volunteer support. So, you can actually exchange your labor for room and board. So, they'll actually give you a place to stay and food to eat for free in exchange for you helping out on their project. So, you're going to save a ton of money while still being able to visit the country or city of interest and just be able to support yourself through volunteering for different individuals. So, really cool organization. Again, we'll link to that in the show notes.

Maybe, actually, when you sit back and think about it, you wanted to go to Paris and just to get out of your own home. Very real right now, we've all kind of felt a little bit locked up over the past two years. But instead of having to go all the way to Paris to do that, why not rent an Airbnb for a month and go and live on your own somewhere relatively local. That's a great way to build your independence and save a ton of money while still getting that really authentic experience of being on your own. Because over the course of a month, you are still going to have to do your laundry, you're still gonna have to do your groceries and figure out how to get around. So again, a really great way to do that.

If you're thinking about working with some formal gap year programs or organizations that have some sort of tuition or some sort of fee with them with there are ways that you can look at reducing some of those costs as well. A lot of these organizations actually have their very own financial aid, scholarships, or bursaries built into their funding structure. So, you've got to go and you've got to ask them maybe they have a site on their page that has financial aid information, or you might have to call them up on the phone or send an email and ask them if they have any funds available. Now, the backhands information I know, is that a lot of these funds, a lot of these scholarships go unclaimed. So, just speak up, don't be shy, get your name on the list and see if you can get yourself some discounted programs, really important. Most of them are needs based so you would have to have some sort of ability to prove that you have a financial need, and that they can support you in that. But there are also merit based scholarships from organizations as well. So, this would allow you to showcase that you are an exceptional volunteer, or you have a particular musical ability, or whatever it happens to be. There are merit-based scholarships as well, so keep an eye out for that. If none of those things work, there is something else that you can take a look at. And this doesn't always work, but it's becoming more and more common.

If you have a particular knack for social media. If you have a particular knack for filming and editing videos, or photos that are very shareable, very Instagram worthy or Tik-Tock worthy, these organizations are hungry for content. So maybe you can work out a deal with them, that in exchange for producing content for them that they can use in their marketing, that you could receive a discounted price for their program. So that's something you're going to have to email and be a little bit bold about and see if that's an option, because you may have a particular skill set that they need. And there's value in that.

Let's switch gears and look at some affordable programs that are out there. Canada is very lucky to have so many investments made in youth programming. So, I just want to make sure that you're aware that out there, the government is actually funding some incredible youth programs. So, I'm going to name three of them, look them up, check them out.

Number one is Katimavik. It is a service-based program, it's five months long. You get to live in two different communities, do service projects, and meet a whole bunch of amazing people.

The second of which is The Explorer Program. It's part of the official languages program. It helps you to learn French, it's five weeks, and you can earn University credits.

The third one is the Canadian Conservation Corps. This is a program in sustainability and the environment and allows you to have an expedition of some kind. You get a ton of training and certifications, and then you get to work on an individual project within sustainability. So, that sounds like you check out those programs, extremely affordable, due to the subsidies that we're getting from the government.

Now my last piece of advice here is to apply early. Sometimes organizations will have early bird discounts, or their scholarships will still be available, they won't have all been claimed. And the spots in these financially accessible programs can fill up quickly. That being said, on the flip side of that there are some people who drop out at the last minute. So, make sure you're following us on social media, because sometimes we get a heads up that there's some spots available. And so, if you're not following us on Instagram, jump on there and do that.

Okay, my last tip for you here is that you need to have goals even before you start working on your budget. So maybe this should have been tip number one, but it's a little bit out of context, without really understanding how to budget. Knowing what you want to get out of your gap year is actually the most important thing. You want to at the end of your gap year, look back and feel that you've had a fulfilling gap year. And you need to know what that looks like you need to know what success is going to look like. You need to know what your report card is actually going to be reporting on how you're going to be scoring yourself at the end of the year. So those goals will actually be your north star and they will help you to decide all of the things you're going to have to decide on your gap year. So having goals is fundamentally important. And with that in mind, you can get creative. Once you have those goals, you can ask yourself if it's not financially accessible to you, how else can I achieve this goal? What other ways can I make this come true? Or what's the next best thing that could be within my reach? So, let's use the example of wanting to travel. And let's say that's your goal I want to travel. Is the goal really to travel? Or is it to become more independent? Or is it to experience a different culture? Or is it to get out of your comfort zone and you can see how all of those changes to the actual goal, opens the door to so many other experiences other than simply jumping on a plane. Now if the goal is actually to travel, that's okay too. But does it have to be internationally? Could you just go to another province? Or could you live with a relative elsewhere for a while, there's lots of different ways to cook an egg. So, there's many ways to achieve that goal that's both fulfilling, and within your budget. You just have to be creative. And you have to know what your goals are. A successful gap year isn't about how much money you spent. It's about the memories that you made. It's the skills that you developed, it's the friendships that you're taking forward with you, and your readiness for whatever your next steps are in life. So, if you can look back at your gap year and see that you achieved all of your goals, that was a great year, some of it is going to cost money, and some of it won't. But knowing how you want to prioritize the money, you do have, how you want to allocate that value. Again, going back to the beginning of this conversation, that value to each part of your gap year, will allow you to design the right gap year for you, regardless of what your overall budget is.

So, if this was helpful to you, but you still feel you need a little bit more support. We've got it all laid out for you in our four-step Gap Year planner. So, this is an online step by step guide that will help you to plan your gap year. So not only are you going to learn how to create that budget, but we will take you through the process of setting those goals and researching the right experiences, and give you some tips and tricks on how to execute your best gap year. If that's of interest to you, you can head to can Find out all the details there. And I can tell you for $29 It's probably the best investment in town it will save you tons of time probably help you save tons of money as you plan out your gap year and make sure that you're set up for success.

So, I hope this was helpful. If so, subscribe to the podcast so you don't miss any of the tips and tricks and stories that are coming at you in the following episodes or head back and check out some of our older episodes. There is gold in these episodes. Thank you so much for tuning in and until next time my friends, keep on adventuring.