(Special) -- It's October — a time of cooling temperatures, autumn-coloured leaves, and calls or letters from students at university asking for a little money to see them through the remainder of the year.

A post-secondary education is a costly affair in Canada. The average four-year program at a Canadian university now costs about $60,000. Only about one in five parents with children under the age of 18 are confident they can pay off the costs to send their children to university and students themselves believe they will struggle to pay off the cost of getting a post-secondary education and expect to be in debt for years to come.

The Canadian Council of Learning reports that the average debt for a university graduate had risen to $26,680 in 2009 from $24,706 in 2000 and $12,271 in 1990. Forty-five per cent of college graduates and six in 10 university graduates have taken out student loans while in school.

No matter who is paying the bills, every student needs to create a budget and stick to it, says the Investor Education Fund.

The obvious costs of getting an education — tuition, books and supplies — are just the tip of the iceberg. There are a whole raft of other costs that should be itemized such as residence or rent, insurance, electricity, gas, water, telephone, cable, Internet, clothing, food, transportation and personal items.

Many students may think that there's no room for any fun in a budget. But that's not the case. They just have to budget for their entertainment and stick to it.

More and more students are working during the school year to help pay the costs and should include all income in their budgets, including wages, education savings plans, scholarships, gifts, family contributions and any other sources of income such as bursaries.

Each year, thousands of students turn to government loans to help them. These loans often have certain advantages over other ways to borrow, such as bank loans and credit cards.

For example, students don't have to repay the loan as long as they are in school. Most student loan programs offer a grace period of several months after post-secondary studies end before repayments begin.

And students don't pay interest on the money they borrow until after they graduate compared to a credit card which can charge interest of more than 20 per cent a year or more.

It's important for students and parents to remember that government loans are meant to lend a helping hand, not to pay the entire cost of a post-secondary education. Students and their families are still expected to contribute some money.

Many students begin their working lives after school with a debt that they will have trouble paying off. The Canadian Federation of Students reports many students finish school with more than $20,000 of debt and about one in every five students who graduate with a student loan are unable to pay it back.

Many students get into financial trouble using credit cards. The IEF suggests students should never use a credit card to pay big bills such as tuition or housing. The best plan is to pay cash for most things, and if you do use a credit card, pay it off at the end of each month and avoid the high interest charges.

Remember that credit card companies like to sign up students because they will tend to stick with that card over time and students often will run up balances before they really understand how the card works and how much interest they will end up paying.

Talbot Boggs is a Toronto-based business communications professional who has worked with national news organizations, magazines and corporations in the finance, retail, manufacturing and other industrial sectors.

Copyright 2011Talbot Boggs