I’m one of the lucky ones – after six years of university and an average yearly tuition of $7, 149 (total of $42, 894), I have graduated from my education without debt. In fact, I saved enough money to buy a car and put money into a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) and Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA).
There’s no secret to graduating debt-free, so long as you’re willing to be constantly in touch with your finances and realistic about your lifestyle options. I have an unnatural advantage because I’m the daughter of an accountant. I learned to save money in my toddling clothes and was arm-wrestled into staying at a local university throughout my educational experience (which seemed like an uncool idea at the time, but in hindsight appears genius – thanks, Mom and Dad*). I was also very lucky to receive a constant stream of scholarships, get a steady local job during the summers, and take on odd jobs throughout the full calendar year. House sitting, dog walking, and yard work proved to be particularly lucrative tax-free sources of income (see Bromstein, 2014 for other ideas in this same vein).
However, I’ve never been a hugely popular or social person and, frankly, I lived like a monk during my undergraduate studies (I am still something of a cheapskate). I therefore cannot claim to be the definitive authority on this subject. I turn those interested in having fun while minimizing their student debt load to Kyle Prevost and Justin Bouchard, who have written a very lighthearted guide called More Money for Beer and Textbooks (Roseman, 2013). I recommend that all high school students headed into university consult this guide as they plan for the years ahead. In brief (see also Roseman, 2013), the guide provides the following money-saving tips for post-secondary students:
- Live at home.
- Apply for scholarships.
- Buy cheap beer.
- Look for inexpensive entertainment.
- Be realistic about taking on student loans.
- Have a plan for repaying existing debts.
- Find a great summer job.
- Use a budget.
- Don’t buy a car until you absolutely have to.
Given the high financial investments required for the typical North American lifestyle (i.e. suburban house, car, kids, etc.) and the impermanence of employment opportunities (due to the prevalence of short-term contracts), it is more important than ever that the next generation of students be wary of unnecessarily taking on education-related debt. Although not all 27-year-old university graduates are sitting around unemployed in their parent’s basements, movements like Generation Squeeze exist to highlight the financial challenges facing young Canadians (Dehaas, 2013). It’s a tough world out there, kids – don’t make it any harder on yourself.
* Like most things in my life, I dedicate this post to my parents, without whom none of my successes would have been possible. I also feel compelled to add (for the benefit of parents everywhere) the words of Dorothy Parker: “The best way to keep children at home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant, and let the air out of the tires” (see Psychology Today, 2012).