Student Debt Legacy

No topic has as much confusion attached to it than the issue of going to, and paying for, post-secondary education. I scratch my head because it seems like such a straightforward thing. You want to go to college or university, you save the money, pay your way and go. Failing that, you get a job and pay as you go. Failing that, you get scholarships. Failing that you get student loans.

What I see happening as young adults head off to the halls of higher learning is a default to the “student loan” option right off the bat. Student loans, it seems, are the only way to get through school. You can live on them. You can drink beer on them. You can parTAY on them. And it doesn’t matter how much you borrow, because you’re getting an education and that’s all that matters.

So how come I see so many people with an “education” and the debt to go with it earning $10 an hour in call centres, retail stores, and wherever else these educated debtors end up. And how could you ever imagine that if you have $20k, $30k or $40k in debt, that you’ll ever get out of the hole earning $10 an hour?

Ya know what? This is, once again, a case of NO PLANNING. We’ve come to believe higher education is our right, and we can have it, damn the cost. We don’t even have to know what we want to be when we grow up. We can just graduate from high school and then head off to get an undergrad degree. We’ll figure it out as we go. The degree is the thing. That’ll mean a good paying job, and we’ll pay off the loan then. Maybe.

Maybe not.

If you want to be one of the dopes who graduates from university or college with a heap of debt and no clear direction, hey, who am I to try and stop you. It’s your right to be as big a dope as you want.

If you’ve decided that option sucks and you’re committed to doing it differently, then I have a series of articles for you to read.

So You Want to Go to College/University is first up, followed by How Much Debt CAN You Afford? Let’s face it. For some degrees – anything with the title Dr. in it, for example — you will graduate from school with the equivalent of a mortgage in student loan debt. That’s the reality. But there are plenty of people taking on more student loan debt than they will ever be able to afford to repay because they think it’s okay. Well, it’s not. The debt you leave school with affects your ability to have a life.

What’s the alternative to debt? comes next. Yes, there are options. There are people who graduate from school without a ton of debt by working part time (hey, let’s hear from some of you guys), taking a year off to work, or living like the poor students they are while at school and until their debt has been repaid.

Managing Your Money for School includes two downloadable worksheets that you’ll find useful for dealing with your lump-sum money (loans, scholarships, savings from summer work) and expenses, as well as dealing with your monthly living expenses and how to keep them within reason. Download the suckers and USE THEM! If it looks like too much work, you’re probably wasting your money going to university or college since my dumb worksheets aren’t a patch on what some professors and teachers are going to ask you to do.

But I’m in Debt. What now? offers suggestions for what to do if you’ve graduated from school with debt.

I found an excellent article, Freshmen Survival Advice for Life that EVERY STUDENT going off to college or university should read. I could not have said it any better than Ruth Ann Raycroft, so take her advice.

I want to get this out to as many people as I can. Send an email to all your friends and family who have kids in university or heading off within the next yea so they have some tools available.

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52 Responses to “Student Debt Legacy”

  1. Hi Gail,

    I love your show and I’m very happy to have found your site.

    Although choosing a post-secondary institution close to home can save a lot of money, a lot of students yearn for the freedom of being away from their parents. I chose to go away to university, but I chose a field of study that offered a co-op program. Co-ops will also give students a chance to find out if they actually like the field of study they have chosen to pursue.

    My co-op placements allowed me to earn money for my university expenses and to gain valuable work experience. I graduated debt free, and was hired by a company from my previous co-op terms.

    I highly recommend co-ops, internships, apprenticeships and other working-while-you-study opportunities.

  2. For me, I worked at my university while in school, applied for bursaries, scholarships, and yes, OSAP.

    OSAP does give you some breaks, but it does add up. If you get OSAP, any amount over $7000 that you receive does not need to be paid back.

    I also fast tracked (completing summer courses and extra during the school year) so I could complete my 4 year degree in less time.

    I did end up with around 20K in loans, but I also lived in residence, so it wasn’t just cost of books and tuition that had to be budgeted for. If students can live at home, it would certainly save them a lot (I always went home during the summer to allow me to work).

    Again, students should apply to as many bursaries and scholarships as possible – yes, it does take time, but I was willing to take that risk!

    In the end, I ended up with a job that I wouldn’t have gotten, had it not been for the experiences that I received while at university – and most of these experiences were job-related.

  3. Hi Gail – love your show and site. I worked part-time (and one year, full-time) all through university and, combined with some scholarships (which I recognize not everyone has access to), finished without debt. That was, granted, ten years ago, but I’ve often believed that both the process and the outcome was the best thing that could have happened to me. I know my friends with older kids say that this just isn’t feasible anymore given tuition costs, but I still think that the feeling of independence and self-sufficiency I gained working those hours and getting those pay cheques has had a huge influence on my life (we are in our late 30s with small children and are basically debt-free).

  4. I’d also highly recommend this booklet put out by the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy.$file/PostsecondaryFinancialGuide_EN.pdf

  5. I don’t regret going to school and getting my degrees but I wish I had the foresight to better financially prepare myself. I think my problem was that I just never really understood what taking out a student loan meant in the long term. Combine that with poor money management skills and now I’ve got 20k in debt. That said, I’m happily employed and slowly paying it back. Thanks for this list anyway, there’s some valuable advice even graduates.

  6. A view from a parent – and a mature student (at the same time, although my kid and I were not in post-secondary at the same time).

    I returned to school after a career and a) did it from savings and b) worked part time. I also had a partner who picked up some of the slack. Was it worth it financially – probably over the long haul not – the opportunity cost of leaving one job, spending several years at school and then starting again may show it wasn’t a perfect financial decision – you can see it in my CPP where my contributions go down for a couple of years. Was it worth – from every other point of view, yes. I was in a professional program. What often amazed me was how many of my young colleagues moaned like crazy about student debt of $20,000 when a) the first thing they wanted was to go out and get a car and b) many were heading into significant salaries. The student loan really was an investment in their own education. I think there is a huge difference among programs and every student actually must ask the first question, which is why am I going to school at all? (I confess that once or twice, when I was heading off for my part time job in third year – which was 20 hours a week – thinking that education is almost wasted on the young – we “old folks” were focused, worked like dogs and were sure not going to risk wasting even a course, because we knew exactly how much it was costing for us to take this time to go to school.)

    As a parent of a child who did a college diploma and who was not eligible for student aid – Mom and Dad made too much money, but who did not want us to pay for everything, she went to school part time for a couple of years so she could make some money. She finished full time. She has modest debt (that I have co-signed – and yes, Gail, I know exactly what I did) from a bank after I moved out of province and she had to have housing. It was worth it for me because at that point she had focused herself and was ready to do the kind of work she needed to do.

    As an aside – I’m old enough that I actually got baby bonus cheques for her when she was an infant. I saved all of them, eventually putting them in to CSBs. They paid for much of her tuition – and – after she starting paying her own, you should have seen her face when she asked if there was any money left when it came time to get her an apartment.

    Long and rambly – like Gail, I am sometimes amazed at young people with thirty grand in student debt for an Arts degree and either they’re not using their degree or it’s of no particular value. That’s one bad investment.

  7. Thank you, Gail, for you thoughtful approach to teaching young people how to manage their money so that they will not be in debt for the rest of their lives.

    Gail, you have said – if you are a party person then your blog and worksheets are useless. I agree, but this is the reality of how many young adults act when freed from their parents’ controls. These students come party-ers do no good for themselves in the end. As a result, many students after spending so much money on booze are without food in the last half of each term.

    Now, to your budget and one little point. My son was the only student in his university program who had a part-time job. What does that say about parents and money? Most parents provide credit cards and debit cards to their students for use – I wonder if there were any limits discussed prior to giving them this freedom. How does it help students develop responsibility towards money issues when someone else pays the bills? I just wonder how many students come from wealthy homes!!

    OSAP is good for students who will need help in getting through school but six months after graduation if these students are without a decent job then the reality kicks in! You’ve had a few shows with this very issue.

    The issue of taking work that is service work at $10. per hour is not unusual for graduates. Unless you are picked up by some company while in university, it is a hard road to that good paying job in your field of expertise.

    A course in life issues is needed in high school and should be mandatory to take. This is why you should speak with people in the Ministry of Education.

    Two associations to Google and contact would be OSCA – association for school counsellors in Ontario high schools, and OCEA – co-operative education teachers of Ontario. Both bodies deal with various issues concerning leaving school and being prepared for the future. In particular, why don’t you volunteer to speak at their conferences or make presentations to their members at conferences? These teachers can in turn pass information on to their students.

    I know that this university sends out helpful hints to the students off campus at how to avoid wasting their precious dollars on parking tickets, and charges for drinking in public spaces etc. Perhaps you should contact university student councils for help in spreading the word. First year students are always talked to at orientation about most of the aspects of student life.

    One parting thought, is that there have been students who applied for OSAP and then tried hard to not use it at all. They were prepared for school costs and lived within their means and saved all of the OSAP cheques in a high interest account. They repaid their loans after finishing school and pocketed the interest. Good for them.

    So, it all depends on who you are, how you were raised, your values, and ultimately your level of maturity and preparedness for life. If you were taught to know the value of money, no doubt you will throughout your life.
    For the rest, we can only hope that Gail’s blog and worksheets get to the right people so that others can be brought into the fold.

  8. I had a student loan to help me through school. While my loan only covered the cost of tuition and text books, I had no choice but to work 30 hours a week while I was in school to pay for rent and living expenses. I have two diplomas from a private college that allowed me to enter the work force. I landed my first “career” job within a week of finishing school, and started stashing money from my first “real” paycheques. When the six month grace period was completed, my minimum payments on my loan was only $76 per month. I hammered away at $500 per month payments for as long as I could until my financial situation changed. Circumstances changed and I had to move back to my small home town and settle for a $10 hour job. I lowered my payments to the maximum that I could afford, while continuing to live the “student” lifestyle for another year or two. Once able to get out to the city with more experience and patience, I landed a great paying job in my field again. My $10,000 student loan was paid in full less than 5 years after graduation.

    I didn’t have my parents to lean on for housing or tuition or anything, but I still found a way to get an education and pay for it in a reasonable length of time.

  9. Gail,

    I think that this is a very timely post. There were so many people that I went to school with that just didn’t seem to get it. Aside from how you are going to pay for your tuition bill and feed yourself for four years, I thin that it is crucial to have some sort of plan for what you will do when you graduate. That infamous arts degree is not such a bad idea if you have a very clear picture of why you did it and what you can do with it. If English literature is your passion, and you mission in life is to go into publishing or journalism, then I would be amiss to say that you have wasted your time. I will also provide a little caveat that you can change your mind as you go, so long as the whole plan changes with it.

    I took five years to complete my degree, debt-free with some assistance from my parents, scholarships and coop employment. I would certainly recommend (if you can afford it) to stretch your degree by that extra year. It allows you to reduce your course load slightly to give you more time for extra-curricular commitments, work and just having a life overall. I can’t tell you what a luxury it was in my final year to have enough time to run a student club and volunteer services program, work 4-5 days a week, and study.

  10. avatar Stephanie Says:
    August 19, 2008 at 1:27 pm

    I have to agree with Kat: doing a co-op program in university was one of the best decisions I ever made. I was lucky enough to have parents who paid for my tuition, but the money I earned through co-op jobs and some part-time work paid for all my living expenses, books, and even a semester abroad in Europe. I graduated school debt-free with almost two years of full-time work experience in my field, and I was employed before I graduated. I’ve been able to start saving right away instead of being saddled with debt, which is such an awesome feeling. I wish more high schools encouraged students to consider co-op programs. Graduating with no student loans is worth a semester or two of school in the summer!

  11. My dad passed away in my last year of highschool.
    As he was getting sicker and sicker, I decided to make him proud and prove to him that I would be okay. (He had told me that there would be no enhieritance before he passed — all going to his wife– his reasoning was I had my whole life to learn and earn).
    I did not resent his decision at all, money was tight all over, so I worked my butt off in school and made honour role, I applied for every scholarship and bursary that I qualified for (making sure I mentioned my lack of parent support in the application) and enrolled in the classes and lined up an apartment waiting for September in the college-town, all before dad passed away. I am so glad that I did all that! Between planning ahead (getting a couple small scholarships!) and saving all my summer job money and budgeting REALLY stringently, I made it 3 semesters before having to apply for student loans!
    Stupidly, it was harder to get the student loans that late in the game, the details are fuzzy (over a decade ago) but I remember getting the run-around for it. I applied for the bare minimum that I thought I would need to squeak by and I continuted to work part-time and get the best grades I could manage. I came out the other end with a degree that I put to work right away…. the pay was terrible at the entry level of my field, but my loans were less than $10G at the end of 4 years in college.

    You know what? I was really jealous of those people that could party in college. The ones that had allowances from their parents to blow on beer, the ones that had the whole thing paid for by the bank-of-mom&dad. Or the ones that still lived at home and drove their folk’s cars to school!
    I felt very very very broke (I didn’t step foot in the cafeteria until 3rd year) and also too independent to ask for help.

    Also, I knew people that wasted their loans on new cars, or even vacations during Spring break! OMG!!!! I was not jealous of these people, they were shooting themselves in the foot, and I knew it.

  12. A 4 year Degree cost me $29000 in student debt. I also worked part-time (Busness Depot – Made lots of customer contacts there) and lived off campus.

    The one thing I did was network while I was in school. It paid off in the end as I was hired before I graduated. 7 Years later and I have less than $5000 left.

  13. Gail, good post as usual. Like cath above, I graduated ten years ago and worked all summer and part-time and managed to graduate with a very minimal amount of debt ($1K). In addition, I paid rent during all fours years and graduated with an honours degree. I didn’t have a car during those years and yearned desperately for one but made do. I partied, had a good time, and was pretty responsible most of the time with my money too.

    There is a tone on this posting though that a university degree is useless if it doesn’t provide an immediate return on investment, an argument I’ve often heard said of my history degree. My response to that is I went to university to learn to think, construct and destruct arguments, and write persuasively, and not to be conditioned for a specific career path. I can’t count all the doors that these skills have opened up for me in my career, and would disagree with anyone who says an arts degree is a waste. Education, by definition, is not a waste, even if the return can’t be measured in dollars and cents. (And those of you who have read my comments before, will know that I put A LOT of value in measuring dollars and cents, but somethings transcend money and education is one of them.) Ignorance of what it will cost, however, is not acceptable. Going in with my eyes open, wallet under watchful eye, and having the best four years of my life on the otherhand was priceless.

  14. avatar Stephanie Says:
    August 19, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    I graduated from college about 4 years ago with some student loan debt. Going into college I had a ton of scholarships for the first year along with a grant for my tuition and student loans. Every year after than I had the grant, student loans and the money I saved all summer from my job. I spent as little as possible in the summer just to get by. When I graduated after the minimum 5 year degree I had about 16000 in subsidised loans and about 5000 in private loans. During my 6 month grace period I paid off the private loan due to the interest rate. The subsidized loan I am paying th minimum on since the interest rate is so low (consolidated to 3.125%) I actually make money if I put it in savings. I worked about 8 hours a week during the school year (I had 32 hours of class a week plus homework) on campus which also gave me lunch and snacks 2 days a week. My parent paid for the gas in my car and that is it. Most of the people I went to school with were being paid for by thier parents. My freshman roommate had a credit card she never saw the bill for. The other side of the spectrum were those who were going to school on financial aid and never took the time to figure out if they were borrowing to much. I used to refuse a portion of my student loan for the last three years in college since I didn’t actually need as much as they were offering me. I had only one credit card in college which was used for books and was paid in full every month (this is still the case). My summer jobs were always internships in my chosen profession which allowed me to make more money in my post college job. One of the benefit of my university was the career center and the job placement rate. I had a job lined up for after graduation before I was halfway done with my last term of college. There is nothing specifically wrong with student loans as long as the student is realistic about how much the loans will cost when they get out of college along with how much they will actually make when they graduate.

  15. Why do you want to go to University?
    What do you want out of it?
    Why did you pick that degree?

    I agree with Geoff and it might have something to do with teaching at the University level: I am not teaching you to be a parrot, I want to to think! So, what do you want of out it? Higher education has a specific meaning to many educators and money has NOTHING to do with it.

    Go to University if that is your wish! What is the plan… financially and carrer-wise? Is there a plan B? Are your ready for the work?

    Graduate school cost me more than expected (for multiple reasons) in part because the tuition fee system changed after I started. [insert bad words here] Are your ready for that?

    Any sorry to mature students, but not ALL ‘older’ students are mature. (Otherwise Gail would not have a show.)

    I do not regret my choices, but I knew why I was in school. I chose to go to university for the choice of carrer more than for the money (good thing). I hate the student loans repayments, but I chose a job that allowed me to repay them. Again, I made a choice.

    Good luck to all students!

  16. avatar Frugal Graduate Says:
    August 19, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    Gail –

    I think that, with some caveats – it does come people making hard choices. I finished my Masters in 2005 and even though I have 3 (yes 3!) degrees, the total amount of my debt totaled under $17000. When I entered into my BA in 1996, I did have the luck of $9000 saved by my parents but that was pretty much all I got from them (maybe another $3000 over the years).

    Since I was not getting a huge cash flow from my parents (they made that clear), I went out and got work. I worked every summer since I was 14 years old. I worked throughout most of my degrees. I also was tight with my money. I lived in a cramped apartment or other cheap housing, I did without new clothes and CDs and all that fun stuff. When my friends and I went out to the bars, I limited myself to a total of $20 for cover and drinks (while friends would spend $100+ without a second thought!). My father used to call me worried when he saw that I only spent $60 every two weeks living expenses – was I eating properly? (For the most part I did but lots of canned soup). When classmates when to Cuba and spending sprees I stayed home. I didn’t own a car.

    After finishing my BA and my BEd, I graduated with just under $17000 in debt. I got my teaching job and instead of going crazy on spending, I went crazy with paying down my debt. By this time I was living with my partner and she was very supportive. In under two years, I paid off all but about $2500. During that time, we didn’t go to Europe like some friends did, we drove our old car and we lived in a cheap apartment so that I could make my debt go away.

    After two years, I returned for my Masters and worked 30+ hours/week the first year and 10 hours/week the second year. I did get lucky and win a $5000 bursary that did not quite cover the $6500 tuition that year. But by being careful I graduated with the Masters and no debt.

    In the meantime, my brother went off to school the same year as I for his undergrad. He went to a university on a full scholarship, students loans, the same $9000 my parents gave me but fared less well. He partied with his friends. He lavished money on his girlfriends. He took snowboarding lessons and bought tons of MEC gear. Both my parents where giving him hundreds of dollars each month. He left university in the 2nd year and pursued a private professional program that took about 18 months. He received government funds for the private program. But he graduated with some $25,000 + in debt.

    While I did get the benefit of some $34,000 total in money ($17,000 in loans + $5000 in bursary + $12,000 in parental contribution), the total cost of my tuition alone for the 3 degrees was approximately $40,000. I covered the shortfall of livings expenses and tuition through my own work and savings. I would have loved to have graduated without any debt but that would have been hard. I feel good however that I can say I carried myself. Plus when I did get debt I was smart about it – I paid off as much as I could monthly and then added lump payments when possible. I also started my RRSPs at the same time.

    At times I envied my friends who didn’t work during the school year or summer while I raced off to my job, or when they had new clothes, new gadgets and trips. But I have piece of mind. Now 3 years post-degree my partner and I are packing to move into our very first house. I wish had been able to buy sooner, but we are moving in with a 20% down payment and absolutely no debt. That feels much better than any CD, toy, trinket, clothing or partying ever could.

    You can’t control everything but there is a lot you can control – you have to make choices!

  17. I went to University for an undergrad degree, and graduated with about $45K in student loan debt. However, I don’t regret a thing.

    I was a single parent when I was in school. I received enough OSAP to go to school full time, and worked part time where I could to make the difference. In my case, it was either take out student loans, or don’t go to University at all. Since my loans were fairly substantial, a large chunk was forgiven (about $15K altogether…I took out abotu $60K total).

    When I went to University, I put some thought into what I wanted to do. I would have loved to have taken a degree in sociology or something similar…but I knew well enough that I would have loads of student loan debt and no definite job prospects with which to pay it. I went into accounting instead, since it was something I was always good at. Not glamorous, but it meant I would have a good chance at a career when school was done. I also enrolled in a co-op program to broaden my job prospects, and my first full time job out of University was with my co-op employer.

    I’ve graduated, completed my accounting designation, and now work in an area I love for a great salary. And yes, I’m still paying off my loans…but I don’t carry other debt, and I’m aggressively paying off my student loans so my $45K student loan debt will be gone in less than 5 years. And, most importantly, I set an example for my daughter that you can do anything you put your mind to.

    In the interests of not having my daughter go through the same thing I am, I’ve set up an RESP for her, and 10% of her allowance goes into her RESP along with my bi-weekly contributions. When she starts working (she’s 11 now, so the babysitting jobs will start soon, I’m sure), half of any money she makes goes to school, and the other half is her spending money. If she wants to go to an expensive program or away from home, I’ve already told her that she’ll have to work to make up the cost.

  18. I stayed at home with my parents for 4 out of 5 years of my degree, and did the Coop program which directly lead to employment almost immediately after I graduated. I had scholarships for most of first year, but I paid for the vast majority myself with part-time jobs during the year and full-time jobs during the summer (Coop jobs in my later years). My parents bought me a few bus passes and once gave me a small lump sum, but that’s it.

    My personal best advice:
    -stay at home as long as possible
    -Coop coop coop
    -don’t settle for minimum wage summer and part-time jobs… you can do better and it makes a huge difference

  19. One argument here is garbage: “But university teaches you to think!” Is is worth $30,000 in debt to learn to think? Not to mention that all that free thinking is worthless at your $10 an hour job. Many employers who hire at that level (think entry level) don’t want people who go outside the box. In fact, it’s my experience that conformity and adherence to rules and company policy is not only expected but rewarded. Things like dress codes and micromanaging really put a damper on individualism.

    Another point I’d like to make is that many parents and the education system completely drop the ball when it comes to educating students about student debt. Parents EXPECT their children to go straight from high school to university. So do high school educators. So… you take young students who have little to no experience with credit (you can’t legally even apply for credit until you’re 18) and those kids are used to going having school provided as a right. Now, they’re expected to head off to the next step but there’s a huge price tag attached. So, they take student loans. Gov’t student loans are also ridiculous in that they just dump X dollars into the student’s bank account at once and they just trust them to manage it properly.

    What I find amusing is that none of the university stream academic courses in high school deal with money management. However, the lower level kids get things like “consumer math” instead of calculus. So the kids not going to university learn about money and the “smart” kids who are heading to a world of debt get nothing.

  20. Blaine, learning how to think is an important skill and I would (will) expect my son to be able to keep up with me in a debate, regardless of how much money he makes. If truly taught how to think, one can see where someone is coming from (ie the boss and his rules). Thought doesn’t have to equal insubordination.

    I agree with you that many kids now and back then have no concept of money. However, I think that parents, and not schools, have a greater responsiblity to instill money management skills in their children. And given the choice, I’d rather the schools teach calculus and I teach money management, since I know what I’d be a better instructor at! 😉 There are now summer camps that are starting to teach about money, which I think is a great idea (and include a trip to a stock exchange, which I know I would have enjoyed at 11).

    As an aside, my parents gave us (four children) the money for our books each year and that was it; so in university I often marvelled at those who told me they failed a course; I literally could not afford to do so, it wasn’t an option. One thing my parents failed to realize was that the two older children went to school in the 80s when tuition was much lower than it was in the mid to late 90s but my sister and I knew the score and valued our education enough to work for it.

  21. Thinking is never overrated! With the availability of the internet and access to misinformation, higher education is there to enhance your critical thinking skills. Recognizing garbage is easy for some, easy in some fields, but can require alot of pondering in many cases. I hate having to ‘retrain’ someone, but it happens.

    Is critical thinking for everyone? No.
    Is University for everyone? No.

    My job requires me to think outside the box. My job requires me to assess the pitfalls as part of decision making, know the limitations and so on. I stand my ground when I see the need, but will do as requested when I have to.

    In short, I am glad I have my job and I do not have Blaine’s job. I chose my path because it matches my personality and my capabilities.

    Education is a priviledge and the opportunity to reflect can be a luxury (of time/money). One can be exposed to many opportunities to learn outside the education environment. Being exposed to many opinions, point of views, etc helps greatly, but I know that not everybody feels the need for that type of analysis and arguments.

    Form follows function. Why do you want to go to university and what do you expect to get out of it?

  22. Congrats on the hard work Krissie!! My mum was the same way re: student loan debt… it does teach your children what they can do. What a great role model!
    I am surprised that you are making your daughter put away 50% of her earnings though…I agree she should save something, but that’s a fair chunk of it! I’d be none too impressed if it was my babysitting money! Maybe 25% – it’d still add up and teach the same principles…

  23. I see many of you blame the kids for spending too much money on their education. I guess I’ll share my story…

    I’d wanted to go away for university. Both the university in my hometown and the university about an hour away from hometown had accepted my application. Natually, I wanted to go to the one not in hometown. And really, I think the one not in my hometown offered the program I actually wanted. However, mom had convinced me to stay at home. She said that I was the eldest in the family so I should not set up an example of going away, because the family didn’t have $$$ to send all 3 children away for university. Also, mom said that it would be so much cheaper to stay at home. She said that she would pay for my tuition if I chose to go away but I must find my way to pay my rent.

    At 18, had a part-time job made about $100/wk, and no savings, I got scared. So I agreed to go to the unviersity in my hometown.

    Later, I found that I was qualified for OSAP. And my parents gladly signed my OSAP application. As a result, I went to university for 4 years, used my OSAP $$$ to pay my tuition while they didn’t pay a cent. I also didn’t work as much as I should be. Living at home means that I didn’t have to worry about not having food on the table. Mom even volunteer to do my laundary and I let her! So, I graduated with about $20K in debt but didn’t have the maturity to find a “real” job. My first full-time job (at a call centre) paid me $10/hr.

    For a few years, I blamed my mom. I thought that if I’d gone away but hold on to mom’s promise to pay my tuition, I would result in the same amount of debt but I would be a more matured person for the adult world. I even didn’t have the maturity to realize that I control my own life.

    It takes 2 to tango.

    Now I wish that mom would have offered me better advices then about how to handle the cost of unviersity. I also wish that mom would have not treated me like a baby when I was a university student! I’ve also learned my lesson to plan ahead. Now, I feel that I’m more responable with my money than I have ever before. I have a good-paid job now. I will be paying off my student loans within 12 months and I can also see myself buying a car next year.

    I have now moved away from my parents. Mom still offers to move “home” and to do my laundary. She says it would be easier for my life. But now I know myself enough to say no.

  24. avatar Melaniesd Says:
    August 20, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    I’d like to suggest that people look at, and encourage their children to consider community college. Our community college in NS is now offering fantastic technical & professional programs and has become much more career focused in it’s courses offered. Not everyone is cut out for university and I don’t believe we should be pressured to feel that it’s the only answer.
    Why not consider taking a trade or college program for your post secondary education? It’s much more affordable. It takes less time as well. This can be an excellent way to start a career and earn a decent wage, then take university courses part time, while earning enough to hopefully pay your way through university.

    I’ve always thought it was amazing that our society expects us to know what we want to do with the rest of our lives as we walk across the stage to accept our high school diplomas, yet we are not “responsible” enough to vote or drink?

  25. My parents always pounded it into my head that I must go to university but didn’t have a plan along the way for how it could be afforded. When the time came, we all looked at each other thinking the other would somehow pay for it. Not!

    As a parent now, I am mindful to encourage the goals but more importantly, help figure out all the small steps along the way that can make them happen.

  26. avatar Stephanie Says:
    August 21, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    The rule at my house wasn’t that you had to go to university, it was that you had to get an education which could have ment vocational programs or community college. I actually went to college to become an architect (5 year degree + 3 year internship + 9 national exams + 1 state exam) and all told it took 8-1/2 years. In my job I meet many tradesman that make significantly more than I do after 2 years at a community college or vocational program. Depending on the degree you are seeking community college is a great way to take care of 2 years worth of college for relatively little money (in-state, California is $20.00 per unit). For 12 units which is full time enrollment that would be $240.00 plus books (many community colleges actually have book for rental instead of purchasing).

  27. I know I’m late to the party on this topic, and my opinion on this probably won’t be popular. I graduated from university debt-free thanks to my parents. They see university as a full-time occupation, meaning they don’t think me or my brother should have to work on top of it to stay afloat financially. I agree with them. I treated school like a full-time job: I graduated in 3 years from a 4 year computer science program. I had full access to my parents’ bank account and credit cafd; the bank thought they were insane, but I’m proud to say that I did not abuse this privilege. ($10/month prepaid cell phone for emergencies, spent frugally on food and clothes). I hope to help them out with tuition fees etc. when my brother goes to university in a few years – in fact, I’m already saving for this. I think it’s a family’s job to support kids in their educational pursuits as long as they’re not screwing around, and I intend to do exactly that for my own children.

    I don’t think a full-time student should be forced to work – if they choose to work, great, but it shouldn’t be a necessary measure to avoid five-figure debt. It’s unfortunate that some students are in that position, and I applaud those who tough it out through university while holding down a job to pay the bills.

  28. Myself, I was resentful of the people taking art history or any simple BA or BSC degree. I had to have a degree that lead to a job when I graduated. I worked during school, during the summers (no backpacking in Southeast Asia), wore lousy clothes, lived in worse apartments, and was thin because I am a terrible cook. My husband graduated first (we each have two degrees), got a good entry-level job in a different city, and lived like a student for four more long years, sending me money. I find it amazing when I hear that friends still have student debt 10 years later (often these are the same friends who went backpacking!)

    I hated being poor, really really hated it. I guess that is why I am so debt averse now. Good lesson? Maybe. I sometimes need to remind myself what I did to get where I am…

  29. I think what some people seemed to have missed is that pursuing one’s secondary education is a growing experience that is more than just a financial equation. I am adament that wise financial management is crucial to funding and surviving and so is planning for what kind of work will be available to you once you graduate.

    But I think that some of the posters here are missing the fact that this is a time in many people’s lives when they learn how to be adults. Learning independence, how to provide for yourself, how to think critically and come up with informed opinions is a really important part of that process. Those things shouldn’t be sacrificed because carrying some (not extensive, but some) debt is unpleasant. There is a reason why very sparse living on a tight budget is called a “student lifestyle”.

    I think the same thing applies to travel at this time. So many people above have really “pooh poohed” the idea of travelling to Europe or backpacking through Asia as a part of their student experience. Now while this is not the cheapest activity you could partake in, I don’t think everyone realizes what this experience can add to your development as a person. International travel is a life experience that can often change how you view the world and understand your place in it. It can be a life-changing experience to witness real poverty in Asia or to take in thousands of years of human history. I think that this type of adventure is much easier to do as a student while your schedule is flexible enough to find the time to go and you are accustomed to living sparsely and can do a budget trip feeling less inconvenienced by your lack of private room or North American cleanliness standards.

    These life lessons are certainly not worth bankruptcy for, but I think if financial well-being is your only goal at this stage in your life, you miss out on some of the personal growth that can come from working for free, travelling abroad and learning to take care of yourself. I tried as many of these things as I could while balancing financial realities. After graduation, part of me thinks that I could have experienced much more if I was willing to risk my financial situation just a little more and still would have made it to the place of financial comfort I have reached today. Perhaps I would have even been a little happier during some of those student years as a result.

  30. I’m a 4th year University student graduating in April and I just want to say that half of my University was paid for by my University (in scholarships) and half of it was paid by me because I worked at the government for two summers (and my University/freelance for the other one).

    Also, I will be graduating with enough money to move to Vancouver and take a 4-month project management course (valued at $9,000).

    And I did it by staying home, busing to school (2-hr travel time [total] was good for reading… and sleeping), being smart with my partying and making sure I had a job every summer.

    I count myself as fairly successful and I’m happy when I read your posts about students and how silly we can be… and even if I am not as careful with my money as I’d like to be, it’s possible to live life debt free in University.

  31. I’ve been out of school for almost 2 years and I am happy to say that I was debt-free within 6 months of graduation. This is how I did it.

    I worked a steady part-time job for 2 or 3 years before I graduated high-school. Sure there were moments of just spending my paycheque freely, but I also understood that if i wanted to go to school, I had to set some money aside while enjoying the life of being a teenager at that time.

    I also applied for OSAP every year I went to university. I did not blow that money like my friends – as soon as they received their money, it was like party time. I used my on residence (first year) or rent, books and tuition, food. (all the essential). And spend a minimal amount of money during the year on partying and enjoying life. I did not work during the school year, however, as soon as Jan. came around, I started applying for summer jobs. I’ve worked two jobs every year that I was in school and stayed home w/ my parents so I could save of rent while not in school.

    I also did a co-op and earned a decent salary. That also helped w/ my financial situation and savings to pay down the debt i know it will soon be 5-figures by the time I was ready to graduate.

    One thing I have to say it’s that, I didn’t use any of the excess OSAP money to pay down OSAP, I put it away in a high-rate savings account or in a GIC. I never understood why people would pay down a zero-interest loan when you could earn that interest in savings account. So the excess just accumulated and within the 6 months of graduation (and before the interest really started to accumulate), I paid it all off with a full-time salary and the money I had in my GIC and savings account.

    Although I did not have everything written down on papers how I was going to pay down the debt etc. I knew that I didn’t want to have to carry that OSAP loan into my 30’s and pay ridiculous interest on it. So I monitored my accounts on a regular basis and did what I had to do (ie. working two jobs during the summer) to make it happen.

  32. I also was debt free 1 year after graduation, and had started investing in my new baby’s resp 2 months after graduation. I became pregnant between 2nd and 3rd year. I decided to finish my degree and continue to work full time while attending university full time (10 courses). I wanted my maternity leave that I felt that my child deserved. A mother at home for a year to be the primary caregiver.

    I did it by working the 40 hours a week and 60 during the first 2 months of the pregnancy. I had always payed my way through and lived on my own with my own car…but I did accept the help of my future mother and father in law to move in with them to begin saving for a down payment on a house and continue to pay off debt. So while I took the year off every penny went to paying back the osap that I had taken out in first year, and my fiance finished up his forth year and worked full time to save for the down payment. 6 months after the student loans were payed off we had saved the 10% for the house and were debt free!! We lived off of Gail’s jar system (that my fiance had decided to do before we ever heard of Gail)
    and continued to show my inlaws how far we had come since they were supporting us.

    It is five years later and I want to be at home, home for my two children. I am not using my degree right now but I am very proud of myself for finishing it. I know that I may not remember everything that I learned in University, but it I feel that University teaches us how to learn. How to do research, work hard, network and be self sufficient.

    As I said before, we started an RESP for my daughter before I was done paying my loans. I don’t want her to ever have to work that much during university if she decides to go. We originally used her whole babybonus but now we have to use most of our pay. $200 a month is alot to us but it will be well worth it in the long run

    There are alot of sacrifices we make for our children. I forone have just declutter my closet and found clothes from high school still there (10 years later). My New Years Resolution this year is to start purchasing a couple items a month so my closet won’t have an echo by the end of the year 🙂

  33. I am all behind Gail for the most part with debt and debt reduction, but a university education is worth the debt, in my mind, period.

    Yes, there are some that can get through without student loans. And then there are those when mumsy and dadums can pay. And then there are the rest of us that are lower middle class, work part-time jobs (!) AND still need student loans.

    It is a bit insulting to read the part on the blog about working part-time, slumming it, and taking a year off. Check, check check. Still needed student loans.

    So, where am I now? I’m $55K in debt, including $10K of student loans. The $45K in consumer debt is actually student debt (tuition/books/ living expenses) that weren’t covered by student loans. In BC, I could get a $3500 student loan for a four month semester. That was $2000 in tuition and books, meaning I was meant to live on $1500 for four months! So, that extra for living went on ye olde credit card.

    So where am I now. I have a good paying job – I make $62K/ year. But banks won’t touch me because of my debt. I can’t get a consolidation loan because I have no collateral. Most of my loans and credit cards are down at 8-10%, which is good. But I probably will take the next 15 years to pay off the finances.

    My alternative suggestion – have a student loan that would actually cover the full amount of living expenses and tution fees.

    When I was working in a co-op program on the admin side, there was this graduating barista phenomenon… you’d get students who had to work a part-time job to pay their way through school, who when at the end of their degree, they had zero experience.But years ago this didn’t happen – students were able to focus on their studies, possibly work a bit for pocket change, but they were able to take advantage of the leadership roles within their universities that allowed them to get better jobs at the other end.

    So, I echo what some others have said here, I don’t think the problem is students going into debt, I think the problem is not having enough money (either through student loans or savings) to go into school and not *have* to work, so that the students can get those skills that will allow them to have slightly better paying jobs upon graduation.

    If there is any doubt tho, there are many salary comparison tables which clearly outline the differences that someone with a BA vs. someone that has only a high school education, looking at their avg salary when they first finish their program, vs 10 years later.. those with a BA often took a while to get to their career path, but ulitmately earned more than those with just some College education or a high school only education.

    So, I am happy with my decision and I worked hard to get it. I would recommend to parents reading this blog – if you don’t have the money, don’t worry about it because if your kids are motivated enough they’ll find a way. And to anyone that is considering going to university – it is a good move. Make the decision wisely, but you may have to go into debt. That isn’t the end of the world.

  34. //I am sometimes amazed at young people with thirty grand in student debt for an Arts degree and either they’re not using their degree or it’s of no particular value. That’s one bad investment.//

    I think there is this common misconception about how much students with non-career-related degrees make. Yes off the mark they tend to make less, but in 10 years, they often make equivalent or more than those with specific, career-related degrees. Many top CEOs of businesses have BAs, not MBAs. These degrees are valued for their flexibility, and their ability to produce creative thinkers. And yes, not every $10/hr job values that, but if I look at all of my friends who have degrees, versus those that don’t; for the most part those that have gone through the hardship of a degree, any degree, make a heckuva lot more than those who haven’t.

  35. I am pretty lucky and after going to post secondary school for 6 years, I wound up with $10,500 in student loans. I did this by working!! I usually worked two jobs during the summer, one relating to my degree (office job) and the other waitressing, for tips. I worked 60-70 hours a week and saved saved saved! I’ve just come out of my 6 month grace period and have started paying them back. Unfortunatly, because of my communte time, I cannot work another out of the home job to pay of the loan.

    I didn’t know that you could consolidate them and perhaps look at other lenders as well!! This is something I’m definatly going to do, because I DONT want to be paying them back for 10 years, let alone 15, for such a small amount!

  36. I took a gap year between high school and college and worked 2 jobs. I worked part time for my whole 4 years of college (including summers as full-time). I lived at home, took the bus to college and brought my lunch everyday.

    I graduated without a penny in student loans, and the money saved up to take an abroad class in Europe for 4 weeks. I don’t regret not having the spare cash to party or drink, as I have the money NOW to do those things. I like being able to start my life with a clean slate, rather than working to pay off debts.

    While I understand many people don’t have some of the opportunities or luxuries that I had (living at home rent free, etc), I don’t really have pity for people who took out large sums of student loans and drank their money away. I don’t see how most people couldn’t work and save enough money to get themselves at least part-way through post-secondary.

    Everyone seems to assume that student loans are the way of life, but they don’t have to be.

  37. Those were some great tips on handling student debt. I’m new to your blogsite and I think it is wonderful. For now feel free to check out my blog at

  38. I was wondering if you had seen this article:

  39. I work full time plus attend school on a part time basis. I often wonder if its worth the time, effort and money being as I am in my mid forties. However, I have just signed on for 2 more courses at the local college. I only need 1 more after these 2 are complete to receive my Certified Payroll Manager designation from the CPA. I have one credit card with a zero balance which has a small credit limit of 1300. The tuition was 1200. Should I carry this balance or take the cash from my savings which drops it below my comfort zone. I only have 3K in it and that my “sanity” fund knowing I have it there. It really bothers me to carry that balance even though I will have it paid in 3-4 months. Should I leave it on the card or use my cash and work to rebuild the savings as quickly as I can??

  40. avatar Catherine Says:
    August 15, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    Congrats on continuing your education no matter what your age. Being open to learning keeps you young!
    Tough question. I, like you, feel safer knowing I have a safety net with the cash in an account. On the other hand, the interest charged for putting the tuition on a CC for a few months would irk me no end. What to do?????
    As you mentioned that you would have the tuition paid off again in 3-4 months, I think I’m leaning towards paying cash and building the account back up ASAP. I think I’d probably have the impetus in replacing the cash in my account faster.
    Good luck!

  41. Is there any way that the interest from a student line of credit (not a student loan, because it was easier to get and less paperwork) can be tax deductible? I just found out from the CRA that it is not allowed, but would still like this confirmed – if there is indeed someone higher than the CRA!

  42. Is there any way that the interest from a student line of credit (not a student loan, because it was easier to get and less paperwork) can be tax deductible? I just found out from the CRA that it is not allowed, but would still like this confirmed – if there is indeed someone higher than the CRA! Thanks.

  43. I’ve always paid for my tuition, books and transit pass (though was able to live mostly rent-free with my parents for my undergrad). I won scholarships that covered my entire tuition, and also worked full time in a number of minimum wage and higher jobs (while attending school full time). When I graduated from undergrad, I had no debt and about $30k in savings – so my fiancé and I bought a house!

    I’ve now completed an MA degree with full funding, and have just begun my PhD with full funding as well. My total tuition for all 3 degrees will equal about $65 000 – which has all been covered by scholarships.

    I’m not some sort of super genius by any means. I’m just a really hard worker, which is something I think anyone should be able to do (especially considering I have a physical disability that affects my motor skills!). I didn’t go out partying or drinking, and I always gave my schoolwork the attention it deserved. Because I was so busy working, I had to make school a priority – I still hung out with my friends every few weeks, but my priority was working hard, so I could enjoy the benefits later. And now I am! No debt, a happy marriage and a spacious condo. Life is good 🙂

  44. I worked full time while in undergrad and then law school, and still had a pile of debt when I came out, because, unfortunately, when you choose to go on to a second degree (and law school to boot!), the cost rises exponentially. However, working is the only way to keep the debt manageable. You also have to be creative about applying for bursaries and scholarships, and you cannot be a “princess” i.e. no cable t.v. (bunny ears are fine until your debt is paid and while you are in school – you should be studying anyways!). And always, always, work with Gail’s budget system, both while in school and once you are out. And even if you do have a fancy degree, don’t count on the fact that you will be earning big bucks! Do your research before you go to school and figure out exactly what the salary will be for your career, in your geographical area!

  45. I’m 25 years old and for the last year have worked very hard at staying on my budget and am now just 3 months shy of being debt free. My concern is for my best friend who is away at school getting her BA and is herself just shy of graduating. Now she says she wants to go get her Masters, because her BA will be useless in the “real world” I graduated from college from a fashion program, and now work in a totally different area (animal sciences). Since turning 25 I have realized how short life is and how badly I want things like a house and a dog or two, once realizing this I also realized how hard it is to actually pay off your debt in order to just be able to save for a house and be approved for one. I actually moved home into my parent’s house to be able to put my own plan into action. I have tried explaining this to her since she had informed me that by the time she finishes doing her Master’s she will be $80,000 in debt (plus her boyfriend has $15,000 and he wants to get his masters as well) assuming they stay together they will each be in their 30’s and have over $100,000 in school debt + their car loan. I think this is insane. Her idea is that once she graduates there are government jobs that pay well and offer to pay some of your osap loans for you. I wish her the best, but one thing I have learned and seen my other university graduate friends go thru is the fact that nobody is waiting at the end of it all with a giant cheque and high paying career opportunity. Am I a pessimist? A worrier? Or does this seem like a giant risk? I’ve told her if this is something she really wants to do she should move home (she lives 13 hrs. away now) and do the schooling here (it’s online) and work while she does it, in order to start gaining work experience and pay for the additional tuition. But somehow she just doesn’t seem to see the big picture.

  46. I have a JD and that mortgage style debt you talk about. Currently, it stands at about $111k. I watch your show regularly. I don’t have the relationship problems that follow for many of the couples. My beau and I are pretty upfront about our financial situations. That said, I can’t imagine getting married until this debt is paid off. Does that make sense? Am I delaying my future indefinitely?

  47. I didn’t qualify for OSAP, so I went to Waterloo and did co-op. I had scholarships and help from my parents for the first year, and some additional scholarships as I went along. By year two and three I was largely self-sustaining.

    I had a great term in my fourth year working abroad in the US and getting paid in USD when the Canadian dollar was worth about $.55 US — and stupidly loaned a lot of my gross to my then-boyfriend so he could put a down payment on a condo. (God, that was dumb. I still wince when I think about it. But I had enough to pay my tuition and the lesson of learning not to pay for other people’s nonsense didn’t cost me very much in the grand scheme of things.)

    My degree is in literature, so you really can do co-op in anything — I worked as a technical writer and the placement rate was over 90 per cent. Co-op’s not just for engineers and accountants, to say nothing of the interview experience it gives you.

    I wish more students would consider co-op as a viable option for financing their education.

  48. avatar Kimberley Says:
    April 5, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    We have 3 children aged 19, 17 and 15 and will probably have 3 of them in University at the same time for a short period of time. We have a small RESP for each of them but our expectation is that we will help with education, housing and food expenses but they are too also work for their education. Our daughter is just finishing up her first year at University away from home so there are housing costs, food costs, tuition, etc. Our daughter worked from Feb-Aug when she left for school and paid her full tuition. She also got a part time job and paid her housing costs. We provided her with a car/insurance and some gas to get to and from work and home (4 trips from Sep-Apr). She has a student credit card that she paid off every month during the summer and hasn’t used it once during the school year. We feel such pride that she has worked so hard and also maintained an 80% average in her first year. She too is very proud of herself and doesn’t want to go into debt. So, it can be done it just takes hard work and a committment to what is important.

  49. I’ve never quite understood people having mountains of debt after school if they were just getting plain ol’ bachelor’s degrees. I didn’t get my first job until December of grade 12, when I started at Extra Foods for $8.25 an hour (this was in 2005). I started university in September of 2006, and paid for it all along the way just with the money from my part time job. Granted, I was living at home, and my parents wouldn’t charge me rent as long as I was in school, but still. Paying for school was never even a challenge. I didn’t save much (until I started my co-op jobs in my last couple of years of school), but I also never had a single penny of debt. It can be done.

  50. avatar bellysmith Says:
    June 24, 2011 at 10:33 am

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  51. I really wish I had read these articles before I went to university because they contain great advice. I originally thought that my mom would pay a part of the tuition (because she agreed to this), part of it would be OSAP and my summer job would pay for my books and other expenses. However, something came up and ended up using the money that would have helped to pay tuiton for something else and I had no choice but to take OSAP the first year. I’m heading into second year and yes, unfortunately I’m using OSAP again since I’m in summer school (to complete a dgree requirement now so I won’t have to worry later) and will only be working for about a month. I’m going to manage time better so that I can handle school, extra-curriculars and possibly a part-time job. The extra-curriculars should be helpful when I apply to scholarships (which I did apply to a few in my last year of high school) next year to avoid this situation again.

    I think that there should be a course where high school students are educated about the expenses of adulthood BEFORE you pursue college, university, an apprenticeship, etc. Also, if any students are reading this – talk to your parents about this because even if they have a little money saved up, some of them don’t really understand how expensive school is even when you’ve tightened your belt.

  52. My parents saved a whopping total of $0 for my education, despite always insisting I go to university since I was a wee lass. They wouldn’t let me take a gap year to work and save money for school (fearing I’d get “too used to the money and never go to school.”)

    I didn’t qualify for a line of credit (which was a blessing in disguise.) OSAP gave me very little because while my dad earned what was deemed as enough to give me a full ride, he was living paycheque to paycheque. I knew I’d have to stay in my home city for school and give up on having a “true university experience”.

    So, I worked. A lot. At least 20 hours a week, at times balancing two jobs, along with a full course loads, sometimes an unpaid internship, and helping my family when they were going through a rough time. I bit the bullet and accepted I’d never have the money to I lived at home and contributed to the household with my labour. I never went on the elusive “I’m going to go to Europe to find myself” trip or the “I’m gonna get wasted in Cabo for Spring Break” trip. If I went out for pints with my friends, it was only when I had the spare money to, and only at places with cheap specials. I got the cheapest Don’t get me wrong, it sucked and I felt super left out, but I knew it would pay off.

    Anyway, fast forward. I’ve graduated now. Landed a job in my field- doesn’t pay the best, but in this job market, I’m thankful to have it. I’m still living at home and contributing to the household with labour and by pitching in for bills, toiletries and groceries. I’m living very frugally and in two months, I’ll be out of credit card debt I accrued from school (books and whatnot.) Between working and the help my dad could give me, I only have $10,000 in OSAP to pay back, which i’ll have paid back in less than a year. Then I’ll be able to build a nest egg and be completely independent. Now I’m a devout Money Moron and Till Debt Do Us Part viewer which always gives me a kick in the rear if I ever think about putting a trip on my Visa.

    Thanks Gail!

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