How to graduate debt-free (or nearly there!)


I’m going to graduate debt free. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to afford to pay my own way through university. Not my parent’s money, not the government’s but my very own hard earned cash.


This has happened mostly because I have been able to consistently save up enough money to pay for my rent, tuition, and textbooks through co-op jobs, and then been very frugal during school terms. I realize that this is not a situation many people are lucky enough to experience, but I’ve had a few people look at me curiously when I’ve told them I decided to forgo OSAP as if this is a concept no one has ever thought of before. It is a lot of money, but with the right budgeting and money sense it can be done.


I realize that a lot of students here come from some difficult financial situations and graduating debt free may not be possible. But I can at least share with you the ways I use to minimize spending and strengthen up your bank account. Most of it requires self-control and using logic which are absolutely free. I am by no means a qualified financial advisor, accountant, or money guru. I am only here to share my experience, what has and hasn’t worked for me, and insight from other students to help people get by. This week’s blog is mostly focused on the co-op program, but more will come that is more applicable to every student.


So here’s how I did:


Step #1: Get into the co-op program and do everything in your power to stay there.

Seriously, buckle down and get the grades to stay in if you can.


Step #2: Lock down a co-op job.

Probably the hardest part, you’re going to want to start thinking about what kind of job you want way ahead of everyone else. Don’t have experience? Find a volunteer gig where you can get at least transferable skills. Do everything in your power to get a job and don’t get heartbroken if you don’t get one in the first, second, or even continuous round. Search on Monster and Workopolis, start calling all those extended relatives you might have—any aunts or uncles working somewhere that could be reasonable? Let the world know you are looking for a job and you’ll be surprised what comes back.


Step #3: Once you’ve got the job, save as much money as you can.

During that first week of work when usually not much happens, sit down and really think about how much you’ll be spending per month on co-op. Figure out your average budget and subtract it from your monthly income, then figure out how much you need to square away to afford another term of school. I start by calculating how much I need to save up to pay for next term’s tuition as well as roughly how much I’m willing to pay for rent per month when in Waterloo (for me it’s $500/month so that’s another $2,000). Then find out your pay schedule and calculate how long it will take you to save up what you need. That doesn’t mean you spend whatever else might be left over—not unless you’re willing to be absolutely broke once another school term ends. Come up with what I call a “buffer zone”. What’s the lowest amount you can have in your bank account and still feel comfortable? Take all that money when you’re done working and put it in a savings account to generate interest. Basically try not to spend unnecessarily even when you’re making money. Pack your own lunches and don’t go out to bars too often. Not unless you’re willing to go absolutely nowhere when you’re in school.


Step #4: Repeat steps 2 & 3.

Again and again and again, until you graduate. You’ll find it gets easier to save when you get into the habit of it. Add to that buffer zone savings account each term and you may even graduate with a tiny nest egg.


Good luck! And happy saving.


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