Does graduating from post-secondary school without debt sound intimidating or unrealistic to you?
At first, it did to me too. With all the pressure to take out student loans, it seems like the norm is to graduate with at least some debt. However, have you ever considered that there’s another option and it doesn’t include a bunch of scholarships or working two jobs while in school?
It’s a lot simpler than that but it does take planning and intentionality.
I recently completed my four-year undergrad to achieve a BA in Human Ecology. I finished without any student debt in four years. While living away from home and getting married. Plus I didn’t have to work during the school year.
It is possible to not have student debt hanging over your head when school is over. Wouldn’t it be more advantageous to take the money you’re earning after graduation and save it for a house or car?
Keep reading to learn about the strategies I used to avoid the all too common student debt trap.
1. Work + Save as Much as Possible
The most efficient way to save money is by not spending it. While planning for school start working as soon as possible. I began working part-time in grade 12. I saved my meagre minimum wage paychecks. After a while, I had saved my first thousand, which was a huge milestone for me!
At the same time, I didn’t spend lots of money on clothes, makeup, entertainment or much else. It wasn’t the most fun. However, I had a goal of cash flowing school. My future would be more enjoyable if I made some sacrifices now.
In my final year of high school, I deferred my acceptance to university for one year. During my gap year, I went from a part-time to a full-time position (still minimum wage). Working 40 hours a week I put most of my paycheck into a savings account. At the time I still lived at home so my expenses were very little. My parents also supported my desire to pay for school without debt.
During that almost year of working full time from September to July I saved up enough cash to cover over two years of tuition ($16,000). As a result, I didn’t feel pressure to work part-time during school. Rather I could focus on my academics. I’m grateful I didn’t need to work because to succeed in academics I have to work really hard, the extra time to study was a great blessing.
2. Buy Used: Laptops, textbooks, household items
On my first day of classes, the majority of students had shiny, new Apple MacBook Pro laptops. In contrast, I had a white 2010 Apple MacBook. However, I paid $500 for my used laptop off of Kijiji whereas the other students (or their parents) had paid upwards of $1000 for theirs. I’m still using the same laptop four years later and it works great! I’ve never had a problem with it. Plus I saved at least $500 while still getting a quality laptop.
Next, textbooks can be crazy expensive! Some sell for $150-$200 especially psychology ones. If you’re taking 10 classes over the entire year costs add up quick. A great way to save money is to buy used. To find used textbooks try to find the used textbook group for your school on Facebook. It can be helpful to post what books you’re looking for and then consider multiple offers to find the best deal.
At the end of the semester, you can sell your textbooks and hopefully break even or make a profit. Another great option is Amazon, although it’s not always cheaper than the bookstore, you can find good deals on used books.
Another note on selling your textbooks: don’t sell them during buyback days at the bookstore because you won’t get very much for them. It’s a lot more profitable to sell them on Facebook.
If you’re really strapped for cash professors often leave a reserve copy of the textbook in the library that can be checked out to complete each week’s readings. While completing summer school I utilized this option for one of my classes, although it wasn’t convenient I saved $150 for a book I would only use for 2 months.
Finally, when starting school you may be moving away from home and need some extra things. Instead of going out and buying everything new or at full price take your time and wait for clearance or sales. Since I had a year to prepare for school I was able to stock up on a lot of things I would need over a long period of time. One of the stores in our area closed, and I was able to score a lot of things at liquidation prices.
I also combed thrift stores for kitchen items like a utensil holder, mandolin slicer, and glasses. Additionally, my aunt gave me some old dishes to use. Honestly, when you’re a student it’s not about having nice things, that will come later when you can afford to upgrade.
3. Start Looking For a Summer Job Early
The number one way I have gotten all my jobs is through personal connections. Start talking to people that you know now if their company hires summer students. A lot of companies reserve spots for students entering full-time school in the fall. You could possibly begin working the summer before you start school.
Try your best to find a job that doesn’t pay minimum wage. Since you are only working for about 4 months it is imperative to make as much money as possible. Unless you don’t mind working during the school year. I ended up working in an automotive factory (that my cousin worked at) making double what I did on minimum wage. It was hard work but I had solid 40-50 hour work weeks plus overtime some weeks. As a result, each summer I was able to save enough for tuition plus around $5000 extra.
Thanks to taking a gap year I was already one year ahead on tuition so the money I made in the summer was for next year’s tuition. I had a nice buffer between each year of school and less pressure to have to work during the year. With the extra saving’s I planned on buying a car (with cash) upon graduating.
4. Live Off-Campus or At Home
Living in residence is insanely expensive. Yes it’s convenient and you don’t have to worry about cooking but it’s at least an extra $8,000-10,000 a year depending on where you live and what type of room you have.
If I could have lived at home I definitely would have. Instead, I went to a school an hour and a half from home so I had to move to that city. Thankfully my mom set me up in her friend’s basement where I paid $400 a month all inclusive. All I had was a bedroom, a bathroom and a tiny kitchen. Over 8 months of school I only spent $3200 plus about $30-50 a week on groceries.
Compare that to living in Residence and you’re saving at least $5000 a year! I didn’t have a huge space, but I lived in a safe neighbourhood, I had a quiet space to study, I controlled my food costs and I commuted only 20 minutes by bus to school. Plus I was able to live with a godly Christian woman who actually cared about me.
5. Apply For Grants + Bursaries
A lot of advice tells students to apply for scholarships but I have never had any success in gaining a scholarship so I’m not going to advise that. If you do get a scholarship that’s awesome they are a great way to cover expenses like textbooks.
Instead, I’ve had more success in getting grants from the government. In Ontario, you can apply for OSAP (loan + grant) or 30% Off Tuition (grant). While I was eligible I applied for just the grant portion and received around $1600 for my first three years. In my fourth year, I had been out of school too long and was no longer eligible. Instead, I applied for a bursary through my school and got $1300. I also applied for OSAP but only used the grant portion ($1150) and paid back the loan in full as soon as possible.
The extra cash helped cover living expenses, textbooks and went into savings.
6. Live Frugally
One of the overall points I’m trying to stress here is to live within in your means. If you can’t afford school than work until you can. I know that may seem very counter-cultural especially considering the boost that education provides socio-economically. It’s better than having debt hanging over your head causing unnecessary stress because you were impatient.
Furthermore, don’t rack up credit card debt because you have to have all the latest makeup and clothes or go out every weekend. Make a budget and stick to it.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard regarding money and the future is from Dave Ramsey: “Live like no one else so later you can live and give like no one else.”. To me, that means suffering a bit in the short term to live financially free and prosperous in the long term.
In the last four years and especially since getting married I haven’t been able to buy all the trendiest clothes, I hardly ever buy makeup, I wear the same shoes every day and I don’t go to the movies or out to eat often. Yes sometimes it’s hard, but at the same time I’m not gaining debt, rather I’m letting interest work for me and building wealth. I know in five or ten years I’ll be a lot better off and won’t be putting my income towards a debt I didn’t need to incur.
Finally, education is a luxury, not a right. I would highly urge anyone considering going into student loan debt to work as hard as they can to save up the cash to pay for each year as it comes. Maybe for you, this means working part-time while in school or taking a semester off. Just remember there is no shame in taking time to work. In the end, you are going to appreciate your degree so much more and you’ll understand that it takes work to earn things. Your future will be so much more secure and prosperous if you make sacrifices now. It’s not easy but the reward is so worth it!
In Summary Remember:
Work + Save as Much as Possible
Buy Used: Laptops, textbooks, household items
Start Looking For a Summer Job Early
Live Off-Campus or At Home
Apply For Grants + Bursaries
For all my American friends be sure to check out Rachel Cruze for great advice on college planning and paying down student debt.
By nature I am a saver, I don’t love spending money and when I have to I want to get the best deal. Most times the best ways to save money include shopping online. Over the years and through research I have found the best websites for coupon codes, cash back and alerts for when a product goes on sale.
Not only do I want to save money by shopping online, I want to make money. That’s where online surveys come in. The more surveys I complete the more cash or gift cards to stores like Amazon I can collect. I’d call that a win-win!
The best part is all of these tips are FREE (with the exception of Amazon Prime, although they offer a free trial!). If you want to save money and even make money from the comfort of your home keep reading!
Ebates offers cash back at over 750 online stores includingIndigo.ca, Amazon.ca, eBay, Sears, Old Navy, Forever21 and Groupon. Each time you buy a product from an eligible store a percentage of your order is added as cash to your Ebates account. I joined Ebates in June and so far I’ve earned $15 which will be sent to me as a check.
Why wait? Click here to sign up today!
Retail Me Not
Before completing any online purchase I quickly search the name of the website I’m buying from on Retail Me Not to check if there are any active coupon codes that can be applied to my order. I’ll also check this website if I’m considering buying something in store to check if it’s cheaper to buy online.
Retail Me Not also has an app that can be used to search for coupons that can be used in-store and online. Just show the coupon on your phone to receive the discount.
I recently joined Amazon Prime and I really wish I’d done it sooner! Not only does it offer free 2-day shipping, in some areas you can get free one day or same day shipping.
Join as a student to get a 6-month free trial and save 50% on the price of Prime Click here to sign up!
Prime is super convenient for stocking up on commonly used household items or hard to find things. Your Prime account can also be shared with one other adult in your household.
Plus Amazon also offers unlimited streaming of TV and movies from Prime Video. This is a great service because unlike Netflix there is no additional monthly fee.
Prime Day just passed but this one-day shopping event offers exclusive deals for Prime members.
Another great perk for families with young children is Amazon Family where you can save 20% off diaper subscriptions and a 15% discount upon baby registry completion.
Prime Photos include unlimited photo storage which can be accessed from any device. No longer do you need to search for multiple photos on your phone, laptop or tablet.
Finally, Prime offers early access to deals. This is especially helpful for Black Friday when you can get a 30-minute head start on the best deals.
To sign up for a free 30-day trial click here.
More Amazon Tips to Save Money!
Amazon Deals-not the easiest to find so look in these places:
- Today’s Deals-Deals of the Day
- Outlet-Limited quantity flash deals
- ‘Open Box and Used’-Amazon Warehouse, discount on open and pre-owned merchandise
- Woot!-discount on surplus and end of life products
Amazon also has a program where you can sell or trade in electronics to get maximum return.
Never miss a deal again. Shoptagr allows users to save items they want to purchase and sends an alert when the product goes on sale or comes back in stock.
Another benefit is that you can create a shopping list from multiple websites which can be accessed from various devices.
Click here to sign up!
With Honey never miss a coupon code again. At checkout, the best coupon code is automatically applied to your order!
Click here to sign up! Be sure to add the extension to your browser.
Another quick and easy way to earn cash and other benefits like gift cards to Amazon is to fill out surveys. I’m currently a member of a few websites including Opinion Outpost, Harris Poll and Swag Bucks.
Opinion Outpost collects feedback from consumers to help companies create better products and services. In return, members are rewarded with points which can be exchanged for cash or gift vouchers for brands such as Amazon or Itunes. Additionally, draws are held each quarter to win $10,000. The more surveys completed the better your chances of winning.
Harris Poll Online
Harris Poll is similar to Opinion Outpost in that you earn HIpoints from completing surveys. Unlike Opinion Outpost points cannot be converted into cash only electronic gift cards, merchandise and instant win sweepstakes entries.
With Swag Bucks members receive cash or gift cards for tasks they complete online. This can range from completing surveys to watching videos, shopping online or completing searches. I like Swag Bucks because you can earn rewards beyond taking a survey doing tasks you already do.
Paid Survey Update
To find websites that offer paid surveys check out Paid Survey Update. What I like about this website is they offer a comprehensive review of the survey websites you can join, they also provide a link to join based on your country. Some websites only accept US consumers whereas others accept applicants from Canada, The United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, China, India or Ireland to name a few.
Depending on the number of surveys completed you can make up to $300 extra income each month! That extra cash can be used for a cell phone bill, eating out or saving up for vacation.
Personally, I find taking surveys to be easy, somewhat fun and a quick activity to complete while I’m bored or watching TV.
What are your best tips to save or make online? Leave me a comment below! I’d love to hear your suggestions.
*referral links used
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