Written by Danielle Kubes
Wednesday, September 19th, 2018
I graduated from university right after the recession in 2009. The economy was bleak, so I went back to school to get a Master's.
I moved into a two-bedroom apartment a few minutes from campus with a friend of mine. Now all I had to do was figure out how to pay my living expenses—around $1,000 a month. I needed a job, but ended up with three: teaching assistant, selling beer at Rogers Centre, and writing 12 articles a week for a website.
My days were long, but I liked being busy and felt pride in supporting myself. There were also times where I was anxious and overwhelmed, unable to see when I would catch a break. I pined for a single 9-5 job.
Nevertheless, I survived without debt. Here's how:
1. I Put School First
Flexibility in a job is absolutely essential when you're attending school. You need to be able to work when it suits you. The retail and service industry didn't allow me to complete a shift at 3:00 a.m. or delay shifts until after exam week. As a teaching assistant and writer, I could go to a café and mark papers on a more flexible schedule, and I could accept or turn down serving jobs at Rogers Centre as I pleased.
2. I Stayed Focused on the Future
In my second year, I got a two-day-a-week unpaid internship at a beauty magazine, on top of my paying jobs. Although I don't condone free labour, the internship was worth a lot to me because of the future earning potential it offered. Having that magazine's name on my resume was a big deal personally and professionally.
3. I Trimmed My Spending
In order to graduate debt-free, I needed to keep my living expenses as low as possible. I rented an inexpensive apartment, limited the number of times I went out to bars and walked to class to avoid purchasing a transit pass. I kept in mind that every dollar I spent was one I had to earn.
4. I Scheduled Everything
I balanced it all by being militant in my scheduling. Every Sunday, I sat down with my large red planner to block out times for school work, paid work and life work. It kept me focused and made me realize I had more time to work and study than I thought.
Without a clear schedule, I would've fallen behind at school, and I wouldn't have had time to work three jobs, which means I wouldn't have been able to pay my living expenses or stay out of debt.
5. I Didn't Overdo It
In Belgium, where I did my third undergrad year abroad, tuition was only 500 euros, so few students worked part-time. Everyone had time for long conversations and actually reading all the assigned material.
Unfortunately, that's unrealistic for many of us in Canada, so I just did my best to find flexible positions that didn't interfere with my schooling. I also made tough choices about where to spend my money and time. In the end, I'm glad I made those decisions early on and stuck with them, because keeping to my plan allowed me to graduate debt-free.