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Get comfortable and grab a hot drink, we are about to get real in this lengthy post! ☕️ (I won’t say I’ll spill the tea because chances are if you’re not a millennial; you’ll click out of this post. Ha!)
I am about to explain how I paid off my student loan debt in full before turning 23. I paid off my debt right out of my master’s!
In total, I paid over $40,000 cumulative by the time I graduated from my master’s degree in the spring of 2020.
However my final outstanding debt balance was 27, 256$ which I paid in full.
A few words…
I need to start off by saying that talking about money and about debt specifically can be a hard topic to broach and to openly discuss about.
However, I am a firm believer that we need people’s individual stories to help us in our own debt-repayment journey.
By no means am I saying in this post that my way is the correct way or the right way, it is simply the way I did it. The circumstances that surrounded the way I made and saved money as well as the choices, sacrifices, and lessons I learned along the way are unique to me.
It was my personal choice and goal to be able to pay off my debt by the time I graduated university. And consequently, I worked hard on achieving this goal I set.
SEE ALSO: How to Achieve Your Goals (7 Steps)
Furthermore, I was in higher education from 2015 to 2020 in which I did the customary four years of undergraduate studies and then one year of graduate studies at the University of Toronto, in Canada.
Therefore, I have two degrees: a Bachelor’s of Art in English and French Language and Literature as well as a Master’s in French.
(DISCLAIMER: All prices, costs, or any monetary value listed is represented in Canadian currency, therefore in Canadian dollars. Since I reside in Ontario, Canada. All payments, fees, debts, and bills are consequently in CAN.)
I also would like to stress that the only way I got to pay off a cumulative $40,000 tuition debt (in which I paid my final balance of $27,000 in full) is simply through saving money and making money. There’s no secret scheme. It all came down to sacrifices and my mindset.
Along the way, I made a lot of financial mistakes but I have learned a lot. I will talk more about my mindset towards the end of the post but you can see throughout the ways I made and saved money that I was very self-aware throughout my journey in order to keep myself motivated and accountable.
This post is separated in 3 parts (saving money, making money, and final advice) as listed:
- Part 1 – Saving Money
- Housing and Commuting
- Expenses and Bills
- Phone Plan
- Food and Drinks
- Textbooks and Books
- 3 Ways in which I saved hundreds on textbooks and books
- Going Out
- Eating Out (Recap)
- Shopping for Clothes
- Car Expenses
- Part 2 – Making Money
- Part-Time Jobs
- Teaching Assistant
- Grants and Scholarships
- Part 3 – Final Tips & Advice on Motivation & Mindset
Part 1 – Saving Money
I need to preface that these expenses I had to pay SUPPLEMENTARY to my tuition (and consequently it doesn’t involve my finally debt balance of $27,000.)
In each category, I give you the breakdown my bills and extra tuition fees as well as the steps in order to save my money even with all of these fixed and variable expenses.
If you need a monthly budget tracker to help you save money you can download my FREE budget tracker here:
Housing and Commuting
To begin with, I pursued higher education in the big city of Toronto, Canada. All while I resided – throughout those 5 years of schooling – in a town that was a 50 minute car drive (traffic time not included) away. Going into the big city could take up 1 hour and 30 minute drive.
However, for me, staying home was one of the best decisions I made as I did not have to pay for housing (apartment, student accommodations, etc.) as I lived with my parents in their home that is located very much towards the North.
Instead, I commuted 3 to 5 days a week to get to school.
In my first year, I utilized the train service that is near my house. It’s called the Go Train.
However by my second year it had dawned on me that I was paying for this service more than I could afford to. I realized I could cut my commute in HALF by taking the transit bus that we call the Viva Blue (for York Region in Ontario).
The Go Train (or its equivalent the Go Bus) costed me $10 one way. Coming back home from school would also cost me another $10. Additionally, this service only took me so far in Toronto, it used to take me to Union station. (A stop that is near the heart of downtown Toronto.)
From that point, I had to pay for the Subway ride (called the TTC) to get to my school and therefore that costed me another $3 initially. In total that adds up to $13 one way and over $26 a day. (I rounded some of the numbers down to facilitate the comparison.)
In contrast, taking the bus on average costed me $4 one way. Then obviously I had to pay for the subway (TTC) ride too, which is $3. Thus, $7 one way and consequently $14/day. That is almost HALF THE PRICE from my initial route the Go Train/Go Bus + Subway.
Doing this transition, I could commute down to school and back for two days worth of money when I used to spend as much in one singular day.
Safe to say, I learned from my first year expenses!
But there must be some of catch right? Right. There is one. But one I could and did live with.
(Yes, all of my friends thought I was crazy but also a lot of people thought I was brave and smart in the way I saved my money during these commutes. I also switched all of my cards to student, that saved me only couple of cents. But all of these couple of cents a day each time I tap my card adds up. I would say I saved at least $1.50/day. )
Going back to the one catch:
My initial commuting route looked like:
walking to the train + taking the train + taking the subway
= it took me on average at least 1h45 to 2h minutes for $13/one way.
Versus my second commuting route:
I drove to the bus station + took the Viva Blue bus + took the subway
= it took me at least 2h30 to 3h minutes for $7/one way.
These are my one-way calculations. So I went from a 3h30 to 4h commute to a 5h to 6h commute daily.
Yes, that’s a lot of time spent in transit. But considering I only took two modes of transit that lent me a lot of time to do my readings and school work without major disruptions in between. It was good for me.
Some days were really rough especially in the winter time (Canadian winters are a literal nightmare), but other times those trip felt like a breeze. And at the end of the day, I felt good knowing I saved half the money. And I had no excuses to get my school work done!
Here is the next catch, I had to use my car to drive to the bus station. But the bus station wasn’t too far from my house – a 5-10 minute drive depending on the lights and traffic – and did not use much gas out of my car.
I’ll talk more in detail about my car expenses later in this post.
Although I spent a lot of time and quite a bit of money on commuting, on the flip side, I saved tremendously on the cost of living.
Paying for a car and commuting to school is very little in comparison to paying for a place to live in the city. From what I know from friends, renting even the smallest of places near the city could go as low as $800/month with utilities, not including groceries. Plus, most of my friends still have to pay to use the Subway (TTC) to get to school.
As I’ve mentioned, I also commuted in a cost-effective way. Even if I were to save a lot on commute time (remember 5 t-6 hours a day). It was a compromise I was willing to make. Maybe with that time I could have worked more hours throughout the week but this arrangement worked for me in the end.
All of this to say that it all depends on you. Do you want to spend or save more on time or on money? Can you maximize more on your time or on your money? Can you do both? Are you willing to compromise?
Expenses and Bills
As I mentioned, I didn’t have to worry about housing expenses (utilities, buying furnitures, etc.) since I lived rent-free with very supportive parents.
The only thing I have been paying for is a Canadian cell phone plan that I have been paying since I first started working. I reduced my phone bill from $70 to $55 that includes unlimited text and call Canada wide as well as 6GB of data.
This is a tip that I want to offer: try to reduce your phone plan.
We (my dad and I) always negotiate and shop around phone plans with our provider since we are long standing customers. Don’t be shy, but be respectful while standing your ground when haunting for a better deal. That is extra money you could be saving monthly!
My second advice concerning phone bills and plans would be to stop purchasing new phones through your cellphone provider. In the end, you end paying more for that new iPhone when you purchase it that way.
I always hold onto my iPhones for a good 3 to 4 years before buying a new version in full from the Apple Store. In this matter, after spending $1000-1200, I at least have a phone plan that is consistently low for many years to come. Rather than paying consistently for a higher and higher plan.
Don’t believe me?
Look at the math of a new phone plan that comes with the newest iPhone and the same coverage I do:
$90(+) (monthly) x 12 (months) x 3 (years) = 3240$
$55 (monthly) x 12 (months) x 3 (years) = 1980$ (+ $1200 one time purchase of newest iPhone) = 3180$
So there’s only a $60 difference right? Wrong.
Look at what happens in the fourth year and this is assuming that you’re not changing your phone before your contract ends (since a new iPhone releases every year).
When your plan is high and you keep upgrading for every new phone release, you have lesser and lesser chances of getting your plan down to a reasonable price with the same amount of perks. (The latter being my technique.)
On the fourth year the phone expenses look more like this:
$90(+) x 12 (months) x 4 (years) = 4320$
$55 x 12 (months) x 4 (years) = 2640$ (+ $1200 one time purchase of newest iPhone) = 3840$
That’s a near $500 difference and I am being modest here with the numbers. Most new phone plans with a new iPhone and with the amount of data I have can go up to $100-115 a month.
I went from the iPhone 4 to then the iPhone 6 to then the iPhone XR (my current phone). And I have saved hundreds on my phone plan in the last decade and I intend to continue doing so.
Food and Drinks
I learned a very hard lesson in my first year of university when it came to mindless spending.
Since I had a horrible schedule, I would always wake up later than my alarm. I had to scramble to school. Because I live so far away every minute counted.
With living up North and attending university in the South, there is always traffic to be accounted for when commuting. So, I would rush out with no breakfast, no lunch, and no morning coffee.
By the time I had a break between classes, I would buy an extra large coffee from Tim Horton’s or any equivalent. Tim Horton’s is renown Canadian coffee shop. Back then – early 2015-2016 – that cup of coffee would cost me around $2.25. Sometimes I would get more than one coffee in a day.
Now let’s do some math….
Every day one XL coffee for four days a week is around $9 worth and if I had second cup that would be $18 spent a week on Tim Horton’s coffee.
Plus, by the time two o’clock rolled around I would be ravenous and spend another $5-15 (depending) on lunch.
These problems could be solved (and were solved) by waking up half an hour earlier every day. In that half hour in the morning, I could make a coffee in my thermos cup, pack a homemade lunch, and carry a few snacks for the day.
I could save all that extra money on food and drinks because my parents did the grocery at home.
And even if I were paying for the grocery, it would have been much cheeper for me than constantly buying out and eating at fast food chains.
Starting my second year, cutting food and drinks saved me anywhere between $116-232+ a MONTH.
ALSO, please invest in a reusable water bottle!!! Don’t spend $$$ on water bottles. That’s throwing money in the toilet and unnecessarily polluting our mother Earth!
Textbooks and Books
As for my textbooks and books: those got expensive fast.
Some classes required 10 books plus 1 full textbook. I took literature classes in French and English and we still had textbooks for contextual background and supplementary research. On top of purchasing anthologies.
Some fees were inevitable to avoid such as textbooks and specific course designed books by the professor which would range anywhere between $40-200.
I cringe to remember.
Going back to books, fiction books could cost me anywhere between $15-45. Now say I have 7-10 of these books per class times 5 to 6 classes per semester.
Now, it all also depends if the course is a full year or half year course. Either way, full year courses in literature would require even more books.
On average, I had 30 books to read per semester (5 of them generally being textbooks). Like I said, I was a double literature major.
Plus, at university you need to attend some classes that are equivalent to a math and science grade. Therefore, I took classes such as Sociology, Psychology, Philosophy, as well as Astronomy that were textbook money heavy.
Now let’s calculate textbooks and books for a whole year of studies, and then for the cumulative 5 years of study (completing my undergraduate and graduate degree):
- $30$ (averaging price) X 30 books = $900
- $900 x 2 semesters = $1800 on books per year
- $1800 on books per year x 5 years of studies = $9000
- $100 (averaging by the lowest price) X 5 books = $500
- $500 x 2 semesters = $1000 on textbooks per year
- $1000 on textbooks per year x 5 years of studies = $5000
The total for a year: $1800 + $1000 = $2800
The total for 5 years: $9000 + $5000 = $14,000
Yes you read that correctly $14,000 just on books and textbooks for 5 years of studies!
So, the question remains: did I pay $2800 cumulative on books and textbooks per year, adding up to $14,000 in 5 years of university studies?
My answer is a big resounding: NO!
I would even go as far as saying that I paid half of that, actually even less than half of that. Thus, $1200 a year and averaging $6000 in 5 years on books and textbooks.
And how did I do that? While purchasing all of the required books and textbooks? As well as in the right edition?! (Trust me, 2 out of 3 professors REQUIRE to buy, cite, study from specific editions. Even if it is a slight difference between the last edition that was published just 3 years ago!)
So here are the three ways I saved money on books and textbooks:
1) Shop Online
First, I paid for most of my books online. In which I got most of my books more than half price off. So a $45 CAN book would be $20-25 while a $30 book could go down to $10 or even $7-8. If I was lucky to buy books during an online promotion or discount then I could save even bigger, especially with the more I bought.
The main booksellers I would buy from was Chapters Indigo (our most renown Canadian bookstore). And Bookoutlet! Bookoutlet is an amazing site for discounted books. They offer free shipping both to Canada and the United States.
Bookoutlet is sooooo worth it, I’ve been using them for years now and have saved thousands on books. (Yes, I own a lot of books. Over 2500 books!)
You can browse Bookoutlet here. (If you use my referral link you will get 10$ off your first order of 25$!)
2) Get paid to shop online
Additionally, I made sure to always get cash back when I shopped online. Especially for books. This would earn me anywhere between 4 to 8% return on my online orders and up to 10% during promotional seasons. That percentage is practically saving me all of my taxes on book purchases because taxes on books in Ontario, Canada are 5%.
Plus, in that post I show you my earnings report from my online shopping trips. There’s no trick, no catch, only cash back. When you’re paying so many fees for higher education; every dollar counts.
Plus, I was very lucky that I was recommended Rakuten in my very first year of a university by a school friend who had been using it herself while she shopped online. She was a stationary fanatic and she knew I was book fanatic that would benefit from all the cash back earnings!
SEE ALSO: How to Get Paid to Shop Online
3) Buy USED textbooks and books
Furthermore, I also went to my university’s bookstore to purchase some of these books and textbooks in the editions that I could not find online.
The best way to get ahold of these USED books and textbooks is to purchase ahead of time. Even before your syllabus is posted, you can browse the school’s bookstore to see which books have already been received. I would look up my class courses and go to its designated shelf.
You can try to ask your university bookstore to set these USED books aside for you. In some cases, you can even rent books for a lower price.
Another thing to consider is using university libraries and/or your town’s library. This is totally FREE although you do have a checkout time limit on the books you take out. Personally for me, it wasn’t a good option because I love annotating the s**t out of my school books and textbooks! I also like to always reference back to the books I’ve read.
Listen up, I know how it is like to want a social life and to finally be the legal age to go partying.
In Ontario, Canada, the legal age to drink and get into bars and clubs is 19. Therefore, a lot of people in their first and second year of university tend to go a little wild.
Yet, for me going out sometimes seemed more like a nightmare because I worked full days on Fridays and Saturdays throughout the year for nearly 5 years.
AND going out, involved going into the big city. As I’ve mentioned previously, that’s a long commute down. Now between that and working all day, you can imagine how much fun a Friday and Saturday night out entailed for me. Sleep deprivation, tiredness, hung-overs, and headaches.
In any case, all this to say that your fear of missing out is betraying you on many levels: financially, mentally, physically, and time wise.
By all means, this does not mean don’t ever go out. I’m not suggesting that you never should have fun or to stop seeing your friends in order to save money.
I am just explaining my situation in how I got to save money during university. I still went to parties and clubs and bars. On the nights I did go out, I had so much fun and zero regret. Why? Because it was intentional and I made the choice to go out and to have fun. And, I was still aware of my expenses.
I did not spend crazy amounts (notably speaking on alcohol and drinks) on those nights out because I had to be mindful. I was also very aware how quickly the prices could add up on a typical night out in the city:
- $8 shot
- $8 beer
- $10-12 drink
- + $10-35$ bar/club entrance fee if applicable
- My commute (not including gas) $14
Not to mention, that coverage for some bars and clubs is anywhere between $10-35+.
However, like I said, this does not mean I am discouraging anyone to go out. Not at all. I have had my fair share of night-outs with girl friends.
Instead of going every weekend or every Friday and Saturday, it was mostly once a month. I definitely made it for close friend’s birthdays as well.
Another option is to have at-home gatherings, in which everyone participates in pitching in for food and drinks. These types of gatherings are most cost effective and even safer as your friends can sleepover if they’ve had too much to drink.
Eating Out (A brief recap)
Furthermore, I used this same exact concept for eating out: in moderation.
Most of my undergraduate years consisted of me finding a way to eat and live a healthy balanced life. And eating out did not cut it for me.
Yet, I love sushi dates and I will gladly spend that $35 on all you can eat sushi once a month or so.
Whereas, I know that most of my friends eat out 2-4x a week ranging from $15-30. Those numbers times 4 weeks = $120-480 for a month on eating out (not including breakfast and lunch if you spend money as well when they’re on campus.)
Shopping for Clothes
I love clothes. I mean often I think I don’t have the same affinity for clothes as others do… but then every so often I’ll actually find myself going on a shopping spree.
If you’re a shopaholic, then you can make a budgeting plan in which you don’t spend more than X amount of money on shoes and clothes per month. This tip actually applies towards any item(s) that you generally splurge on. It could be makeup, tools, home decor, books (in my case), etc.
I think shopping for clothes can be really tricky depending on what type of person you are and what your interests are.
As I said, I love clothes but I am not crazy about shopping like my sister or best friends are. I like to have at least one outfit for every occasion. I know myself enough to know that during the winter time, I am more likely to wear the same five sweaters in rotation.
If every piece of clothing you buy is name brand and about $100+ worth, you cannot keep buying clothes every month like that. Unless you’re willing to compromise in another areas of spending.
I doubt anyone attending higher education as a full time student is also earning a full time income. And if they are, I am assuming they have a) other bills to pay b) are saving up to pay their eventual student loan debts.
University is not cheap. And spending your money on expensive clothes will eat your money up. Remember, everything adds up in the end. Especially the student loan debt. (Big sigh.)
Another tip I would give is to shop during mega discounts for the items that you NEED.
For example at the end of a winter sale, I would buy winter clothing (winter jacket, boots, and knitted sweaters) that I know I’ll use next season.
When shopping during promotions, sales, and clearances, it can be hard to distinguish the necessity of your purchase and how much you actually like an item because judgment and taste can be impaired by the reduced price tag. So I would also be wary of that possibility.
A last tip; you can shop second hand at thrift stores. I know this one is not for everyone but it is an option and it helps the environment as it repurposes clothes that have sometimes hardly been worn.
If you don’t need necessarily need a car to get to school and work, you can borrow other family member’s car for occasions. You can even hitch a ride or share the gas payment with your sibling(s) or neighbour.
If you need and want a car, I would recommend getting an affordable yet reliable car with reasonable mileage. If you really want to save on your car expenses, I recommend a car that’s also fuel efficient!
I had a hand-me-down car which was perfect for me and hit all the cost-effective checkmarks! It was a 10 year old Pontiac. It costed me $2000 and it lasted me throughout my years of undergrad.
Although, I had to roll down its windows by hand and had no way to connect my phone music but with a flimsy aux chord; it was an incredibly reliable car. And it was cheap on gas.
And you know what? I had a friend who would comment on how old school my car was when he did not even have a car and enjoyed me driving us around.
Life is about choices and priorities. My car got me from point A to point B with no trouble. A lot of my friends did not have cars or their full driver’s licence either.
A handful of my friends went on purchasing these brand new cars that they will still be paying off while they collect interest on their student loan debts. And you know what? It’s their choice! It’s none of my business!
Consequently, if my car broke down or needed a tire change, then yes, my car definitely became an extra monthly cost. But it’s not something that happens often if you are a careful car owner.
Other expenses include a renewal of license plate and sticker, as well as monthly car insurance.
All in all, my car expenses were more than manageable because of the reliability of my car! I spent very little on gas. Not more than $20-30 a month during the school year!
Part 2 – Making Money
We’ve reached Part 2 which is how I made money in order to pay off my $40,000 tuition (including $27,000 of student loan debt). Before we get into this section, I want to remind you it’s much much easier to spend money than to save and work for it.
So if you are making money and think you are not making enough to cover your expenses and your student loan debt, I would take a minute to think about how, when and where you spend your money. Maybe you might need to make a budget for yourself in order to save more and acknowledge the daily ins and outs of your money.
You can download my monthly budget for FREE here:
As for me and how I made money…
I hate to break it to you… but I didn’t have time between all the school work and commuting to start a profitable side hustle and/or business. At the time, I only stuck with what I knew and could give my time to.
Instead I worked every Friday and Saturday at a European Deli store near my house for the duration of my university studies.
That’s approximately 16-20 hours a weekend at minimum wage, before tax, of $14/h.
I also worked any chance I got: long weekends, holidays, winter breaks, as well as full time in the summertime.
However, in my first year I was only employed for one semester at Chapters indigo in which I worked as well 20-25hours a week for four months (as I was hired only for the winter season.)
Back then (2015-2017), the minimum wage was $11/hour. I didn’t make $14/hour at the deli until my third year when the government increased the minimum wage pay.
I also occasionally tutored in French and English for 1-2h a week, charging $20/h.
Let’s say I tutored once a week from September to May. That’s 9 months, resulting in a total of $720.
Depending on how much I tutored, I could make an extra grand a year in cash just by tutoring.
I had a teaching assistant job during the second semester of my master’s in which I lead a French for Beginners tutorial. It paid $46/h including training, preparing, and correcting. In total I did not make more than $4000 after tax for that semester.
Grants and Scholarships
I got only one grant during my period of study.
And that one grant was the only one I applied to…
Please let that sink in…
A lot of people don’t bother applying to grants because they don’t think they’ll get anything out of it.
That’s a misconception! Some grants are much smaller and give smaller amounts of money to more than one student. I applied for a $500 grant and got granted $150.
Please don’t be lazy like me!!!
Do some research, apply to as many grants as you can. It’s literally a resource available to you and it’s the easiest way to earn more money. Extra money that you basically repurpose in your tuition or in repaying your student loan debt.
As for scholarships: my university only applied scholarships for my master’s program. Upon graduating from my undergraduate degree, my grades were in the 3.7 GPA range, therefore ensuring me a scholarship that reduced my master’s tuition fee in half.
I could have ended with a much higher student loan debt – than the $27,000 I owed and paid – by the end of my education. Consequently, the $40,000 total tuition and other fees could have easily been $50,000+!
I would strongly recommend starting and building a side hustle that has low risk and an eventual high return (especially by the time you graduate).
If you want to know more about online side hustles, you can read my post on the 10 Ways You Can Make Extra Cash Online.
Part 3 – Final Tips & Advice on Motivation & Mindset
Before jumping into my final tips, I need to mention that my final debt owing [$27,000] might not seem that high in regards to other students’ debt. That’s because the student loan I applied to wouldn’t cover everything due to the fact I worked a part-time job and that I lived at home with my parents.
Therefore, every year I had to directly pay $3000 out of my pocket towards my tuition, adding up to $15,000 by the end of my fifth year of study.
Hence, the $40,000+ since I am not including all of the other expenses listed above as well (car, food, transport, book and textbooks, etc.)
Now for my final tips and advice!
I feel like a broken record saying this… but at the end of the day it’s about the choices you make. The mindset you grow, the lessons you learn, and the compromises you make.
We all have different advantages, circumstances, as well as experiences. But at the end of the day, you decide what you want to do. What you want to prioritize.
If you seriously want to pay off debt… I recommend keeping these 3 tips in mind:
1. Be aware of your mindset.
This involves everything from…
Are you a conscious spender? An emotional spender? Do you convince yourself that it’s too hard for you to save money or make money?
Have you tried earning a second source of income? Did you genuinely try to save money and/or cut down on expenses?
Do you have a negative mindset when it comes to your finances? Towards your student loan debt? Do you view yourself as a capable and knowledgeable person when it comes to your expenses?
2. There are worse things than FOMO.
Trust me, there are worse things than your Fear of Missing Out. Notably, accumulating additional debts and interests because you never said ‘no’ once. Like I said, everything in moderation.
It’s normal to miss out. Everyone misses out at some point. Trust me, even that person on your instagram feed – that’s always out and about – is missing out.
Instead, try to focus on the things and the experiences you did get to enjoy. Value the little things in life. You don’t need to own everything and be everywhere in order to have everything.
Sometimes you miss out on life and on the bigger opportunity to improve yourself because you’re too busy fearing that you’ll miss out on temporary circumstances.
3. Stay accountable.
Here is my last tip: be accountable. Accountability goes a very long way. Sometimes it’s deciding on a different commuting route that saves your half a fare. Other times, it’s saving hundreds of dollars on books, food, drinks, etc. .
Track your spendings. Be accountable for all of your expenses. Remain responsible for the choices you make. Have a budget tracker. Be preventative rather than reactive.
If you apply these three tips, you will keep yourself motivated and on track towards paying off your student loan debts.
I hope you found this post helpful! As I said this was my personal experience regarding how I paid off my student loan debt in full.
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