Age and program

I’m a 21-year-old fourth-year health studies student.

How do you pay for school? 

I don’t rely on my parents to help me get through school. I rely on an OSAP loan each year of about $7,000 to $8,000, which is supplemented with grants, bursaries, scholarships and my income from over the summers and during the school year. 

Do you have any debts? 

I have accrued about $20,000 in debt for my undergraduate degree so far, and I expect that number to jump to $29,000 by my graduation date — when I have to start paying off my loans. 

Monthly Expenses:

Rent: $660

Utilities: $0 — included in rent. 

Streaming Services: $5.64 for Spotify.

Internet: $21.86

Average spent on groceries: I budget $65 each week for groceries, and expect to spend $20 on take-out or food delivery twice a month. That adds up to about $300 a month on groceries but varies greatly month-to-month.

Phone bill: $40 

Car insurance: $0 — I don’t have a car.

Did you have an expectation to attend higher education? Are you continuing your studies after your undergrad?

The expectation was always that I would attend university. My parents value education because they’ve seen the consequences of not having access to an education where they come from. 

I’m a health studies student, and I feel my job prospects would increase dramatically with a graduate school education. Grad school was always on the table for me, which means I have to put aside a large sum of money in anticipation of application costs.

What conversations did you have about money growing up? Did your parents teach you anything?

My parents were secretive about money growing up — not because they had anything to hide but because they felt I wouldn’t grasp the nuances of complicated finances. I had an allowance as a kid that I was not allowed to spend — my options were save that money and save only. While it annoyed me as a kid, I now understand the value of putting aside a portion of each paycheque, and it’s a habit I’ve stuck with.

My parents were financially stable when I was a kid, but they took a slightly frugal approach to life. Frugality was second nature to them because they grew up in spaces where frivolous spending was not much of an option.

Their financial situation changed when we moved to Canada in 2014 when I was 13 years old. Money became a lot tighter, and “nice to have” expenses were off the table. My family worried about money. That financial instability has improved, but hasn’t changed much, so I don’t turn to my parents for most of my expenses. I consider myself financially independent despite the mounting loan payments lurking in my future.

My parents still do treat me to expensive things on birthdays and at Christmas. I usually put off my big “wants” until my birthday or Christmas when my family can help subsidize the cost.

What was your first job and why did you get it?

I got my first job when I was in grade 11 at a Panera Bread where I worked as a cashier and barista. I made minimum wage and was not thinking about the costs of university much at that point, despite it being a very large, upcoming expense. 

The job was a way to do something after school and have some spending money. I did save a good portion of those paychecks, which eventually went to helping fund my university expenses.

Did you worry about money growing up? Do you worry about money now?

When I started university, I wasn’t bad with money but I certainly wasn’t great. A lot of those lessons about saving went out the window when I had more freedom over my life. At one point in my first year, I would skip meals because I ran out of money on my meal plan, and I didn’t work a job at that point to refund it. 

My habits have changed since my first year at Western. I track my spending, I save for future expenses and I have an emergency fund. It took a while to get here, and sometimes I still struggle with impulse purchases — I often overspend on clothes and food and have to compensate for those costs from my savings. 

Money is something I think about every single day. 

I want to be able to buy a house one day, but the cost of living and the real estate market are spiking to ridiculous highs right now. I worry about the amount of debt grad school will sink me into. I worry about paying off loans after grad school instead of investing in my future and into a retirement fund. I feel like that financial disadvantage will set me back compared to my peers, but I remind myself many students are in a similar situation and trust I’ll be okay. 

Here’s how I spent my money this month: 

Groceries: $160.66 — I have not bought enough groceries, and I spent way too much dining out. I’ve been on campus more than I expected this month and somehow always forget to pack a lunch. 

Dining out: $94.13 — I’ve spent too much money on takeout. 

Indoor climbing: $31.00 — my boyfriend and I try to do something active together on the weekends, and recently we tried out indoor rock climbing when the weather was particularly bad. We try to do free outdoor activities most weekends like go on long walks or hikes in one of London’s many beautiful trails.

Jewelry: $36.00 — October is my birthday month, so I treated myself to a new ring. 

Self care: $68.32 — this is unusual. I don’t spend on self care every month, but I like to stock up on products when I do. The sunscreen I buy costs $32.77, but it’s the only one that doesn’t cause me to break out and blends into my dark skin, so it’s worth the money for me. October was a sunscreen purchase month. 

I’m also trying to be environmentally conscious, so I bought shower gel in a large, refillable bag to last me a long time. This means the cost of body wash will decrease in the following months, but I had to pay more this October for the purchase upfront. I also bought new conditioner, shampoo and menstrual products.

Home Depot: $19.16 — My aloe vera plant at home was having a hard time and needed to be repotted, so I bought a roomier pot and some cactus soil. 

Clothing: $123.74 — I bought new shoes because my old Vans wore out which set me back $84.74. I also made a trip to Platos Closet for a fun weekend thrift — I found a leather jacket for $39.55 that I couldn’t refuse.

Total: $1,260.51

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