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Credit Coach: How to avoid being crushed by the cost of earning a degree

How to avoid being crushed by the cost of earning a degree.

Living and working in Northern Ontario is fun, rewarding and the traffic is generally not a bother. Unfortunately the seasons and the weather can seem rather unbalanced. Winter can feel like an absolute eternity and then the May long weekend kick-off seems to slide into Labour Day celebrations in what feels like a heartbeat.

Summer sunshine and the upcoming Canada Day festivities mark the halfway point in our short growing season here in Northern Ontario. That is why preparing early to avoid back-to-school debt should be on your mind now. A quick re-read of my back-to-school blog from last August will get you thinking.

I would like to add to the following advice this year. Recently I have noticed on the Twitter-scape, the Facebook world and LinkedIn networks a trend regarding discussions on student debt, millennials and the costs of education. Taken as a whole, these discussions lead us to conclude that for a large number of post-secondary graduates, debt repayment and underemployment is causing a crisis.

So what should this year’s young university-bound Canadians do to avoid being crushed by the costs of earning a degree?

Consider studying close to home

Whether it’s the allure of living on one’s own, the college town depictions on the silver screen, or the stories from the internet, many students desire the live-away-from-home experience. If you are from a small town or are looking for a specific program not offered at a university close to home, then travelling may be your only option. However, if you can find your program or courses at a college or university near you then consider it.

Competition in the job market is tough, most individuals today have some form of post-secondary education or trade certification. Perhaps saving money by living at home during your undergrad years will leave room in the budget for that Masters level study and the ticket to differentiating yourself from your peers in the job market,

Consider your lifestyle choices

I have written about it before but it bears repeating. The latest smartphone, data plans, flat screen TVs and spring break travel to Punta Cana are luxury items that almost always require a reliable full-time salary. Don’t be tempted to use your student loan to cover the cost of anything but necessities. You may not have to settle for a used couch and Ramen noodles. But, a bus pass, tuition, books and necessary living costs are the type of expenses student loans are meant to cover.

Try to avoid relying on student loans if you can

Work-life balance during the summer for a university student is great if you have a backup plan for working during the school year or parents willing to help with the costs of tuition. If you’re paying for your own education, grabbing every available work opportunity in the summer might be what you need to do. Even then, your summer paycheques may not cover the total cost of the year ahead, but they will reduce your reliance on student debt.

Speak with your summer employer about extra hours, special projects or ways to boost your income. You might find your enthusiasm rewarded. You may also just guarantee your spot for the following summer, or even a career position when you graduate.

What is your back-to-school plan? Do you intend to rely on student loans while at school. Share your story in the comments below or @mention me on Twitter using @jscreditcoach.

Jayson Stoppel is a Licensed Insolvency Trustee and Chartered Accountant with BDO First Call Debt Solutions. With over 17 years in practice, Jayson assists individuals, families and companies with financial difficulties in Thunder Bay and throughout Northwest Ontario. To reach Jayson by email: