In true post-secondary scholarship fashion, the First Annual My University Money Scholarship Contest was won by the only contestant that took the time to apply! Unfortunately this pretty much confirms all the statements we made concerning bursaries, grants and scholarships in our past articles. Every year across Canada and the USA millions of dollars in “free money” for students goes unclaimed because students decide they don’t have enough time to apply, there will be too much competition for the award, or they just don’t bother looking. We extended this competition to post-secondary students of any kind with very few restrictions. Needless to say we were a little disappointed with the results. We hope next year more applicants will be encouraged to throw their proverbial hat in the ring in order to grab some free money from their favourite educational lifestyle/personal finance bloggers!
Anyway, without further ado, the winner of the 2011 My University Money 1st Annual Scholarship Contest Winner is… (insert drumroll here)… Paige (her writing pseudonym) from the PF blog www.jddebtfree.com! Congratulations Paige, thanks for applying (seriously, this would have been pretty embarrassing if we didn’t have any applicants) and we’re sure you’ll put the money to good use. Below is Paige’s self-written bio and her award-winning tips for post-secondary students – enjoy!
“Paige” is a new law student trying to graduate debt-free. She worked her way through her undergrad in three years and then took two years off to save like mad for law school. She is currently re-adjusting to the demands of academia, and can be found at her desk pulling out her hair or cursing in frustration. While procrastinating In her spare time she can be found reading personal finance blogs and books, as well as meticulously tracking her own spending.
My Best Tip for Post-Secondary Students
My key to success in planning financially for post-secondary education is threefold:
3. Don’t be a sheep.
First comes planning. I am four weeks into law school right now, but it’s something I’ve been saving for ten years, or two years with full intensity. I knew this was something I wanted for a long time, but not something I wanted to go into debt for. I started babysitting at 13 and working part-time when I was 16. Working during high school and undergrad gave me the bonus of amazing time management skills. My parents gave me the incredible gift of a paid-for undergraduate degree. Instead of using the money I used during that time for travel and shopping like many of my friends, I stored it all away in GICs and let it grow. I took extra credits whenever I could and finished my four years honours degree in three years.
Then I worked for two years while I saved up for law school. I didn’t want to be ancient when I finally graduated, but I also did not want to graduate with debt, so I came up with a plan to find balance. I’m right on target right now to graduate law school at 25 with no debt, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Don’t go to school on a whim or because you get laid off. Especially if you are going right at 18, you know it’s coming, so get to work! I wish that I knew more people who did this, but my friends whisper my six figure net worth as if it is some freak anomaly. But it absolutely can be done.
I am a little bit obsessed with budgeting, but I don’t care because writing down every penny that I spend and earn has gotten me to where I am today. Spending within my budget means that I am spending consciously and am never surprised at the end of the month. I review my expenditures regularly, and this has taught me what types of purchases I do and do not find worthwhile. For example, I didn’t realize until I looked at my spending report how much my weekly lunch dates with a friend were costing me. We switched to coffee for a savings of $10/week, and still got our time together.
Tracking my income gives me an idea of what I can expect it to be in the future. Tracking my spending, and breaking it down into categories, lets me know where my money is going. I have several different friends with their own budgeting methods. One spends 20% of what he makes and saves the rest for tuition and books. Another spends only a certain amount each month, but if it’s all on coffee or clothes, that’s fine by her, as long as it doesn’t go over the limit. A third friend adjusts her budget up and down almost weekly as her income changes while in school, so she might spend $150 on food one week, but cut her budget down to $4 the next. I don’t think it matters as much how you budget, it’s just important that you have a budget.
Don’t Be a Sheep
Being in law school for the past few weeks has been an eye-opener to say the least. People have openly talked about graduating with 150k in student loans. And while I get that not everyone has been as lucky as me in terms of family help, these same students are not living like students. The everyday coffee and cafeteria lunches and other things we all know are pf-pitfalls are only adding to their future debt-lodes. They are of course also the people who are living in the fancy condos and taking planes home instead of buses or trains. My point is this: every day it is hard to be the person who brings their lunch or takes the train alone or doesn’t go out for drinks after class. But I stick with it and you should too because I’m focused on the long-term instead of just the present. I’m confident that in the end it will be worth it.
I’ve seen the following saying floating around various pamphlets since I’ve started law school “if you live like a lawyer when you’re a student, you’ll have to live like a student when you’re a lawyer”. I really believe that the message holds true regardless of your major. Yes, I have a $100/month food budget, and it’s awfully hard to buy my first suit when I only have $25/month for clothes, but I keep on trucking along because I know that I want better for my future. It takes guts to say no to Tim Horton’s and shopping trips every day, and it’s not always fun balancing school with work instead of partying, but these are choices that you can make if you want to reduce or eliminate your debt load. You don’t have to be a follower, you can blaze your own (financial) path!