How I graduated without student debt

Learn how Canadians achieved their financial dreams and how you can too. This is the sixth instalment in our seven-part series entitled “Making it Happen.”



From the December/January 2013 issue of the magazine.



“I paid for two university degrees on my own and graduated without debt”

Lydia Kardum, 29 // Ottawa

I don’t come from a wealthy family. Actually I lived in a van and a motel for a short period. It’s hard to identify oneself as poor, but that’s the truth.

As far back as I can remember I had part-time jobs. When I started attending the University of Ottawa I had a retail job and also became a teaching assistant. For the first two years, I got scholarships. In my third and fourth years, I used all my savings to pay for tuition and books. For the last term of my Master’s in English, I paid my fees in installments, as I just didn’t have enough. I used all my part-time income, HST rebates and tax refunds to pay for university. If it meant eating eggs and ramen noodles, then that’s what I did. I never had student loans and didn’t want any.

After graduation, I got a full-time job as an administrative assistant making $12 an hour. The winter of 2009 was tough for me. Buses were on strike and my dad was ill with cancer. He died soon afterwards. My mom had to work less to take care of him. We were all living on $28,000 a year, most of it coming from my earnings. Often I had to pay for our groceries on credit cards.

But then my luck turned. I found a good $40,000-a-year job and became determined to build an emergency fund. These days, I follow a savings plan and avoid debt at all costs, even though half my income goes to rent.

Stuff doesn’t mean much to me. If I spend, I spend on experiences. Earlier this year, I went to DisneyWorld and spent $200 for rowing lessons. I love books, but use the library. I try to squeeze the most out of every dollar and it’s starting to pay off—I’m now debt-free with a net worth of $11,000.

More from the “Making it Happen” series:

How we paid off our debt
How I started and sold my business
How I thrived financially after divorce
How I built a solid portfolio
How I became a landlord
How we paid off our mortgage early

4 comments on “How I graduated without student debt

  1. Thanks for sharing your story. It was very inspirational. :)


  2. Congrats! There are some important lessons in this approach!


  3. It seems to me that Lydia followed one simple rule … set priorities and keep to them!
    As a former University Prof, I listened to constant comments from students about the cost of education and the students' mounting debt . In many cases I also saw those same individuals 'living and expending' throughout the school year, as though they were finished school and had a full time job. Their priorities …….. not the same as the writer of this article.
    I seems from this article that Lydia may have been able to live at home for at least part of the time she was in university …… and that is a great advantage (financially).

    I would like to hear from a university graduate who also had little to no outside financial help but also had to live away from home, and was still able to graduate debt free!
    I know this is possible as a few of my students di achieve this.


    • I'm doing it. Currently in my second year, but it's incredibly difficult. Even rooming with four people in a tiny two-bedroom apartment, skimming stale food from my job, and saving every penny I can, it's still incredibly difficult. Course, it's a little harder for me, being a diabetic and currently without any insurance. I even put off buying textbooks until the last possible minute just to make sure there's enough money for them. It's very, very difficult at times, and honestly there were a couple points where I'm not sure where I'd be if my roomates hadn't covered for me, or my boyfriend wasn't the absolutely fantastic person he is.

      But in the end it's worth it to know that I won't have to deal with the debt load afterwords. That's the goal anyways.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *