Crunching the numbers, Ontario’s minimum wage in 1989 was $5 an hour. Assuming a university student clocked a 40-hour work week, for all 16 weeks of their summer break, they would earn $3,200. At that time, the average cost of a full year of tuition was $1,185 according to Statistics Canada—meaning university tuition would eat up just over a third of a student’s pre-tax income.
Today, minimum wage has almost tripled to $14 an hour in Ontario, but the average cost of one year of undergrad studies has increased by 477% to $6,838. Assuming that same working schedule, a student would earn $8,960, meaning tuition would account for about 75% of a student’s pre-tax earnings. Maclean’s found that the all-in cost of a full year of post-secondary education, including rent and other living expenses, is $19,498.75, so even after working a full summer, students would have to work another 752 hours to be able to get through school debt-free.
“I often wonder what my summers would have been like if I had been studying 10 or 20 years earlier,” says Sam Hiemstra, a third-year politics student at Queen’s University in Kingston Ont. “My parents, who both attended college, both recollect part-time jobs as being enough to get them through the eight months of studying that were to follow. The past few summers I have worked two jobs in order to save enough to go to school, and there isn’t any change this year. I was lucky this year to get a job in my field that pays enough to cover the grants and loans I have lost from [cuts to] OSAP, but I know it’s not the same for everyone.”
Short on options for increasing the amount of money you have coming in, students can look at ways of making the funds they do have go farther—and every little bit helps. Saving $10 a week on food may not seem like a lot, but even a small win like that can add up to around $300 over a school year. And the more of these simple money-saving tips you add to your regular repertoire, the more you’ll save.
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Track your spending
The easiest way to start being more in control of your finances is to track your spending. This allows you to see where your money is going and help you spot areas to cut back if you need to. (Maybe you limit pub nights to Fridays and Saturdays, for example.) You can use technology to make this task almost effortless; financial apps like Mint connect with your bank account to track what you spend, and even remind you when to make bill payments. Or just make a note every time you spend money using good-old-fashioned pen and paper.
Make friends with the supermarket
One of the easiest ways to save money as a student is to spend less eating out and more at the grocery store. Forbes estimated that the average restaurant meal costs five times more than eating a meal you prepared at home. As a bonus, a lot of grocery stores near university campuses will also offer student discounts on one regular day each week, so by shopping only on that day, you can save 10% to 20%.
If you live on-campus in residence and have to buy into the institution’s meal plan, make sure you’re still being financially smart about the food choices you are making. Whether it’s taking the time to select the best meal plan for you if there are a number of options, or being mindful about taking full advantage of the plan you’ve paid for, there are ways to ensure that your meal plan is worth the cost.