When I was applying for university, I was worried about how much debt I would have to take on to finish my undergraduate degree. In grade 12, I explored different options like my Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP), but those savings didn’t cut it.
I’m now in my third year of university, and I have student loans using both Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and a student line of credit. For a long time, the burden of being in debt with my name on the books stressed me out. I felt guilty for spending money on leisure items and eating out.
After a while, I realized that the same principle we learned in Economics class about the “time value of money” also applies to taking on personal debt. Money is more valuable to me now than money later. In many ways, taking on debt to afford higher education and travel has opened doors for me and provided me with fresh perspectives on my lifestyle.
Without debt, there’s no way I would be able to afford living away from home while paying $75,000 in tuition over four years. However, this investment in education now will allow me realize higher earning potential later on, enabling me to pay back the debt within a reasonable time frame.
I could have taken on less debt if I decided to go to university closer to home and live with my parents to save on rent, utility, and grocery costs. However, the lessons I’ve learned by becoming self-reliant, and living in close quarters with strangers and friends is more valuable earlier in my life to me than an extra $30,000 – $40,000 in debt. I’ve learned how to compromise, but also learned what is uncompromisable for me. I’ve also learned how to be a good friend when my friends are going through some of the most challenging days of their young-adult life away from family.
Initially I thought, if I travelled less, I would have more savings, and therefore take on less debt. For a few months, I felt guilty about the $2000 I spent on my Brazil trip, meaning I had to dip $2000 extra into my line of credit. However, the Brazil trip helped me become more of a risk taker and showed me how there are many ways to live a successful and fulfilled life. These memories and perspectives I’ve learned have helped me discover my values.
Responsibility & Discipline
Because it’s my name signed on that dotted line, I must take ownership over my finances. I have a spreadsheet for each year of university where I actively budget my expenses and reflect on how I can make better decisions. I am even aware of how “special expenses” such as buying a new winter jacket significantly impact cash flow. These lifelong learnings will help me live within my means even when I am much more financially stable.
The last realization that debt isn’t bad was critically thinking about what my alternatives would look like if I weren’t in debt today. This is what I could come up with:
- 1. Take on less debt and work part-time during school (paying less)
- 2. Borrow money from family members instead of paying interest (paying less)
- 3. Don’t go to school
For option 1, I think this is a reasonable option. I believe helping contribute to your education while having debt also builds discipline and shows responsibility. In first year I worked at Kumon which eased the financial burden of living away from home. I worked 2-3 weekdays from 4-8pm. However, I had to make some sacrifices which included starting my homework at 9pm, and eating unhealthy food because the main cafeterias were closed on residence by 7:30pm. Eventually, I decided to quit. I felt that I was missing out on university experiences such as bonding with my floormates, doing extracurricular activities that helped build my leadership skills, and creating an impact within my community. I recognize that having the choice to quit working during school is a result of my privilege, but I was comfortable taking on more debt because of the long-term investment I was making in myself. I did continue to work during the summers to help make university more affordable.
For option 2, while you may be paying less, it may open you up to family conflict and tension which isn’t necessary or it may be stretching your family members financially.
For option 3, I don’t think this is reasonable. I think taking on debt to pay for school is the most logical because it improves your earning-potential for the rest for your life.
As you can see, I went through several layers of a personal cost benefit analysis to help me understand why taking on X amount of debt is reasonable for me. While all these decisions may not be the same for everyone based on our different values, the fact that debt is a tool to help us achieve goals when we’re younger and more financially stretched remains the same. I think this realization alleviated the burden on my shoulders and stopped me from comparing myself to friends that may be more financially well-off, and start thinking about how debt is a tool that enables me to do the same things that my financially well-off friends are able to do.