Have you heard about Alex Kenjeev? Kenjeev, a U of T law school graduate, paid off a $114,460 student loan in cash back in 2012. While keeping bank tellers counting for two and a half hours was not particularly impressive, paying off his entire student loan certainly was.

According to the 2012 annual report on student financial support published by the U of T Governing Council, 45 percent of all full-time undergraduate U of T students receive OSAP support.

While the report states that “over half” of the students graduate without OSAP debt, a CIBC survey from August raises two cautionary flags. Number one: a staggering 48 percent of students remain concerned about covering their upcoming school year’s tuition and living expenses. The second is that 36 percent of students expect to graduate with more than $25,000 in debt.

According to the survey, 34 percent of students have paid their education costs themselves through jobs, which is particularly surprising given the limited job market available to students.

“Remember: it’s not a grant; OSAP provides a tuition fee you must pay, only at a later date,” says Mark Boucher, financial aid advisor at the UTM financial aid office. His statement highlights a fact that several students may not keep in mind: OSAP is not a safety blanket.

“With time your expenses grow and the benefits of financial aid shrink,” says Sidra Weqar, a fifth-year criminology major. “When students enter first year, the financial aid opportunities around them give an exciting impression of a jackpot.”

UTM student Janelle Douthwright shows the foresight required to be a financially successful student. “I haven’t been forced to live on a budget and I am grateful for that. However, just because I haven’t been forced to, doesn’t mean I haven’t been doing so,” says the fourth-year criminology and sociology major, who has paid her way through university herself using what she calls “a combination of budgeting, saving, and finding a well-paying job—even if it’s not high-end”. After putting together her 2015/16 academic budget, she shares some valuable tips.

“I make ‘savings plans’. I set a realistic goal for a dollar amount of savings and a date,” she says. For example, automatic transfers on payday. She adds, “The more your savings grow, the more addicting saving becomes.”

For other students, perhaps setting a weekly or monthly budget may be the way to go. Review and record your expenses. Be accurate and realistic.

Furthermore, different groups on campus organize free events. Take free gym classes. Organize a personalized diet plan with the dietician on campus for healthy eating on a budget. Maximize the benefits from what you have already paid for.

Douthwright takes advantage of the benefits of a credit card. “They allow me to earn points for free movies and gift cards, and to track all my spending,” she says.

She identifies her weakness as an impulse shopper, but to help herself, she keeps the receipts for everything she buys. She explains, “If I haven’t used it or worn it by the time the return policy is about to expire, I return it and get my money back. If you haven’t needed it the last 30 days, do you really need it?”

Although practicing cautious buying and distinguishing between necessities and luxuries may seem easier said than done, the CIBC poll says that 44 percent of Canadian postsecondary students do expect to fully support themselves financially after graduation.

Sound financial decisions come from habits instilled over time. Being aware of your responsibilities and expenses after graduation pays off—literally—in the long run.

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