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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Do NOT live your parents’ lifestyle

Many students have this idea that when they leave home to go to university, they are entitled to the same lifestyle that they just left: a nicely decorated and comfortable home with all the high tech devices they had at home, going out to restaurants on a regular basis, buying brand name clothing, etc..  What they don’t realize is that this is their parents’ lifestyle – NOT theirs; they just got to tag along as part of the family!

When living on your own for the first time, if this happens in college or university, your income will be close to nil.  This entitles you to … nil in terms of lifestyle (or very little) since you cannot afford any of it.  Your parents worked hard to EARN their lifestyle.  They worked hard to deserve the fruits of their labour.  You are just starting out on your own, and until you become a contributing member of society, as define by a society who decides that what you do should deserve a salary, you should not try to live your parents’ lifestyle.
This is a mistake I have seen hundreds of students make.  They arrive at university and think nothing of dropping $5-10 every day in coffee shops and going out to eat several times a week.  I understand that this is the way they were raised, but again, when their parents are doing it, it is with their own EARNED money – not someone else’s money.

I think that most parents need to have a serious talk with their teenager before the said teenager goes to university.  As a young adult with no real income, the student is living on his or her parents’ money and need to respect the budgetary constraints imposed by the high cost of education.
In order to attend college or university without digging too deep a financial hole, one has to radically scale back one’s lifestyle to the minimum for a number of years.  This is the plight of a number of students and one should not feel alone in this situation.  This is also a very good reason to search friends amongst the more frugal students at your educational institution… and this will be the topic of an upcoming posting!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Will the investment of university ‘pay off’?

I was recently watching a CBC Doc Zone documentary called ‘Generation Jobless’ (you can view it here: ); the main complaint from commentators and young people alike was that universities ‘let in’ students in fields where there are not enough jobs when they graduate.  For examples, there are too many qualified teachers in Ontario, yet universities keep ‘letting in’ students in education programs. 

I disagree with the complaints.  I do agree that there may not be enough openings for all sorts of positions after university training; however, I do not agree that it’s the universities’ responsibilities so be the gate for training.  First of all, they do not know what their students will want to do after they graduate; maybe they want to move overseas; maybe they want to do another degree; maybe they want to move to another province or use their training in a different, non-conventional way.  It is the responsibility of each student to look at the market BEFORE he or she starts training in a field, to see if there are jobs after the training. 
So will YOUR education pay off? It depends what you see is the goal of the education.  If it is simply learning and not the official documentation of the degree, it may be more cost-effective to combine Khan Academy lectures and a few textbooks.  If the degree will open doors to a career, it is most likely a good investment, if you are flexible in your job search so you can find a position. 

As much as I value education for its own sake (hey, I have a Ph.D.!), I also recognize that a B.A. with specialization in philosophy is not going to guarantee you a well-paying job.  Most professional degrees such as engineering, medical position training (physiotherapy, nursing, etc.), accounting, and education, are mandatory for career positions such as engineers, physiotherapist, accountant, teacher, and the likes.  So if that is your career ambition, there is no way around it – you cannot get physiotherapy training by working up the ladder in a clinic. 
So, if you are looking at university education as a financial investment into a good-paying career, investigate BEFOREHAND if this is the most cost-effective way to start your career.  Maybe working in a company of interest would take a bit more time, but overall would save you tens of thousands of dollars.

Is university a good financial investment? In many cases it is, but not in all cases.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Furnishing your residence room the frugal way

I’ve been looking at the flyers that come in, unaddressed, to us on a weekly basis and that are now advertising what students ‘need’ to furnish their residence room.  The variety goes from the reasonable small speakers for your music device to the superfluous bookcase, floor lamp and vanity desk (are residence rooms not furnished anymore?).  Even if you had an apartment to furnish, a vanity table is not what you need (for those who don’t know, a vanity is similar to a desk, but it has a mirror attached to it so one can do hair and make-up while sitting comfortably). 

If you are moving into a traditional residence room, the room will be furnished; this means a single bed (possibly an extra-long single bed) or twin (the two words are used interchangeably nowadays), a desk and chair, a ceiling lamp, a window with window covering, a dresser (or drawers of some sort), a mirror and a closet.  What you NEED to bring is your own personal items such as clothing, toiletry, medication, study material (calculator, paper and pens, dictionary, a computer, etc.), and bedding.  Anything else is extra and not necessary, and your room will be small! Either you will have a single or a multi-person room; in both cases, there is not a lot of extra room, certainly not enough to add furniture! Of course, there are basics that you may want and that will make your life as a student easier.  So here is a table that defines the essentials, the basics (not essentials but very useful) and the extras (nice to have, but only if they are given to you for free and you have the space to bring them and to store in your room).

- beddings: sheet set, pillow case, one comforter, one pillow
-:second set of sheets
- a mattress cover
- stuffed animals
- a pillow top for your bed
- extra pillows and cushions
- duvet and duvet cover
- fleece sheets for winter
- favorite uplifting book
- contact information of family and friends
- rag and spray cleaner
- favorite poster from home & sticky putty
- photos of your family
- wall calendar
- musical instrument from home
- black out curtains if needed
- posters from the poster fair
- your own window dressing (measure first)
- rug
- e-reader
- favorite CDs & storage unit
- wet wipes
- bath towel
- flip flop for the shower
- a robe
- shower caddy
- slippers
- fleece blanket
- your clothes, including some for the weather you will face
- laundry soap
- laundry bag (pillow case)
- closet hangers
- workout clothes
- small sewing kit
- new PJs so you aren’t shy to meet people in the hall going to the bathroom
- costume or inexpensive jewelry
- bathing suit & beach towel
- an umbrella
- fancy clothes
- job interview clothes
- clothes dryer (for hanging)
- clothes hamper
- iron and ironing board
- shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, soap deodorant,
- first aid kit
- analgesics
- feminine hygiene products
- condoms
- tissue and toilet paper
- razor
- nail clippers
- mouthwash
- makeup
- hair products, hairdryer
- hand lotion
- nail polish and remover
- shaving cream
- lip balm
- electric toothbrush
- hair flattener, curler, etc.
- an extra mirror
- scale
- general medications: anti-acid; constipation aids; cold relief and lozenges; eye drop; etc.
- earplugs (sleeping & studying)
- chargers for electronic devices
- alarm clock
- key chain
- speakers for your MP3 player-type device
- earphones
- power bar & surge protector
- chair cushion
- your own desk chair
- small radio/CD player
- bean bag chair
- small stool
- shoe shelf or organiser
- bowl, plate, cutlery, glass, mug
- lunch containers
- PBA-free water bottle
- insulated mug
- favorite treat
- can opener & small pot
- dish soap, rag and tea towel
- small fan
- desk lamp if not provided
- pin board for above your desk
- dry erase markers (for mirror)
- boxes, milk crates, or baskets
- small fridge (to save on food money)
- dried fruit, cereal, power bars
- tea bags, instant coffee
- reading lamp (beside bed)
- dry erase board
- closet hanging shelves
- foldable work table
- storage drawer cart
- under bed boxes
- hooks
- water jug with filter
- flashlight (for power outage)
- night light
- trash can
- backpack for going to class
- paper and pens
- notebooks, binders
- staplers and staples
- highlighters
- money for textbooks
- copy card for library
- calculator
- laptop computer
- bicycle, helmet and bike lock
- lock for laptop computer (locks it to the desk)
- e-reader
- extra monitor for computer

As you can see, there is a huge margin between the $10 000 designer fees for re-decorated dorm room (check out the article here: ), and what you need as essentials.  Another tip: live in your room frugally for a month before deciding to buy anything more; you may find that you spend more time at the library studying than in your room because you don’t want to be distracted by floor mates and therefore do not need lots of study materials in your room; or that your roommate goes to bed very early and that a reading lamp is essential.  It is often difficult to predict what you need to survive first year, versus what you think you will need.  Happy shopping!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

How Québec students are the luckiest in Canada

If you look at a table of tuition fees for universities in Canada, whether online or in university-ranking magazine articles, you will often see that Québec university tuition fees are much lower (about half) that of other provinces.  Let’s all go to McGill!  Wait though! There’s a catch: these fees are fees for Québec residents (residents before they go to university).  So if you are lucky to have been born in Québec, or have moved there early enough to go to high school there, you may be able to enjoy these very low tuition fees.  But the good news does not end there:
In Québec, the full honours degree is only 3 years because the second year of CEGEP (a college program mandatory for Québec students to complete after high school to be admitted to university) ‘counts’ as the freshman or first year of a 4 year degree (CEGEP is free).  This is a bit difficult to understand for people from outside Québec; look at the table below to see it more clearly.

Canada except Québec
K – grade 6
Grades 7-8
Elementary or middle school
High school 1 and 2
Grades 9-11
High school
High school 3 to 5
Grade 12
High school
1st year CEGEP  (free tuition)
Freshman/1st year university
2nd year CEGEP (free tuition)
2nd -4th  years university
University (at low tuition)

 So students in Québec graduate from high school after grade 11 (with the usual prom and such), and then to go college (CEGEP stands for Collège d’Études Générales et Professionelles) which has free tuition as long as the student is studying full-time, and then go to university but directly into 2nd year, which shaves one year of tuition-paying education.  CEGEP, as its name indicates, also provides professional training, such as a college outside of Québec does.  For example, it offers 3 year programs in architecture technology; radio communication; computer science technology; etc.  The tuition is ALSO FREE (there are other fees though such as equipment,
Finally, the Québec culture encourages students to live at home during post-secondary studies.  Only very rich families or the ones without a university nearby send their children away to university.  My family had enough money to pay for my tuition fees, but had never saved for me living close to campus – all my friends commuted from home (I was in the suburbs of Montréal, not even in greater Montréal) until they graduated.  Yes, our university experience was different than if we had lived on campus, but it was not better or less good; it was just that, different.

The lucky Québec students have three reasons to be grateful: cheaper tuition; a shorter degree; no culture of living on campus.  La Belle Province has a good reason to smile!