Society has told us that you need to pursue higher education unless you’ve become a tech billionaire by the age of 12. My tech skills are so subpar I would have to pay someone to work for them so that path was never an option for me. I always knew that I wanted to go to university, I was just blissfully unaware of how much of an impact it has on your life until I got there and started paying for it, and then graduated and started paying it back!
Throwback to my prom night in Grade 12. A time when I thought I knew what I was going to do with my life.
In my grade 12 year, I sat and stared at the university application completely undecided on what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was fairly sure that I was going to stay at my high school, Parkside, and complete what we called a victory lap, aka, grade 13. I thought staying for another year would give me time to take more classes, boost my grades, save some money, and mainly figure out what I wanted to do. My mom was the biggest advocate for this plan, although I think it had more to do with her not being ready for me to move out than anything else. She claims she didn’t want me to go so they would have another year to save money to help cover some of my educational costs, but I know she loved the idea of having me close for another year.
All grade 12 students were required to meet with their guidance counsellor to discuss their plans. I was hopeful that I would leave the meeting feeling reassured that staying at Parkside and worrying about post-secondary school selection was something I could do the following year. Instead, my guidance counsellor told me that I hadn’t taken enough science classes to get accepted to a science program, my math marks weren’t high enough to pursue a financial program, and I had 0 arts classes due to my lack of creativity and music talent so that was also out for me as well.
My guidance counsellor sat in his chair, looked me straight in the eye and told me my options were English or a business program. Talk about destroying kids’ dreams! I had gone into the meeting thinking that I wanted to pursue a degree in Criminology after staying for grade 13. I grew up fascinated with CSI and detective shows and I loved solving puzzles and playing games.
I know that’s not a lot to base a decision on, but I was 17 and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, so I was seriously considering it as an option. My guidance counsellor blankly told me I wouldn’t be able to do that because I hadn’t taken enough science classes. I was gutted. In retrospect, I should have investigated it more instead of taking their word for it because I found out in my third year of university that I could have applied for Laurier’s Criminology program because I met their requirements. I was so upset!
After some consideration, I decided that I had better opt for a business program since my English skills were, and still are abysmal. I can speak the language and I love to read, but proper spelling and grammar just go over my head. My grammar skills are so bad that I hired an editor to review all my articles before I post them. Luckily, I enjoyed the few business classes that I had taken, and I really enjoyed the after-school program I participated in JA (Junior Achievement) Company Program. Groups of high school students get together once a week for a few hours and start and run their own businesses with the advice and guidance of local mentors. I participated for 3 years and enjoyed all three. I even found that I had a head for business, and held various management positions through my 3 years.
I figured if my options were business or English, I’d enjoy a business program more and it would likely lead to better career opportunities for me after I graduated. I still wanted to stay for grade 13 since I had really only taken 3 business classes. I was set on this plan until I looked at the business course calendar for the following year. There was only one class I could take, grade 12 accounting. I wasn’t a huge fan of my grade 11 accounting class, which I only took to be with a friend who was interested in being an actuary, and staying back an entire year for one class didn’t seem like a smart idea. All of this decision-making happened the day before university applications were due, so that night I sat down and quickly reviewed which schools I should apply to.
Now that I had decided on a program to apply for, choosing schools was a lot easier since there are a limited number of reputable business programs in Ontario and I wasn’t interested in going out of province. I applied to Western because it was close to where I lived (although my mom insisted that I should live at home and bus to London from St. Thomas for class every day. After she said that, I was really hoping that I’d get more than one acceptance because I wasn’t sure I liked the sound of spending all my time on a bus. I did at one point look up the bus times, turns out there isn’t an option to bus from St. Thomas to London but I figure if there were it would probably be 1.5-2 hours or more each way given that it’s a 45-minute car ride and buses make WAY more pitstops. Plus I’m sure I would have to transfer once or twice so there’s waiting time to build in as well).
I applied to Queen’s University because I had visited their campus before and quite liked it, and Laurier since they had a great business program. I knew I didn’t want to be super far from home so I chose the best 3 business schools in my preferred area, filled out the applications and crossed my fingers. I’m a big planner so for me to make these rash decisions was new to me. I think the school selection and application completion process took 3 or 4 hours that night, which may sound like a long time but for me, it seemed like I had made split-second decisions.
The only status selfie I've ever taken in honour of Wilfiy's birthday.
I think the most difficult part of the whole process for me was the waiting. Applications were due in February and acceptance letters weren’t going to be sent out until April. I spent a lot of time worrying about which school I would pick, if my grades were good enough, where my friends wanted to go, etc. Pretty much everything except how I was going to pay for school once I got accepted. When acceptance letters were finally sent, I watched my friends get into all of the programs they applied to, and I only got one.
I felt a little hurt and concerned that if the universities didn’t think my high school grades were high enough that I would struggle big time at university but I accepted Laurier’s offer and crossed my fingers I would figure it out along the way. At least this stopped me from having to spend time worrying about which school I should choose.
The choice was to go to Laurier or don’t go at all, and I really, really wanted to be the first person in my family to graduate from university. I had a few cousins go to college but that was it. My Dad is a high school dropout, from a time when having a degree wasn’t required to apply for a job. He’s since had a very successful career operating heavy machinery.
My mom hadn’t planned to complete high school either. After working at a factory for the summer, her boss encouraged her to go back and when she said no, he fired her. It sounds bad but he was looking out for her best interest. She graduated from Parkside the following year but never attended college or university, but always encouraged my brother and I to pursue higher education. Because of this, going to university was even more important because I wanted to for her and for me.
Forever a Bouckaert Butterfly
Flash forward to August of 2012 when they sent out room assignments and the bill for your first year of schooling. My mom thought it would be best for me to stay in dorms for the first year. I agreed to save myself from apartment hunting so that I would get the full university experience. I almost changed my mind when I looked at the bill… $25,000… WHAT?!?!?! Turns out that staying in a dorm room is expensive. Getting a meal plan is expensive. Classes are expensive!
The $25K didn’t even include my textbooks or any of the school items I needed to purchase like a laptop and notebooks, or anything for my dorm like blankets and sheets. Since I wasn’t planning to attend university that fall, I hadn’t saved nearly enough money. I was proud that I had maybe $3,000 to my name which I shockingly found out, really wasn’t going to cut it. My parents always said they would pay for half of our education and I figured the rest of the money would come from scholarships and bursaries, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for me.
Since I applied to university the night before the deadline, I missed the awards and scholarships deadline by almost a month. I tried using a few external sites to apply for awards but I never received any and after having a conversation with my parents about them not having half of my schooling costs saved already, I panicked and applied for OSAP. Thankfully it came through and I was able to go to school. After my first year, I moved into a house with a few friends and got a part-time job to help earn some money so I wouldn’t need to rely on OSAP as much. My part-time job turned into a full-time job and I babysat on the side but it still didn’t seem to change the amount of OSAP I crossed my fingers for each year. I’m entirely convinced I didn’t sleep while at University, between the demands of school and work I honestly don’t know how I babysit or volunteered or even functioned as a human being for that matter.
Working at a restaurant can be stressful but I meet some amazing people, like this lovely lady who was a regular 3x a day for coffee. She brought me a cupcake since I had to work on my birthday.
I think it was a good thing I worked at a restaurant, at least that way I knew I was going to eat one meal a day because someone else would make it for me! It was a stressful time but I knew in the long run it would be worth a few or like a lot of sleepless nights. When I graduated, I had a lovely paper diploma that cost me just over $100,000. And yes, you’re damn right I spent another $100 to have it framed. At this point, $100 was pocket change compared to the OSAP bill I was now faced with paying off. I luckily had my parents’ help and money from my job, but the total bill I had been given was still hefty. My total repayment amount was $35,894.62 and this was after OSAP reduced the amount as a congratulations for graduating present. Turns out this amount does not include interest, which the government charges you daily (I think that should be a capital crime, but the government doesn’t seem to see an issue with it).
I haven’t figured out how they expect us to pay back the loan while making minimum wage. Let’s be real, most people aren’t lucky enough to find jobs in their field right away, if at all, and oftentimes they turn to entry-level positions with little pay. Since OSAP only gives you 9.5 years to pay back your loan, regardless of the amount, I was locked into payments of $400/month for the next 9.5 years! I was fortunate enough to have been hired on to work as a Guest and Marketing Manager at Boston Pizza in St. Thomas right after graduation so I knew I had income right away but I still couldn’t afford to live on my own and make my OSAP payments.
So, I did what every university student hopes they never have to do… I moved back in with my parents. Going from having complete freedom to having to live by the rules of your parents again really sucked, but it was either that or financial ruin and bad credit so I thanked my parents for letting me come back home. $400 is a crippling amount of money a month, and I know I’m fortunate that it isn’t higher because I know it is for some people, but when society tells you that when you graduate from school you get a fancy job, buy a house and a car and live happily ever after, it’s frustrating and discouraging to not have accomplished those things.
Because all the cool kids get dressed up for a picture with Santa right? It was our house's Christmas celebration before we all headed home for the holidays in my second year of University.
True to their word my parents have paid for half of my schooling. They gave me money while I was there and have continued to send me money to cover half of my OSAP bill each month. And while living at home isn’t always ideal, it did allow me to save money, even more so because my parents never charged me rent or ask for grocery money. I paid off the remaining balance of my car loan and saved $10,000 in 12 months. None of which went towards my schooling. I probably would have been better off paying down some of my OSAP debt before saving to buy a house, but I was trying to minimize the length of my stay with my parents.
I did, however, start paying a little extra towards my OSAP before I bought a house. I got an MBNA credit card that had a promotional offer that allowed balance transfers without fees and no interest for a year. I used the card to pay down some of my OSAP balance. I felt really accomplished making those extra payments and the more I paid off, the more I was motivated to reduce my budget and pay it off faster. We stopped going out for dinner as frequently, cancelled any unnecessary subscriptions like my gym membership, tried to find fun free activities, and took up at-home hobbies like running to help us keep our expenses low so we had more money to put towards my OSAP.
My mom has been really into couponing and price matching and as time-consuming as it can be, it does save you quite a bit of money. It was another great tactic we used to reduce our expenses. Ensuring we ‘paid ourselves first’ was key. If we said we wanted to put $300 towards my OSAP that month we would do that first so we couldn’t spend that money later. Having a very detailed budget was really helpful and so was having a supportive partner.
That plan worked until we bought a house, at which point, all of our disposable income went toward home renovations. Not ideal, but miscommunication changed the mortgage we qualified for and we didn’t have any other options (long story short we were going for mortgage + improvements to cover the renovation costs but we barely qualified for just a mortgage). When we were putting the house up for sale I told Grayson I wanted to use the proceeds from the sale to pay off the remaining balance so that we would be OSAP debt-free (Gray’s OSAP was paid off this past spring, we had been putting extra money towards his since his balance was substantially lower than mine) and we did.
When the house closed, I paid off the remaining balance of $20,933.33. Sending that much money out of my account really hurt, don’t get me wrong. I appreciate that I was able to go to school and I definitely needed OSAP’s help to do it, but it still sucked having to pay all that money back. I decided it would be better to pay the remaining balance to lower my stress level during my second maternity leave. $400/month is a lot of money when your income has been cut in half and I knew I would be saving thousands of dollars in interest. I did the calculation and I figure paying off my OSAP early likely saved me $5,000 or more. I kept track of all of my OSAP payments over the 3-4 years I had been paying it back and I paid $40,319.91 in total (including what my parents paid on my behalf).
I've never been so excited to see $0.00 in my whole life!
I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders now that I don’t have this payment to worry about each month but like I said, it was hard to say goodbye to $20,000 to do it. Choosing to pay off my OSAP instead of using that money to put it towards another house purchase definitely wasn’t an easy decision. It means I will be staying with my parents longer than I had originally planned, but I feel it was a decision that will have a more positive impact on my family’s financial well-being, and help alleviate stress long term.
I have always thought living a debt-free life was the way to go, but now that I’m an adult I see that is very unlikely for the majority of people. My new goal is to be smart with my money, but not let it prevent me from living my life and spending time with my children. One day, I hope my blog will be able to provide enough income for me to work part-time or not at all. I would love to be a stay-at-home mom, but for the time being, that’s not an option so I’m going to enjoy my upcoming maternity leave and see what sort of financial position I’m in when it comes to an end.
If you have suggestions on ways to make money while staying home please share them in the comments below! And if it’s not too much trouble, please share my website or Instagram account with friends to help me grow my following so I can work towards my goal of being a stay-at-home mom!