Prioritizing Finances or Planning for the Future?

Friday, September 11, 2015


Written by Jaimee-Lisa Cotter

There are some of you reading this that looked at that sentence and didn’t expect to see the question of employment following such a dire warning; there are likely a greater percentage of you that read it, groaned, and pushed the fact that you still need to find a part time job aside from your plans to frosh it up and get on track with classes next week.

It’s a familiar narrative in the city of Guelph. Students flood stone road mall, resumes in hand, adorned in their H&M blazers or the closest thing that they can find to a dress shirt. Downtown restaurants see an influx of young, enthusiastic potential servers who are counting on tip money to help pay for rent and groceries. With so many hopeful candidates and (if we’re being honest) a limited number of job opportunities, the dread that fills you with having to ask your parents for money may seem a more realistic approach to survival.

Those lucky enough to be able to look to their family for financial assistance as opposed to seeking part time employment are operating at a huge advantage: as if attending university or college weren’t already a monumental life style change, they also come at a monumental cost.  And with increasingly expensive tuition fees, cost of living, and just about everything else under the sun, it can be difficult to stay afloat and not stress oneself out about finances on top of worrying about life in general.

This is not a product of the general assumptions about young people: the so-called “self-entitlement”, the generation of “I want it now”… those are just stereotypes that people can chalk up blame to and attribute a young person’s attitude or lack of work ethic. But frankly they’re wrong, and furthermore insulting.

The average Gryphon has around 20-25 hours of class per week. This doesn’t account for program specific academic initiatives like labs, SLG’s, or any of the other academic assistance programs that U of G offers. There’s travel time, homework time, scheduling in all of your readings for all your classes. People need to eat, sleep, and realistically you’ll go crazy if you don’t set time aside to hang out with your friends and make connections with your peers.

These are all factors that combine with having to take more time out of your schedule to go to work. Don’t mistake where I’m coming from… having a part time job while you’re in school is doable, speaking from experience. It’s also usually necessary. But the problem with the part time job is that it takes away an additional 18-25 hours from the time you could be spending focused on your university experience, just so that you can afford to be here.

The familiar chide of “why didn’t you save up more in the summer?” is probably the most obnoxious, inconsiderate response to students who express they’re low on funds or are going to have to seek part-time employment over the course of the academic year. It’s most commonly given by adults, who unfairly assume that a student can go home, get a great job that allows them to live a balanced life and move their career forward, and then go back to school with lots of money and focus on their studies.

Maybe if it weren’t for an incredibly broken system and backwards way of thinking, this idealistic vision of student life could be true.

How many summer jobs allow you to gain experience in your field and give you an adequate pay cheque? The answer is next to none. Summer jobs are really the only opportunity to see significant growth in your bank account, but they’re also the only time you can put the entirety of your attention towards gaining some relevant experience.

This brings us to the fork in the road that I hear countless students and recent graduates pose to themselves far too often: do I take the job in my field that means I can’t afford where I live, the food I need to eat, the clothing I need to wear in the workplace, the means of transportation to get there? Or do I take a better paying job that’s useless in terms of resume fodder and contribution to my career aspirations?

 The answer is usually to take the job that pays better, out of sheer necessity. Or, if you find yourself in a position where you absolutely need to take the job with experience, it means taking on multiple jobs to make ends meet while you build your credentials.

Taylor, a recent Guelph graduate who is preparing to take her education a step further, is one of many to face the paradox: “I work Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 at my job that’s going to get me a reference letter from my boss for law school. Evenings and weekends I work at a restaurant because although my other job looks good on paper, I don’t make enough to justify staying there. I’m at the point where it’s just not worth it—I need to be there long enough to get that letter.”

The reality of student life is this: the institution expects you to excel academically, build your resumes and CVs with experience, become an active member of your community, and contribute to what’s going on around you. When you graduate, you’re expected to land a job in the field you studied (regardless of what that may be), with a good pay rate, room for growth, and a clear path to success.

This means an important part of the back to school routine means finding out ways that you can save money: after all, there are costs associated with a university education outside of the cost of tuition—laptops, textbooks, tutors, living arrangements, transportation, maintaining an adequate diet, and still having some sort of social life so that you don’t go insane are all important factors in the university experience.

So make yourself familiar with what campus has to offer you in the cash saving department. Do your homework: use resources available to you. Look into organizations like the Guelph Campus Co-op, whether for housing or textbooks. Check out Student Financial Services to find out about Payment Arrangements for your tuition payments. Find out where your meal card works, and what you can use your Basic and Flex points are for.

It can be overwhelming, but know that there are always options and that even though it’s daunting, it’s all part of learning to survive. For a full list of resources that can help you with money, dealing with stress, opportunities for experience and tons of other resources that are going to help you this year, check out the Central Student Association website, www.csaonline.ca.


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