Rooting out the money – how to (and how not to) afford tuition

My first job paid me $6.40 an hour— the bare minimum wage legal to pay a teenager at the time.

I worked next to the food court at the mall and the food smells were torture.


“Listen, I just want the potato side dish, with LOTS of hot sauce. I mean lots. No, more. Pile that bad boy on. That’s only $2.50 right?”


I sunk pretty low pretty often. For minimum wage you have to work a lot of hours if you’re going to pay for tuition, books and the subway.


“I’m not the one who’s telling you to go to university. If you want to go to school, you’re paying for all of it.” So said my mother.


I commuted from Markham to Union Station for four years and a lot of the time I couldn’t afford the subway from there to St. George.


I’m not afraid to say it: I hustled.


I asked strangers for tokens when my bank account was less than $15 and I couldn’t take money out of the ATM. I rooted old British money out of my drawers and changed it to Canadian. I collected dimes and nickels and had a habit of poking around gum machines. I walked a lot and once was followed to school by a tourist who wished to sit next to me in my class. I tried to lose him over several streets, but he was a wily one and stuck with me. It wasn’t a good day. And yes, in moments of hunger when I just couldn’t pack enough food to last me from 9am to 9pm, I snacked on sugar packets at Union Station and survived on free samples at Laura Secord, Cinnibon and California Thai. Sometimes I shortchanged the TTC (don’t worry you moralists out there. They caught me. And fined me. It was tragic. I’VE LEARNED MY LESSON, OK?)


So, I’m sitting at the computer, on my banking page, and I’m about to pay off the last of my student loans. I’ve been doing it bit by bit every year (I’m poor, my parents are not. Hence I don’t qualify for OSAP in all its glory. I have a student loan from the Bank of Montreal and I have to pay a certain amount every month I have to carry it.)


Anyways, $700.64 and I’m done.


I can’t believe all the things I’ve done to earn money here for school.


I’ve sold Swarovski tiaras to snobby 16 year olds for their birthdays. I’ve braved stock rooms, climbed unstable ladders and operated an Atari computer older than I am. I am a mistress of Windex and paper towels. I’ve worn aprons, thrown over-stuffed garbage bags in monster dumpsters littered with raccoons and abused my wrists with ice-cream scoops. I’ve made coffee, photocopies and spreadsheets. I’ve written news briefs and articles using only press releases and the Internet as my sources (and I should be lying about this.)  To this day, I sit in a call centre under a U of T building phoning alumni asking them “if  (they)’d be interested at all in joining with other alumni and making a gift towards U of T this evening?” 


I’ve done this while going to school, always bitter I that I don’t go to Victoria College, with their 800 different scholarships and bursaries and automatic in course scholarship for any A average.  I hate that money for students at U of T isn’t obvious.


It’s kind of strange looking at my bank balance now. Soon it’s not going to be about paying tuition…soon it’s going to be about building my C.V. and being able to use buzz words like “applicable to my field of interest.” 


I click that I’m ‘sure’ about making my payment.


My bank account is empty again.


I feel a little strange, wondering exactly what my financial goals are now and also wondering if U of T knows about everything I’ve given it.



4 comments on “Rooting out the money – how to (and how not to) afford tuition

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  1. Wow, Heather, this is Draconian self-discipline. I took out loans too, but paid back only minimal amounts as I went along, so now my loans await me with open arms upon graduation. I am so impressed that you’re graduating debt-free.

  2. actually, with the loan I had, I had to pay a minimum of over a hundred dollars a month during the school year, at least, until I’d paid off a certain percent of the money. At first the min. was like 200 . I was all “I barely HAVE 200! augh!”

  3. Heather, after having read most, if not all, of your posts here, I just want to say this one thing that I’ve always wanted to say:

    You are living the life I could’ve so easily had. If I had chosen one thing over another and taken a few different turns, I could be you right now!! And I think…I would’ve been very happy with myself if that had actually happened. I’m not complaining about what I do have–in fact, I am more often than not grateful for everything I have and I do realize that in so many ways I’m luckier than most–but nonetheless, although it was really never an option for me, I still often wonder about the life I could’ve had. 🙂

  4. Students demonstrating today are right to be outraged. All of us should be – because of the student fees, instead of the brightest kids only the richest kids will get the education. That’s to all our detriment.