By Sheryl Smolkin
“More Money for Beer and Textbooks” by Kyle Prevost and Justin Bouchard is 200 easy-to-read and digest pages of down-to-earth advice about how to finance a post-secondary education without going into massive debt. And the authors do not advocate living an austere party-free existence.
Both are in their mid-twenties and graduated from the University of Manitoba. Kyle is a high school teacher and Justin is the Dean of Residence at St. John’s College on the University of Manitoba Campus. They also blog at myuniversitymoney.com and youngandthrifty.ca.
They recognize how difficult it is to get a high school or university student to sit down and read a book that won’t be on a final exam — particularly a personal finance book!
That’s why instead of counselling extreme frugality, they look at post-secondary education from the perspective of two guys who wish they knew then, what they know now. They figure they would each be at least $5,000 richer if they had taken their own advice.
They start off by comparing the cost of four years of school living away from home (about $80,000) to living at home (about $34,000). They also run the numbers for a two year college degree ($30,000 vs. $11,000). Nevertheless, they conclude that higher education is and will continue to be an excellent investment in an information-based economy.
When evaluating whether going away to school is a worthwhile investment, they weigh the pros and cons of on and off campus living for students.
One interesting living option proposed is for parents with more than one child attending the same school to consider buying a house with additional bedrooms for renters to help defray the mortgage costs. Prohibitive housing costs in cities like Vancouver or Toronto may make this idea impractical, but it could be a workable solution in smaller college towns.
For kids or their parents who think Canada and provincial student loans are the answer, the comprehensive section on applying and qualifying for student loans and paying them back is an eye opener.
The application process is so complex, the book gives a checklist of 16 types of information to have available before even beginning to complete the online form. And depending on parental income, it is assumed that the Bank of Mom & Dad will make a major contribution to school costs.
Repayment of student loans doesn’t start until six months after the end of university, but interest starts accruing at the end of the final semester. Former students can opt for a variable interest rate of prime plus 2.5% or a fixed interest rate of prime plus 5%. A bankruptcy will not wipe the slate clean but a Repayment Assistance Plan is available in limited circumstances.
The chapter on scholarships and bursaries reveals the surprising fact that every year in Canada about $7-million in free money earmarked for post-secondary education goes unclaimed. There are lots of great suggestions about where to find scholarships and12 scholarship tips anyone can use.
For example, the authors say don’t just Google “scholarships” and apply for the top three like everyone else. The people who really succeed in the realm of scholarships are those who apply EVERYWHERE.
Too much trouble?
Most scholarship applications are similar and once a student has applied to several, he/she can cut and paste the rest with a little creative tweaking. And if the application process is really complicated, the odds are the applicant won’t have much competition.
There are also lots of good illustrations of how scholarship applicants can market themselves. For example, a former McDonald’s employee can emphasize the positive by describing the experience as “building practical business and communications skills in an entry-level position while learning how to contribute positively to building a team atmosphere.”
Providing references with a summary of activities and attributes they may not be fully aware of is another great suggestion that could result in detailed and glowing letters of support for scholarship applications.
Trying to keep costs down while still having a good time?
Kyle and Justin suggest students drink at home instead of in a bar to improve their “booze-to-dollar” ratio. They can also score free soft drinks and save money each time they offer to be the designated driver. For those with the space and inclination, they even suggest making homemade beer or wine can as another way to minimize cash spent on alcohol!
Other chapters deal with summer jobs, student tax returns, credit cards, budgeting basics and the importance of choosing an “in demand” career.
As both educators and recent graduates, the authors are able to strike the right balance between a breezy presentation and delivering lots of useful information. This book can be the catalyst for important discussions between parents and their college-bound offspring.
More Money for Beer and Textbooks can be purchased for $14.40 online at Chapters.