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Graduating Debt Free?

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Your four years are up. You've attained your Bachelor Degree and it's time to dive head first into the realm of "grown-up life." As you begin planning, you realize you are thousands of dollars in debt. With no clue about how to pay your dues, fear and stress consume you.

Since 1996, tuition fees across Canada have more than doubled. Statistics show that one third of post-secondary students who leave before graduating do so because of financial difficulty.

The question remains, what can you do to minimize the amount of debt accumulated during your university or college career? This is the query that Canada's leading expert on student finance, Murray Baker, attempts to answer with the release of his newly revised book, The Debt-Free Graduate.

The University of Western Ontario graduate derived the inspiration for his book from life experience, an interest in investing and consumer services and his previous work on campus.

"I remember graduating and seeing some of my friends who graduated with major debt and it really hampered their lives," he says. "Then I worked at Western coordinating first year programs and I really started to see just how much pressure some of these students had to come up with cash."

Baker rationalized that student summer job wages weren't keeping up with the rate of increase in tuition and something needed to be done for these students.

"I thought, 'there needs to be something comprehensive, a guide that touches on this' because all there seemed to be out there were books chasing baby boomers' money and nothing for students," he recalls.

Baker observed the ever-changing trends of the government's stance on education and used this as the focus for his book.

"It's hard to predict what the government is going to do, so my message was really to do as much as you can on a personal level to take control of your finances so your less vulnerable to the whims of government," he explains.

He began writing the book as a weekend project, which turned into a full time vocation and one of the most successful books on student financial planning.

Revised yearly to keep inform- ation accurate, The Debt-Free Graduate, is organized into distinguishable and easy to read sections, with an index of topics at the back.

It jumps from assistance to dealing with professional institutions to managing money at the local pub, and includes topics such as part-time careers, in-depth financial plans, cost-cutting tips for fashion and travel, getting the most from tax breaks and banking, finding information about scholarships and bursaries, and much more.

Tips range from how to create a "Where Will I Be Crashing Budget?" to drinking in an economically productive fashion, with the inclusion of a recipe for a certain home made liqueur.

"I think it's the same whether you went to school 30 years ago as it is now," says Baker.

"People love to socialize and party and that's why I added some things on alcohol, so that if people want to drink they can do it more cost efficiently," he adds.

The book also provides advice on certain money mismanagement errors that Baker sees as current trends among students.

One of these is going to a post-secondary institution with a large lump sum of money in a savings account, and no financial plan as to how and when the money will be spent.

"People plunk their money into a bank account and hope and pray that the day they graduate and the day their bank account drops to zero happen to be the same one," says Baker.

Another common error observed by Baker is students getting into trouble with credit cards. He recalls how hard it was for students to get credit cards 15 years ago, whereas today credit card companies are handing out gifts on campuses in hopes that students will sign up.

"What you tend to see is people charging their final month expenses on credit cards or taking out cash advances, which can add up to a large debt," he informs.

His solution to both problems--look at your finances, how much you have, how much you will be acquiring any time soon, and what expenses you have coming up, so that finances can be effectively met with expenses.

That and forgo the credit card until you are comfortable with budgeting your money.

These, and other problems along with their solutions are presented in Baker's book, which is aimed at students as well as parents, and is seen as essential for first-time budgeters.

It has become part of the incoming student program for more than 50 colleges and universities across Canada, and is handed out to entire first year populations at a variety of institutions.

Baker states that lessons from his book can be customized to a variety of lifestyles and hopes that it will provide individuals with the resources and information needed to graduate relatively debt-free.

"Students graduate and have all these good ideas for small businesses but cannot develop them because they can't get loans or do not have the money," says Baker.

"They need to be able to maximize their potential."

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