The Debt-Free Graduate: How to Survive College or University Without Going Broke

by Murray Baker

Published by HarperCollins

308 pages, 1998





A Debt of Grad-i-Tude

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards


It might be a comment on Canada's need for this book that the title feels so much like an oxymoron. The Debt-Free Graduate. "As if!" you might say. Or, "Like that's gonna happen." But the subtitle, "How to survive college or university without going broke," brings it home. This is a book about getting through a university education without feeling like you've made a deal with the devil that you'll spend the rest of your life paying off. And while this alone would make the book worth the price of admission, there's a lot more here. And all of it is well thought out.

There is nothing dry or boring about The Debt-Free Graduate. And -- pleasingly -- very little that seems to have been politically correctly distilled for students. At its essence, it's a handbook for young Canucks heading out of the nest for the first time. Author Murray Baker, an expert on student finance and debt and loan policies, has seemingly covered all of the bases from the nuts and bolts of financing -- everything from scholarships to the Bank of Mom to investment possibilities, "Daily interest accounts are just one step up from keeping your money under the mattress (except you may get some free support from your mattress)." But while the parts of the book that deal with actually financing an education are well-written and important for anybody considering study, whether at technical institutes, universities or online colleges, they are a fairly teeny portion of the book.

Chapters on summer jobs, banking, housing and other basics are backed up by chapters that dole out sensible advice on everything from furnishing the student bunker to dressing well on the cheap. In this way The Debt-Free Graduate would be a valuable addition to any young person's library: not just those heading for academia. Tips on food purchases, cost-saving use of appliances (don't use the large burner to heat a small pot), transportation and even laundry:

Laundry can put your spending money through the financial wringer. But rather than grabbing your clothes and beating them clean at the lake (a risky venture if you live in Windsor or Toronto), you can take a few less drastic measures to keep your money from washing away with the Tide.

And so on. Baker's approach to getting through your education without debt is a holistic one, and that sometimes leaves The Debt-Free Graduate sounding a little bit like one of those cheerful diet books that enthuse how you can loose all of the fat without sacrificing the taste and flavor; if only you give it some thought and invest in the diet and exercise. But it is also this holistic approach that makes The Debt-Free Graduate such a potentially useful book. All aspects of student life are looked at carefully, and evaluated. Spending too much on partying? Here's how to do it cheaper. Rents got you down? Here are some possible alternatives. Cost of food prohibitive? Think about these options.

The Debt-Free Graduate is a completely usable book. The tone is light and irreverent, as befits the market it's written for. But it's filled with commonsense advice, aimed at an age group not generally noted for their abundance of commonsense. | June 1999


Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.