Imagine: graduating with no debt. Over half of all Canadian university graduates finish school with debt — most of them owing $28,000 or more. So how is it that some of us still come out on the other end debt-free? The answer doesn't have to be rich parents or trust funds. It's possible to graduate in Canada with zero debt; it just takes some creative thinking and a bit of extra work.

Not sure where to start? Don't worry, most students don't. We get it, the last thing you want to do after back-to-back classes and an all-night study sesh is crunch numbers and try to figure out how you're going to pay off that crushing student debt — so we've broken down the steps for you. From budget creation to living arrangements to apps that help you pay your bills, this eight-step strategy should help you on your way to graduating debt-free.

1. Create a budget

The first step to graduating without debt is creating a realistic budget. Download a finance app or create an Excel spreadsheet to document your income and expenses, including loan payments. Keep track of your major daily expenses (food, transportation, going out, etc.) and if you need to cut back, figure out where. Chances are, you can live without that daily $5 mocha frappuccino. Create a plan that works for you, and one that you know you can stick to. Be firm, but practical.

2. Stop making small purchases

Remember that $5 mocha frappuccino we talked about? Yeah, you really don't need it! Small purchases like specialty coffees, lottery tickets, that super cute shirt that's on sale that you really want but don't need... they can all go. Small purchases can really add up, especially when you're tapping your debit card and not keeping track of what you've spent. Instead, give yourself a cash budget for small expenses so you don't go overboard. Paying with cash forces you to be more conscious of how much you spend, as opposed to using credit or debit cards.

3. Apply for aid

Who doesn't love free money? You can apply for unused grants or scholarships at your university or, if you're unsure of where to start, head to the Government of Canada website to learn about the range of student grants and loans, scholarships, and apprentice loans and grants available to Canadians.

4. Get a part-time job or freelance in your spare time

Perhaps the most obvious step in lessening your student debt is getting a job, but you'll have to do much more than just work 12 hours a week in the summer to graduate debt-free. Apply to work night and weekend shifts as a part-time bartender, waiter, or retail assistant and put half of your paycheque towards paying off student loans. If having a part-time job and studying sounds like too much, try your hand at freelancing instead. If you have a knack for writing, translating, or coding, you'll be able to find one-off and recurring projects on freelancing platforms like Upwork.

5. Get a cashback credit card (and use it wisely)

Okay, this one can be a tricky one for shopaholics. If you tend to get trigger-happy with credit cards, this step may not be for you, in which case, please move on to step six below. If you're responsible when it comes to managing your money, keep reading. Cashback credit cards let you earn money on your purchases, like groceries and gas, and can be used to help pay off credit card charges. As long as you have a reliable income stream and make your payments on time, a cashback credit card can actually earn you money. The BMO CashBack Mastercard, for example, is a straight-forward, no annual fee credit card that offers 1% cashback on all purchases.

6. Get Paytm to help pay your bills

Mobile apps are key when it comes to keeping track of your expenses. Paytm Canada allows you to pay your bills directly from your smartphone AND earn points while you’re at it. With every transaction that you make in the app, you'll earn Paytm Points ($1= 1 Paytm Point) which you can redeem for groceries, a free cup of coffee, a ride home, cash to help pay off your bills, and so much more. All you have to do is pay your bills with a credit card, debit card, bank account, or Paytm Cash. You'll automatically earn points with every payment through the app.

7. Make the most affordable choice

If your goal is too expensive to attain, consider changing it. This could be a decision as small as buying used books instead of new ones, or as big as choosing the most affordable school with the best program over the most prestigious university. Save money wherever you can. Take advantage of cheap rent living far from campus and take your lunch to school.

8. Live at home

If all else fails and you find yourself seriously drowning in student loan debt with no way out, bite the bullet and move back home. Yes, it will suck and, yes, you'll probably want to rip your hair out, but it'll be worth it when you graduate debt-free. And, hey, at least you get the added perks of having someone cook your meals and do your laundry for you.

But for now, let's focus on the other steps, shall we? There are so many other ways to manage your finances and graduate debt-free than the last resort of moving back in with Mom and Dad. To get started, create a realistic budget and start saving money by downloading the Paytm app.

With Paytm, you don't have to cut back on getting the things you love — you can earn rewards for free just by managing and paying your bills in the app. 

If you download the app today, you’ll collect 1,000 welcome points just for signing up. Plus, if you refer a friend, you’ll both get 5,000 points (which is basically a free $5 e-gift card) when they pay their first bill. And when you pay your bills, you'll earn points for doing something you'd do anyway!

Paytm has partnered with brands like Amazon.ca, Tim Hortons, Uber, Esso, Sephora, Lululemon, Hotels.com and more so you don't have to spend your hard-earned cash on the things you want. Instead, save the money you would have used to buy that coffee, eyeshadow palette, or ride home and put it towards paying off that looming student loan!

The Paytm Canada mobile app is available to download for free from the Google Play Store and Apple Store. For more information about the Paytm app, visit www.paytm.ca and check out their Instagram!

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