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Name: Susan Kim

Age: 26

Annual income: $4,000 as a teaching assistant; $3,600 as part-time retail associate

Savings: None

Debt: $66,000 in student loans

What she does: graduate student; teaching assistant; retail associate

Where she lives: Victoria

Susan Kim has a big conundrum: How do you reconcile tens of thousands of dollars in student debt with a dream of becoming a legal aid lawyer? The University of Victoria student, who has two undergraduate degrees, also struggles with how to live on a meagre income as a research assistant. “The benefits are next to nothing,” says Kim. “I’ve been thankful to receive student loans and bursaries.”

To earn extra money as she conducts research work in the summer, Kim works a part-time retail job and lives the frugal life of a student. She dumpster dives, picking up certain grocery items like yogurt and produce from behind a grocery store in Victoria. She also picks fruit Victoria residents don’t need. “There’s a great not-for-profit I worked for last year – we go around picking fruit from other people’s backyards that they wouldn’t otherwise pick. My roommate is very good at preserving – so we have a stash of jams and jellies.”

Kim feels like she’s on the short end of the societal stick. “As somebody who studies systems of power and student security as a metaphor for financial security, it’s really frustrating to be one of the people that I read about online. You’re just told to go to school and you’re going to get a job. I’m playing by the rules told to me. But housing prices are ridiculous. And wages are not proportionate to inflation.”

With a year of her Master’s left, Kim wonders how she’ll pay for future costs, such as supporting her elderly father. “All his kids live around the world,” she says. “If I were to buy a home in the future, it would be solely to have my aging father live with me.”

In the meantime, she’s running triathlons and prepping for a legal degree – a big financial outlay. “This summer I’m planning to take the LSAT. My mother is going to start helping me out.”

“My dream is to go to law school and help out the people who need it the most.”

Top financial concern: “I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of property ownership. If I were to buy a home in the future, it would be solely to have my aging father live with me.”

Her typical monthly expenses:

$600 on rent. “I rent with two other grad students off campus.”

$66 on utilities.

$120-$300 on groceries. “I’m a dumpster diver. That helps cut the grocery cost significantly. The weeks I don’t do it will be $30-$75 for groceries. There is a grocery store in Victoria which resells produce on its last legs – if they can’t sell it, they just heave it out back. I also buy almond milk, yogurt, bread, eggs, frozen meats in bulk.”

$50 on eating out. “Typically I go to a nearby pub or restaurant. Usually when I go out it’s not [for] food.”

$50 on coffee. “There a great place on campus that when you bring in your mug, it’s $1.25 for a coffee. But after a really long week of work, I’ll go to the place I hate most in the world – I’ll go to Starbucks. I’ll get a latte or caramel [drink].”

$34 for Internet.

$9 for Netflix.

$55 for cell phone. “I never go contract. I buy used, unlocked phones on Craigslist.”

$33 on a gym membership. “It has a really good aquatics facility.”

$8.33 on bike maintenance. “It’s an entry-level racing bike valued at $1,200 – but I managed to get it for $300. I use it to get around when I bike downtown.”

$300 per year for races. “There’s a triathlon in August in the Saanich Pensinsula. It’s $150 per month in extra food around the triathlon – coconut water, Gatorade, bananas.”

$100 on alcohol. “My friends weekly go to a pub for a study group.”

$75 for car (gas is included). “There’s a carshare program through the university.”

$3 a month on car insurance. “I pay $40 a year into an insurance pool.”

$590 in tuition.

$30 on books. “I go to the library a lot. You need the books.”

$75-$100 on clothing. “Mountain Equipment Co-op: I know what I like and they have it. Sometimes Joe Fresh. And I buy sunglasses that I can wear casually and while training.”

$0 on holidays/trips. “I stay close to home. I’m fortunate enough to live in Victoria where I can take my book to the beach 2 km away.

$20 on health-care costs: “I’m pretty active so I’ll go for physio and massage therapy. My benefits plan pays for some of that.”

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