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paycheque project

Pile of books and money, student debt.MarkgrafAve/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Name: Mackenzie*
Age: 22
Annual income: $24,000
Savings: $0
Debt: $20,000
What she does: Hotel employee
Where she lives: Oshawa, Ont.

Top financial concern: "All the time there are a lot of people who are going out and doing fun things...My game plan is to pay off debt. I'm basically putting all of my money towards paying it off."

Mackenzie wanted to be a police officer. Growing up in Oshawa, she'd had a tumultuous childhood and decided that she wanted to give back to her community. Without postsecondary savings, Mackenzie worked her way through community college as a resident adviser during the academic year and had three jobs during the summer. "I was making $11.25 an hour [at school]," she says, making $300 a week. To save, she lived with six students off campus.

But by the time she graduated two years ago from Fleming College in Peterborough with a degree in police foundations, she had grown disillusioned with a future in policing. "Usually, [students go] into corrections, security or policing," Mackenzie says. But after discussions with police officers who'd spent their careers in areas like Toronto's tough Jane and Finch neighbourhood, she changed her mind. "They kind of pushed me away," she says.

Worse, she now owes $20,000 – comprised of a bank loan and a loan from Ontario's Student Assistance Program. She is currently paying $200 a month towards her loan from the Royal Bank of Canada, knowing that her OSAP repayments are more flexible. Recent changes to student financial aid programs mean loans can be deferred for six months after graduation, repayment terms can be extended and special repayment plans can be set up for people struggling to repay what they owe.

Still, Mackenzie worries about how she'll pay back $20,000, knowing it could take a long time. "My game plan is to pay off debt. I'm basically putting all of my money towards paying it off."

With no savings and a small income at a job that doesn't offer benefits, Mackenzie says finances are challenging. She doesn't go out to eat, relies on her boyfriend's car to get around, and only spends money occasionally on business attire. "I try to be as frugal as possible," she says. "I haven't been to the dentist in a while."

"All the time there are a lot of people who are going out and doing fun things," she says of her twenty-something peers. "But you have to figure out how to pay it back."

Mackenzie recently secured a position with a hotel that pays her $14.30 an hour for full-time hours. She says that once she pays off her debt, she wants to some day buy a home, "maybe in 10 years. Peterborough is nice."

But before that, she wants to attend Toronto's Seneca College to complete a crisis counselling program. Having recently lost a friend to suicide, "I want to be able to help people in crisis," she says.

Her typical monthly expenses:

$330 on rent (includes utilities). "I live with my boyfriend [in Oshawa]. Our monthly rent is $680. We're lucky. But my girlfriends are buying houses right now."

$200 on loan repayment. "I am paying off the RBC loan."

$70 on Internet.

$0 on cable. "We have no cable. We use our parents' Netflix accounts."

$300 on groceries. "I use Flipp for coupons to use at Superstore or Wal-Mart. I'm a vegetarian so it's mostly veggies and fruit – lots of tofu and nuts. We make vegetarian lasagnas, lots of pastas, veggie stir fries. I kind of snack instead of making big meals."

$0 on alcohol. "I'm not a drinker. That saves money for sure."

$0 for a car. "I don't have a car. My boyfriend drives me."

$100 on Uber or taxis. "I have been trying to walk while the weather is good. In the winter you can't because there are no sidewalks."

$20 on coffee. "We have coffee at home because Tim Horton's really adds up. [Hotel] guests also buy me coffee."

$60 for cellphone. "It's with Telus."

$0 on a gym membership. "I [try to] walk one hour each way to work. I don't need a gym membership."

$50 on clothing. "I just bought four blouses from H&M for $50 with a coupon a guy gave me. That was the first clothes purchase in a while. I only buy clothes for work."

$40 on cat food. "He's a tabby – I got him for free. He's an indoor cat. My mother's friends with a vet."

$0 on health-care costs. "I'm in good health – and have no drug costs. Eventually, I can get benefits at work."

* Mackenzie's last name has been withheld to protect her privacy. Are you a millennial who would like to participate in a paycheque profile? Send us an e-mail.