Skip to main content
debt diary

A large crowd enjoys a warm afternoon on the patio at a pub during the Tall Ships 2012 Festival in Halifax.Shaun Lowe

Gaston Saulnier would like to have a tan right now, but instead of taking a trip down south this winter, like a few people he knows, he chose a staycation.

"I could go, but I'd be sacrificing a month or two of loan payments," says the 32-year-old Halifax resident.

He's also cutting back on eating out at restaurants and still has a roommate – all part of an aggressive savings plan to help pay down about $45,000 in debt he's accumulated over nearly a decade.

His liabilities consist of student loans and consumer debt, including a two-week trip to Europe in his late 20s and a used car that ended up costing thousands of dollars in repairs. He's also moved a few times in recent years, from Halifax to Montreal, then to Moncton, then back to Halifax – it all adds up.

"I wouldn't say I've overspent all of the time, but the credit line was a little too accessible. If I go to the restaurant a bit too many times, I'd say to myself, 'I'll pay it off later,' or 'I have a salary now, I can buy a few more pairs of jeans.' It creeps up on you," Mr. Saulnier says.

Today, he works at a non-profit organization and is working toward a master's degree part time, which he sees as a good long-term investment for his career. Still, it prevents him from paying down his debt more quickly.

Mr. Saulnier has a plan, laid out in a spreadsheet, to pay off his debt in about six years, once he's finished his degree. His next financial goal is to buy a home.

"I technically could afford it, and the bank tells me I could, but I don't have the down payment in cash and the closing costs that I would need, such as furniture and paint," he says.

Each time he gets a paycheque, at least $200 goes straight into an account to pay down his debt, which includes a line of credit and car loan (he has replaced the beater with a new car).

Any extra money that comes in, such as a tax return, also goes immediately toward paying down the debt.

"I'm not drowning in debt," Mr. Saulnier says, "but if I didn't have it, my life would be different. It prevents me from doing things I should be doing at this stage in my career."

He has a group RRSP at work, but no pension. "I'm on my own to save for retirement," he says. "I'm contributing to it, but not as much as I could be."

Mr. Saulnier's financial situation is not unlike many millennials, and the generations before them, who have built up debt from school and are spending beyond their means.

The difference today is that consumers, in particular the younger generation, are becoming more accustomed to buying items on credit or through loans and paying them off later, instead of saving the money first, says Blake Griffith, a certified financial planner with Sun Life Financial, who is also a millennial.

"We've been raised in an environment of easy credit, favourable interest rates and, largely, economic prosperity," he says.

Mr. Griffith believes Mr. Saulnier is making the right moves by investing in advancing his education, paying down debt, and curbing his spending. That includes delaying purchasing a home until he can better afford it.

Millennials, similar to their parents and grandparents, need to develop a long-term financial plan and set a budget to avoid getting too deep into debt, he says.

"When people hear the word 'budget,' they think it means they have to restrain what they spend," says Mr. Griffith. "The big benefit to doing a budget is to see where your money goes … then you can start making informed decisions based on your financial picture."

Have you, or are you in the process of, repaying a sizeable debt load? To share your debt-reduction journey with the Globe, send us an email.