May 25, 2024

The long-awaited return to campus is finally a reality for me and many Conestoga students. Almost all classes have returned to in-person after nearly two years of online work, and it’s been an interesting experience to say the least.

I was shocked to find out last semester that my Journalism classes would take place at the downtown Kitchener Campus. Up until then I expected to be heading to the Doon campus for my studies, no more than a 10-minute drive from my house.

Nevertheless, downtown Kitchener is where I had to attend, and I needed to accept that. I was pleasantly surprised on my first day of class to see all the resources in the downtown area for the journalism students. However, I began to worry about how this would affect me financially.

Gas station in Cambridge nearing closer to $2 per litre. Photo by Abbie Galloway.

As post-secondary students, my peers and I are aware of the steep costs that are required to attend college. Coupled with the lack of free time, it’s hard to keep up with a job that is anything more than about 15 to 20 hours a week. In my experience, this only left room for a part-time job in retail or food services. I chose the latter and got myself a job at Starbucks.

I fell into a nice routine halfway through the fall semester; my work was accommodating in that they would schedule my shifts in accordance with my class schedule, and I had a solid balance between the two. As the tuition deadline for the winter semester loomed closer, I began to worry that my availability at work wasn’t going to cut it.

I began picking up more shifts here and there and was eventually able to pay my tuition just slightly past the deadline. My point is that financial stress was not a new concept to me, nor do I think most students. But as the return to campus fell in line with rising gas prices, I realized that I might run into even more financial problems for several factors.

Gas prices have been slowly creeping up since the start of the pandemic. In 2020, the average price of gas per litre was $1.04. As the pandemic lumbered its way across the province, that number slowly began to increase. Andrew Legare, fourth-year economics student at the University of Guelph, says the pandemic has created an unpredictable situation for gas prices.

“The pandemic just made things more volatile,” said Legare. “Restrictions have led to an oversupply in certain instances; maybe some deals fall through due to restricted travel, and vice versa.”

Just three months into 2022, gas prices have skyrocketed. Reaching a historical high of almost $2 per litre. Today, the average price of gas in Ontario is a whopping $175.9 per litre, jumping eight cents from Sunday. This rapidly increasing price is also thanks to Canada’s sanctions against Russia due to the tragic invasion taking place in Ukraine.

“The supply of gas got cut pretty heavily,” said Legare. “Lower supplies lead to higher prices.”

During the week of my return to campus, the average gas price in Ontario was 182.0 per litre.  I watched as what little money I had to spare filled up my gas tank, and off I was on my 30-minute commute. I felt a little sick when I thought about how I’d be making this commute twice more this week, and how many more times until the end of the semester. I felt even worse thinking about how fast my paycheque had slipped away already.

In timely fashion, I also received great news just a few days later. An academic field placement that I was hoping to secure had finally offered me a position and I was able to start as early as the following week. This was exactly the kind of news I needed. Until I received my schedule. Three days a week, two of which I had work shifts to attend.

I acted quickly to clear my schedule in time for the internship. I changed my availability so that I was only free on the weekends and gave away four shifts that I was no longer able to work. My relief was short-lived when it dawned that this also meant a much smaller pay for at least a month.

It felt like an impossible feat that I was now supposed to drive for an hour at least three times a week, drive myself to work, complete all my schoolwork, do my very best work at the internship, all while gas prices were reaching a historic level. I wondered if I had bit off more than I could chew. Legare said he shared the same anxieties as me.

“Being a student, higher gas prices obviously suck,” said Legare. “Like, we already have a pretty tight budget and it’s just another source of pressure.”

As I pondered my situation some more, I decided that each and every pressure in my life at this time was necessary for my future and well-being. And there was nothing I could do about rising gas prices nor the economy that fostered them. But there was something I could about the amount of money in my bank account.

Maybe I didn’t have the time to put in more hours at work, but that didn’t have to be my only source of income. Below are some ways I got creative and was able to put a little extra cash in my wallet.

These are a few tips that I exercise regularly that help me keep my spending to a minimum. Post-secondary can be a trying time for students and their mental health, but also on their pockets.

As I’m approaching the end of my final semester, these feelings can be even more powerful. But being mindful about my stressors and letting go of what I cannot control is key to my success.

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