Break out the champagne and caviar baby! For the first time since starting university, I’m debt-free! It feels good. Like finding a $20 in your winter coat pocket good, except that you didn’t put that $20 in there yourself two weeks ago, and the $20 is a $50 good. 

How did this happen? Did an elderly but extremely wealthy relative die suddenly, leaving me all his squillions of dollars? Did I get a modeling contract for Tiffany’s and they let me keep the diamonds? Did Chuck Bass of Gossip Girl propose to me suddenly? No, no, and I wish.

To be honest, I’m not even sure how it happened myself. One minute I’m tens of thousands of dollars in debt, and the next, my bank account has more than $10.71 in it. I didn’t live frugally – I still went out with friends, I still bought clothes, and I only eat Kraft Dinner once a week. Sometimes twice. But it’s because it tastes delicious, not because it’s cheap.

Since my money freedom will likely be short lived  (houses don’t buy themselves), I’ll share with you a few tips that helped me reduce my debt to zero, without resorting to tap-dancing for change in Yonge-Dundas Square. 

1. Start early. If you have OSAP loans like me, once you graduate you have a six-month grace period where they don’t start charging you interest. The more you pay off during this period, the less interest you’ll have accrued, meaning you’re not just giving your money to the government.

2. Ask for help. I was lucky enough to be dating someone who had no debt or student loans. He helped me by paying back large chunks of my student loan to the point where it was non-existent. I still owed him $6,000, but he didn’t charge me interest. Since we’re invested in each others finances, this worked out best for both of us. Just make sure you talk about it and are both comfortable – you don’t want to end up in a messy situation where one person owes the other thousands of dollars and you split up.

3. Deals, baby, deals! Scoring deals is addicting, fun, and helpful to your bank account. You can still buy that Banana Republic dress you want, but at 40 per cent off if you sign up for their mailing list.

4. On that note, don’t just stop at email coupons. When you’re planning your night out, use sites like – it’ll tell you all the cheap drink specials in town.

5. Bank smarter. I never used to take notice of my bank account. It was empty – why bother? But then I started noticing that I because I was no longer a student, I was getting charged $8.50/month just to have one. Seriously? That was more than was even in the account! Then I discovered ING Direct. By using someone’s referral key, they gave both of us $25 just for me to switch. And they don’t charge me anything. And they actually give me interest. No – I don’t work for ING, and I’m not getting paid to write this, I just really love them and want to have little ING babies.

6. Work for it. Whether you have a full-time job, a part-time job, are a student, or are unemployed, there are a lot of other ways to help bump up your income. For me, I babysit, and earn a sweet $100 a month or so extra.

7. Just pay it back. When you have money in your account, it’s just going to burn a hole in your pocket. Take your income, minus your necessary expenses, and then put as much into paying back your loans as possible. It’ll become a habit soon enough.

8. Make it competitive. My boyfriend and I read a sweet article on about earning extra income. We made a goal to make $7,000 each – extra from our regular income. We’re in a race to the finish as the year wraps up, and not only has it been good for our wallets, it’s been fun. (So please help me win, and get an ING account from me, okay?)

9. Get rid of that junk in your trunk. Grab a friend, a sunny day, and all your old shiz, and have a yard sale. It’s only one morning, and you can make upwards of 200 bucks on your old junk.

10.You don’t have to go bonkers. I always bought the name brands of food (call me a snob), I still went out with friends (call me social), and I still paid off my debt in a year and a half. Don’t go crazy, just be smart, and it’ll happen.

Do you have more money-saving tips? I’d totally love to hear them! Tweet @shann_mitchell and fill me in.

~Shannon Mitchell