McGill students discuss inflation and its impact on their studies

Wendy Lin, Multimedia Editor

Inflation in Canada is at an all-time high: Recent data released shows that the consumer price index (CPI), which represents changes in prices, is up 6.9 per cent year-over-year in September. This month, Montreal’s city-wide average rent rose by $44 to $1,541 for an unfurnished one-bedroom unit. University students come from a variety of financial backgrounds—some are supported by their parents, others work to cover their living expenses, or rely on financial aid. Burdened with the combined expenses of tuition, course books, housing, social outings, and food, many students are feeling the intense pressures of rising costs.

Have you noticed any changes in your life this past year due to inflation?

Russell, U2 Management: “During the summer, I didn’t have an internship but I still had to support myself as my parents don’t financially support me, so I found a part-time job. I have to go out to a lot of social events with one of my clubs, and I have to spend money. It’s a part of my life that I have to balance, because I want to keep my social life going, but I also don’t want to spend as much so that’s why I took the part-time job [….] I used to work a lot more last year. I took five classes and was part of one club. But this year, since I joined more clubs, I kind of had to cut down my hours.”

Lou, U3 Education: “I’m disabled, so I have lots of fixed weekly spendings that I have to pay up-front and are usually only partially covered by my insurance. I have been on a waiting list to get a psychometric testing assessment for a very long time, and when they gave me a quote a year and a half ago, the total was $1,200.

“When I finally got off the waitlist a few weeks ago, they told me that it is $1,500 now. That’s crazy. I’ve been saving for this. I’ve managed to get them to allow me to pay just the original quote, but the increase is still huge: My insurance covers $700 of that category of tests a year, and that amount hasn’t changed for three years. It seems like the coverage is the exact same price when clearly professionals are increasing their prices.”

Bérénice, U4 Arts: “I find that when hanging out, whatever you do, you’re going to have to spend money. I’m trying to have more potlucks, and when dining out as a group somewhere, we take opportunities for buffets because that saves a lot of money. When you have different friends and you want to go out, you don’t have to spend money all the time, of course, but it’s nice to have a coffee, it’s nice to have lunch, just to share a moment like that. But it’s becoming more and more expensive [....] I asked [a friend] to hang out, and she asked me if we can just bring our own packed lunches, as she spent money during the break, and I’m like, yeah sure, let’s not spend another $20 on a meal.

“I’ve noticed an increase in public transportation prices: The one-way tickets are more expensive. The thing is with inflation, products increase by maybe one or two dollars, or even a few cents, but when they are accumulated, you can’t buy as much anymore, or you require more funding [....] I live in the Plateau, in a very small, but cozy, place with three people. But it’s not expensive, my rent is below $600, and everyone pays less than $600. But I’ve been in that apartment for two years now, and for two years, [our landlord] has increased the price per year to accommodate with inflation.”

Michael, U2 Engineering: “Fortunately, I’m privileged enough to have my parents give me a monthly allowance. However, that amount has not changed for a bit now, so with the same amount of money I’m buying less stuff now. I used to be able to save a bit every month, but it’s a bit harder now because things cost more, so I can’t really keep up with my old spending habits. Inflation has also made WileyPLUS [an online learning program that integrates digital textbooks with other student resources] super expensive. I haven’t bought that yet and that decision has made my grades in one class suffer a little bit. I would never pirate textbooks, I’d never save money on that.”

How has your financial situation shaped how you are planning and thinking about your future?

Manon, U2 Arts: “Though I was not planning in the first place to stay here, [inflation] really made me realize that I don’t want to live in Canada. I think that in Canada, when inflation rises, the [government] doesn't really help nor subsidize essential goods. I feel like in Europe, inflation is more managed, though that’s just my consumer point of view [....] When I compare my grocery expenses to my friends in Europe, it’s completely different.

“Rent-wise, I came to McGill because I was told that ‘oh, Montréal is a very cheap place to live’, which I could argue with: Everyone says that, but they say that only because in Canada, it’s the cheapest place to live. But a lot of people pay almost $1,000 a month, which is huge [....] So now, with food prices rising, all my friends are trying to find the cheapest places to get groceries, which kind of sounds crazy, because it’s a problem we didn’t know we would have to deal with when we moved to Montréal.”

Anjali, U3 Arts: “The thought of the future is really terrifying, especially being an Arts student—not that our employment opportunities are less, just that they are less concrete and solid than those of ‘pragmatic’ majors in faculties like Science. At this point, despite loving my hometown of Toronto, the likelihood that I’ll actually be able to afford housing there is slim [....] Ideally, I would save money by staying at home in Toronto, except prices in Toronto are insane. So maybe I would choose a different program in a smaller city just to save that amount. I wouldn’t be in an environment that I love, but I’d financially be more secure. I think generally for young Canadians, we’re all panicking a little bit about housing being completely unaffordable, and it’s not a good situation to be stepping into as we come out of young adulthood.”

Lucille, U2 Arts: “I am pretty sure that I’ll have to reduce my options when choosing where I’ll go for my master’s degree, as I probably won’t be able to afford to go to a private university (with no financial aid from the institution). As an international student, inflation has not affected my decision to remain in Montreal. I honestly love this city too much to even think about leaving before the end of my degree.”

Bérénice: “The Euro lost its value, so that kind of means that it costs more to come here than it used to in the past. So that’s a little annoying, I’m not going to lie. When you consider your cost of transportation and the living expenses before this conversion rate, it was more accessible because the Euro was stronger, but it’s not the case any more.”

What do you think about the student culture at McGill surrounding money?

Michael: “Everyone likes to act like they’re broke; people like to compare how little money they have. Comparing brokeness is not a great thing to do, it’s annoying and it really undermines the struggle of people who do need to work in order to pay their bills [....] It’s just not a very healthy habit overall for a community like this.”

Manon: “When you talk about money with certain people, they like to talk about it and they’re not ashamed to talk about it. But you can kind of see who doesn’t want to talk about it because they’re struggling, and it kind of creates an [imbalance], which is unfair [....] I feel like there’s a huge gap between people who have a lot of money and people who are on scholarships who are more careful about their money, or people who are here as international students and pay more, so they are more careful about their expenses.”

Anjali: “It’s more subconscious than anything: We don’t recognize where people’s limitations exist, because if you are someone with wealth, you don’t have those limitations. A lot of students at McGill are very privileged and come from socioeconomic backgrounds that are maybe between upper-middle to upper class. There’s not much representation of lower socioeconomic income students, so there’s kind of an assumption that you can afford everything, and that there’s not a consequence to spending money.

“I also think that there is a self-consciousness about not spending, though there shouldn’t be, because we’re all students and supposedly working on smaller budgets, but there totally is. There’s also a lot of posturing about [offering] financial support if you need it, such as through a reimbursement on your membership fees for a club. But at the end of the day, it does feel very [much like] posturing. And it’s not there as a real option.”

What is your call to action for McGill, if you have one, for students impacted by inflation?

Manon: “McGill should definitely help people who are on scholarships, like those who have a hard time paying for groceries and essentials. I know a lot of people have a very tight budget, and at the end of the month, they barely eat anything and only snack, which is really unhealthy and also affects your academic work. I think food is the main thing: Products from McGill are quite expensive, so I think subsidizing them or having cheaper options would be nice. Or, offering meal deals in the cafeteria—I know RVC does the $8 breakfast days, which they could also do for lunch and dinner so that more students could benefit from them.”

Anjali: “It’s hard to say, but I feel like the best resources would be more spaces available to prepare food that is brought from home, or providing lockers for students free of charge, so they can maybe keep snacks on campus and [don’t] have to buy something every time they come to school. Also, if you hold a position of power in student clubs, pay attention to accessibility, especially financial accessibility for your club members.”

Russell: “I would say to release more on-campus jobs and to promote them more. I found my job at the McGill gym by actively looking for it. If I was not actively seeking it, I wouldn’t have found that opportunity. It’s just hard to find.”

Lou: “[McGill could] make health[care] more accessible, and stop telling us to go private and pay upfront, then get reimbursed, because that is just so unrealistic. I’m sure some students can afford it like I can, but it takes a lot of planning and budgeting. One of my roommates once at the pharmacy couldn’t figure out her insurance, and had to pay around $600 out of pocket, and that’s a crazy amount when you are a student. What are you supposed to do if you don’t have a credit card, or when you don’t have parents who can help out? You can’t skip your meds. It would also be great if they could offer more services at the Wellness Hub, because what else are you supposed to do as an international student if you can’t pay the fees up front at the clinic?”

It’s important that we continue to make visible how inflation unevenly affects us as students. Though talking about the issue might not prompt large-scale action from the federal government, it can urge McGill to implement changes on campus that consider the financial barriers behind academic success and overall student wellbeing.

Illustrations by Shireen Aamir, Design Editor