How I Afforded One Term’s Tuition, Rent & A Vacation All In One Summer


I honestly thought I wouldn’t make any money at all after my lead on a seemingly perfect summer job fell through. And I know money isn’t everything, but it I needed it for tuition and university living expenses.

Most of my friends had jobs lined up or co-op positions awaiting them, and I felt awfully anxious and scared. I printed off a hundred copies of my resume (tailored with all my restaurant/retail experience) and went job hunting down Toronto’s Yonge St. I went into every restaurant until I stumbled on a big one, Jack Astor’s. It was the only place that made me write an intelligence/personality test before even considering me for an interview. I did that, got an interview, and got the job.

[Disclaimer: keep in mind that our expenses may be different. I’m not in a super-specialized university program so my tuition doesn’t cost an arm AND a leg, and I’ve chosen a very economical living arrangement. And I got a great deal on my vacation. That said, after the fact, I still ended up with money left over for a safety net. I’m hoping to help by showing one of the options for making ends meet.]

It wasn’t the most glamorous option, and certainly not the easiest, but serving is what I did. I worked between 30 and 55 hours a week (dipping into overtime rates which pay time and a half). The base hourly pay plus tips made for a pretty lucrative summer.

Here’s a breakdown of my summer job. So that if you need money and you’re considering serving, you’ll know what you’re getting yourself into.

The good


Pro tip: if you ever have to keep an obscene amount of cash at home, empty out an ice cream container (by eating it all in one sitting, duh) and fill it with cash.

I made money. Cash money. Above-minimum-wage money. I gave my engineer boyfriend (who was on co-op) some solid competition in the earnings department.

I made friends. Seriously, when I see the people I worked with out on the street I’ll give them another hug because they’ve been an incredible support system. Update: it’s been a year and I just saw one I worked with. Stopped and chatted for a bit – neither of us work there anymore.

I got fit(er). All the running around and carrying things jacked my arms and legs up! Always a good thing.

I perfected my people skills. I got really good at predicting what certain people would enjoy to figure out which mask I should wear. The nice and calm waitress? The spunky-with-personality gal? You got it.

I let go of my fears. The nature of the job was so go-go-go that I lost the capacity to worry needlessly. No time for that what-if bs that used to paralyze me.

I opened myself up to a lot of kindness. Managers who helped me out when I needed it most, coworkers who had my back, and guests who made my day. I’ll never forget the group of guys who sang me happy birthday when I was still stuck at work. The nice guests were always in greater abundance than the mean ones.

the bad

Looks like five-year-old me was preparing for the busy shifts years in advance.

Looks like five-year-old me was preparing for the busy shifts years in advance.

On difficult days I worked twelve hours straight. There were also a few fifteen hour days where I came home and couldn’t feel my legs or brain.

The managers would sometimes be in crappy moods (they’re people in the restaurant industry, nobody has nerves of steel). It made asking them for help a bit stressful. Or they would just be too swamped to be able to support their team effectively.

Some customers were unbelievably rude. Think: “Hi, I’m Dana and I’ll be–” “Water. And I’m having the cheeseburger.” That sort.

My work shoes reeked. They gave soccer players’ cleats a run for their money.

My takeaway advice

I’m glad I have this experience. Every experience teaches you a million valuable things. Despite all the difficult moments and situations I was put into, I have no regrets.

Accept that things won’t always go the way you want them to. Customers will be rude and you will make mistakes, but nobody’s going to die (unless you serve them peanuts and they’re allergic). It’s a summer job; the perfect environment to learn and grow and prime yourself for a meaningful career. It’s also the perfect place to learn about failure, because there will be times when you get somebody’s order wrong, or the kitchen does, and it’s how you deal with the situation that makes you stronger.

There is no better lesson in efficiency than getting slammed on Friday night with a full section. Prepare to juggle ten things on your mental to-do list at once.

A little goodwill goes a long way. This works both ways in the sense that if you offer guests some sincere form of goodwill (like a cutely-written “Have A Rockin’ Weekend!” on a receipt) or they do the same for you (like, they ask you about yourself and treat you like the awesome person you are), it makes a huge difference. Don’t underestimate the power you have to make someone’s day, and vice versa.

Remember it’s not forever. One thing I struggled with the year leading up to this job was what it would mean for my “future”. Would I get sucked into the trap of the service world’s grind while my friends worked normal jobs? Is this where I’ll end up? Remember that you’re going to move on to much greater things. Whether you’re a server, in retail, or doing something else that isn’t your end-goal, just don’t give up.

Do you have any questions about my summer? Ask in the comments below or email me at and I’ll answer them.

Lots of love,




5 thoughts on “How I Afforded One Term’s Tuition, Rent & A Vacation All In One Summer

    • says:

      Hey girl! It’s super doable. Also helps if you don’t go for the most expensive vacation the first time around 😉 But best of luck!!

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