The Art of Gift Giving as a Broke College Student

The Art of Gift Giving as a Broke College Student

Today, my dear friend surprised me outside of my Corporate Finance classroom with a cup of green tea (little sugar, less ice—苇塘、少冰). I was on the other side of a bad cold and she knew that I would soon be drowning under a pile of work, so that morning she woke up early (a miracle potentially signaling the end of the world) and drove to a teahouse to order me a cup of happiness. Not even the linear algebraic derivations for the estimators of multiple regression models could put a dent in my happiness.

While yes, this means that I take my green tea very seriously, it also points to a weird phenomenon in college life: we’re all broke but we still like to give and receive gifts.*

The road to financial independence also does not seem to allow for even small gifts to friends and family. College student incomes are, after all, abysmally low as we wait for companies to deem our degrees valuable. And for those college students that want financial independence? Is the tradeoff give a gift now versus save for retiring early?

That thought process doesn’t fairly capture what’s at stake when you give a gift. Even at my stingiest (*ahem* freshmen year), I still spent money on gifts to family and friends. I’m not saying this to brag, but rather to point out a crucial part of relationships involves the exchange of gifts—particularly around the holiday season.

Leaving the anthropology and history of gift-giving to a sociology class, let’s delve into how gifts factor into financial independence. To begin, let’s consider the benefits all parties involved get when gifts are exchanged:

The product of my procrastination seems to clearly indicate that the receiver of the gift benefits the most. Yet the gift-giver isn’t left out of feeling good entirely. Both win, on some level. And on some level, their friendship deepens because giving someone a gift is just another way of showing that you care. Financial independence is always a goal to strive for as a college student, but taking the time and effort to develop lifelong relationships is also an important part of the “college experience” and life in general.

Cutting through all the gooeyness, giving gifts can seriously do some damage (depending on the gift) to your bank account. But the beauty of being a college student is—get this—everyone assumes you’re broke in the first place. Thus, the ultimate gift of time or something as beautifully simple as a cup of tea (for me, at least) are great gifts.**

Everyone could use a little cheer during this cold season, so cut back on that one episode of Netflix and give someone some of your time (or some tea).

*Yes, this is a generalization. Some people are scrooges and hate giving gifts.

**Just as a final note, I’m in no way saying that fancy gifts are the foundation for a healthy relationship after getting a job. I’m only pointing out that we get a break as college students from any expectations of fanciness that people on the road to FI should fully enjoy while it lasts.

Back to Blogging with a Confession

Back to Blogging with a Confession

I have a confession. It pains me to admit it, because I had decided, in my younger days, to never commit the same mistake.

When I was little, I went up to my relatives and asked a simple question, “What was the biggest mistake you made in your life?”

The resounding theme? Inaction.

Inaction: lack of action where something is expected or appropriate

“I wanted to be a doctor when I was young. I read all these medicine novels but I never asked anyone how you become a doctor. Didn’t even consider college. But I had always wanted to save lives.”

  “Before he passed away, I never told him how much I loved him. People around me tell me that he knew, but I never told him nonetheless. It eats me up sometimes, especially at night when everything is quiet. Just like the quiet moments we shared together.”

Missed moments. Missed opportunities. I had decided to grasp at everything I could. Instead of making the same mistakes, I wanted to learn from others’ regrets.

Unfortunately, many of the mistakes in my life have been riddled by lazy, illogical inaction.

Most recently, there was an internship opportunity that I waited to apply to, thinking that I could always get around to it later. When I did send in my resume, I found out that the company had already hired another intern.

The list does go on, of times when I missed out. A list of my woes, however, is not the point of this piece.

While I will probably never be able to catch every single opportunity that presents itself, there are crucial steps that myself and anyone else with this problem could be taking to curb their inaction.


Reexamine priorities


There are many ways that I waste my time. The biggest vice by far being a certain movie/TV show streaming service that I am sure many college students also spend a lot of time on. However, not everything I watch adds value to my life. Instead of watching a show just to kill time, I should find a way to spend my time enjoyably. I cannot get back the time I spent watching a mediocre show. Moving forward, I would much rather pursue my hobbies or passions.


Establish habits


Similar to inspiration, motivation does not always flow naturally. Jack London, prolific author, once said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” Getting me to apply for internships, write new articles, and do my reading when I am not motivated feels painful at first. Waiting for motivation, however, is a surefire way to fail. Rather than waiting for a surge of determination (fueled by caffeine or guilt), we must establish habits to get us started.

Moving forward, here are five habits I seek to establish in the upcoming year:

  1. Write 1000 words/day—get this blog up and rolling
  2. Exercise 30 minutes/day—especially with practicing kata for karate
  3. Read two news sources/day—stay connected to the world
  4. Play piano for 20 minutes/day—keep hard won skills sharp

Will I miss more opportunities in life? I don’t doubt it, but nevertheless I am going to be ready to catch the next one. Are you?

PSA: You Should Be Worried About Retirement

PSA: You Should Be Worried About Retirement

My fellow collegiate peers,

We are young and, most of us, healthy. We have no or few grey hairs, unless you dyed it that way. We have the future ahead of us. The world is our oyster. Etc.

Most of us haven’t started our career. Or really figured it out, for that matter. Our concerns are focused on finals, getting our first job, making life-long friends, enjoying youth, and fretting about an indeterminate future. I would know, since I’m right there with you.

Thus, the word “retirement” does not sound annoyingly loud warning bells in our minds. It is something far off and doesn’t involve our current college selves.

But we couldn’t be more wrong.

I see this story in the news over and over again. Most recently, this article appeared on my feed, reporting that around 30% of 55 year olds surveyed had no retirement savings. Zero. Zilch. Nothing.

No elderly person needs that sort of stress in their lives.

And trust me, social security is not going to be enough to enjoy those “golden years.” In fact, many of us are worried that social security won’t even be around when we retire. What then, are we waiting for when it comes to planning for old age? According to this article, 40% of Millennials do not have a plan for funding their retired years but more than 30% are optimistic about retirement. Sure, we have time on our side, but what benefit is time if we don’t take advantage of starting early?

Furthermore, who said you can only retire when you are old, feeble, and unable to work? Society’s preconceived notion of retirement? In reality, you can retire so much earlier like GoCurryCracker, Mr. Money Mustache, and the many other financial independence early retirees in the world. The path to early retirement isn’t easy, but it isn’t impossible either.

The notion of retirement consisting of perfecting the coach potato portion of resumes is outdated. Think of the possibilities: you can start your own business, advocate full-time for the causes you are passionate about, travel the world, and spend more time with your family. You don’t have to request vacation time or worry about what “business casual attire” actually means.

Even if you love your career choice and don’t want to retire early, the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’re covered if fired, ill, or too old is absolutely priceless. We might be young, but we all know that life is unpredictable.

Despite papers and reading and resumes, we should at least consider those terrifying after-career questions. It can be as simple as educating yourself on how much you will need for retirement (I personally use MadFIentist’s amazing FI Laboratory), making a game plan, and starting to take advantage of compound interest. Retirement can be decades away, but planning for it needs to start ASAP.