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.

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