Money Talk with a SF Startup Communications Director Moonlighting as a College Admissions Consultant
Who are you and how old are you?
I am a 26 year old working as a communications director at a tech startup in SF. I also work as as college admissions consultant on the side.
Tell me about your background.
I grew up in the Midwest, went to the college in the Midwest, went to the West Coast for my masters program, and then began working as a technical writer at a tech firm when I graduated. A few months ago, I switched jobs and became a communications director at a tech startup. I also work on the side as a college admissions consultant - helping high school students get into a great college. This is something I've been doing for the last few years and something I really enjoy.
What does your financial situation look like? If you don’t earn money through a “normal job”, how do you support yourself?
I make half my salary at the SF startup and the other half as a college admissions consultant. I actually took a pay cut to move to the SF startup but I get greater job satisfaction from the startup. The number of clients I've gotten as a college admissions consultant has also increased over the past year - my current clients keep referring me to their friends and I work with people from all over!
How do you define rich?
Having a home with a big background where my dog can run around in. I live in downtown SF, and it's completely different than the suburbs of the Midwest, where I grew up!
Did you grow up with money? How did your childhood conditions about money affect how you behave?
My parents are high level government employees and were financially comfortable and smart with their money. I never got an allowance but my parents gave me money whenever I needed it (going on a school trip, etc). They never talked about finances with me but I was personally very frugal about everything. This is something I learned after seeing my dad's parents save as much as they could, and seeing that my parents were responsible with their money.
I would get several hundred dollars for every birthday I had. I saved this money and eventually saved up to several thousands of dollars which I used to pay for part of my grad school tuition. I am someone who doesn't take money for granted.
Did your parents give you money when you were growing up? What about for school?
Other than my birthday gift money and getting (reasonable) amounts of money whenever I needed it, I was also very fortunate in the fact that they paid for my entire undergraduate education. I also then got several thousands of dollars as a graduation gift, which also went toward paying off my graduate school bills.
Do you still have school loans?
No - I've been in the free and clear since this past January 2015. I had a partial scholarship which paid for half of my grad school tuition and I paid off the other half with my graduation gift money and birthday gift money. I took out some loans for living expenses and when I had an unpaid internship but I worked hard to pay all that off as quickly as I could once I began working.
Where did you learn about investing?
The only thing I've ever invested in is my 401(k) at the previous company I worked at. The company matched what we put in so I contributed as much as I could. Other than that, I don't do investing.
What does your family situation look like?
My parents are still government employees - my dad took on a more flexible job and my mom is an independent consultant. My sister is an urban planning.
Do you and your spouse/partner have similar financial habits?
My boyfriend is very responsible with money. He makes a decent amount as an engineer and saves/invests his money. He's not as frugal as I am though!
Have you started to put money away for your children's college tuition? If so, how much is it?
I don't have children yet but once I do, I will definitely put money away for their college tuition! I will set aside money for not just tuition but also the college admission process, which can be pricey. Ideally, I would want to pay for my child’s entire undergrad education.
Do you feel like you are living paycheck to paycheck? If so, do you feel that way due to your lifestyle?
No, because I a decent amount of money sitting in my bank account. My salary at the tech startup pays for my rent, utilities, all that stuff, while the money I make as an admissions consultant goes straight toward my bank account. I am very frugal and careful about having a financial cushion. I love seeing my bank account grow!
What was your most regrettable purchase?
I traveled to Europe a few months ago and spent $3000 on that trip in total. I really enjoyed the trip but wished I had spent less money.
What was your best purchase?
I recently discovered this amazing Mexican grocery store in SF. I go here to do all my grocery shopping and estimate that I spend $20/month on food. It sounds crazy but really is doable. It helps that I'm a vegetarian so I eat a lot of pasta, rice, and vegetables.
Do you feel like you have a financial habit that’s out of the norm (or at least something that others have commented on)?
At the tech startup I work at, we get free lunch everyday. So I eat lunch at the office and bring home leftovers (food that's sitting around at the end of the day) for dinner. I try to encourage other people to do this too so we don't waste food but I think they like eating out.
Do you feel like your success now has anything to do with luck or being in the right place at the right time?
I'm very lucky that I came from a family that could afford to send me to college and pay for it. My college roommate and I had the same job in college but she had to pay for college herself and also send money back home to her family every month. There were even periods of time when she had to take a leave of absence to work full-time and earn more money. So I am very aware of how lucky I am.
How much investing do you do, if any?
I don't do any - I should really look into it.
Do you actively contribute to a retirement account of any sort?
Only the 401(k) at my previous company.
Do you feel like your lifestyle reflects your income bracket?
Yes! I am extremely frugal and very conscious of how I spend.
Have you ever jumped income brackets (either going from low to high or vice versa) and how did your lifestyle change?
I jumped income brackets when I changed jobs. My salary was pretty much cut by half when I moved to the new job. However, I do have greater job satisfaction at my new job and I do think I have greater career progression at the new one. My lifestyle didn't change at all - I'm still as frugal as ever!
Do you talk to your peers and family about money?
I only talk to my mom and boyfriend. And recently, I began talking to my sister about money and what her financial lifestyle is like. I'm personally very open to talking about money but it's something my friends and I never talk about.
Do you worry about money?
No, not really. I save a lot of money and really love what I'm doing so I know I'll always earn money. The only thing I don't like is that because I live in downtown SF, I can’t afford what I would be able to in the Midwest.
Do you splurge on anything? If so, what was the last splurge and how much was it?
My last splurge was my trip to Europe. I also like splurging on gifts to other people - I'll spend a decent amount for my boyfriend on his birthday and on Christmas gift for my family.
Do you have a plan to make more money?
I plan to continue working on the side as a college admissions consultant. I also hope to get a publishing deal and write a book on the college admissions process. I'm thinking of even creating a college admissions app, but that's something I haven't given too much thought to.
What would it take for you to feel like you are completely rich?
Having an independent business where I could support myself completely with admissions consulting! And having a house with a big backyard.
In terms of money, what was something you did in the past that you could do differently?
I would not have done so many unpaid journalism internships in college. I was too dead set on journalism at the time and now realize that my earning potential is so much higher than what they would have paid me. I really could have earned so much more doing other internships and should have realized this sooner.
What is your strategy for moving forward now in regards to your big goals in life?
I will continue to take on more clients as a college admissions consultant and hopefully grow this business as much as I can. This job provides a lot of flexibility as I work with a lot of people remotely. This flexibility will be great when I have kids someday. I do really love my job as a communications director now as well, and hope to continue building my career in the communications/marketing field.
What is this?
An anthropological look at how people think about money. Created and edited by Star Li.