Money Talk with An Ex-Marine Turned MBA Student Turned Management Consultant Who Believes in the Power of Giving Back
Note: This interview contains more identifying details than the average interview. I was given permission from my interviewee to include such details.
Who are you and how old are you?
I am a male in my late 20s working as a management consultant.
Tell me about your background.
I was born in Taiwan and spent my childhood in South Africa. I moved to the United States when I was 13, and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserve as soon as I turned 18. After taking a gap year for training, I went to college in the midwest, where I studied political science. Upon graduating from college, I commissioned as a Marine Corps Officer, where I spent most of my tour in Camp Pendleton, CA, and deployed to Afghanistan as an Information Operations Officer.
I left the Marine Corps in 2013, and enrolled in a top business school in the midwest. I just graduated back in June and am currently working as a management consultant based on the east coast.
What does your financial situation look like? If you don’t earn money through a “normal job”, how do you support yourself?
I currently work as a management consultant.
How do you define rich?
Rich is a relative term. I’m rich right now compared to 99% of the population and am really grateful for what I have. If I had to give a number to this answer, I’d say having one million dollars in assets.
Did you grow up with money? How did your childhood conditions about money affect how you behave?
I did not grow up with money. My father passed away when I was three years old and my mom raised my sister and I as a single mother. I always had enough to eat, my mom had a car to pick me up from school, etc, but we were not wealthy by any means. Because of my upbringing, I’m not as caught up with this idea of having really nice things.
The following excerpt has been taken from my interviewee’s blog - it answers this question particularly well and highlights why he believes so much in giving back:
“I grew up spending parts of my life in Taiwan, the United States, and South Africa. After my biological father passed away when I was 3, my grieving mother sent me to Palatine, Illinois to live with my aunt in the United States. After two years in the Chicago suburbs, essentially as a five year old illegal immigrant on a tourist visa, my aunt sent me back to Taiwan, in part because I was a mischievous rugrat. By the time I was 7, my mother moved us (me, and my then-1 year old sister) to South Africa, where we enjoyed a rather pleasant and happy 6 years. As a college educated woman, my mom was always able to find work to make ends meet – whether it was as a store manager at an upscale shopping mall or recruiting computer programmers for an US-based firm. I had the privilege of attending excellent schools that were either private and religiously affiliated, or ones that were formerly whites-only institutions under the Apartheid regime.
It was in South Africa where I became conscious of my privilege, despite our relatively modest means. My heart broke when we drove by black South Africans who would get on their knees with tears in their eyes and beg drivers for spare change; it broke when I realized some of my classmates at the now racially integrated Bedfordview Primary School lived in the cramped, grimy servant’s quarters for our middle class Asian and White friends; and it broke when we toured shanty towns within our own city with residents who had no access to running water, and even less access to economic opportunity. By contrast, we lived in a modest but comfortable town home, mom drove an old but elegant Mercedes Benz, and I was sent to piano lessons every Tuesday and Boy Scouts every Friday. As a child, I resolved that one day I would do something to help. I didn’t know how or when, but I knew it would be my major life objective.”
Did your mom give you money when you were growing up? What about for school?
If I wanted to buy anything, I had to do chores. Eventually, I’d save up enough money to buy a video game or whatever it was I wanted.
Do you still have school loans?
I don’t have any business school loans because I had a $25K / year scholarship from business school. I also got $20K / year from the Post 911 GI bill and $30K / year from the Yellow Ribbon Program. I also had a $1900 / month housing stipend. The amount of money I received to attend business school was very generous and I am very grateful for it.
Even though I don’t have any school loans, I have $50,000 in debt from money I borrowed to fund my living expenses during my two years of business school. When I look back, I now realize that I lived more extravagantly when I should have - I ordered out too much, etc. I am now on a 5 year plan via Sofi to pay off this $50K.
Where did you learn about investing?
I learned about investing from business school but do not do any active investing other than owning Amazon stock. I have stock in Amazon because I feel like they’ve always done well and will continue to do well.
What does your family situation look like?
I have a mom, stepdad, and younger sister. I send money to my mom every month and promised her that I would help her retire.
Do you feel like you are living paycheck to paycheck? If so, do you feel that way due to your lifestyle?
No, but I do feel like my expenses are a bit high due to food, giving money to various charities, debt payments, and travel.
What are you doing with the money that’s left over?
I invest 10% of my monthly payment in the stock repurchasing plan at my consulting firm. I try to put money away every month in my USAA brokerage account and also give my parents money every month in to put in their brokerage account.
What was your most regrettable purchase?
I don’t have one. I spend my money on experiences and not things. But if I did have to give an answer, I’d say something along the lines of paying $100 more for a plane ticket than I should have because I procrastinated on buying the ticket for a few days.
What was your best purchase?
I recently bought a $100 bike at Target and it has paid for itself many times over. I saved so much money from not taking the bus or Uber. But now that it’s getting cold, I can’t use my bike as much.
Do you feel like you have a financial habit that’s out of the norm (or at least something that others have commented on)?
I give a lot more to charity than the average person. I feel like I’m more willing to share my wealth than most people would.
Do you feel like your success now has anything to do with luck or being in the right place at the right time?
Yes, I am very lucky in many ways. I almost got kicked out of the Marines after my first year but didn’t. I felt really lucky that I got into such a great business school and that I got such a great consulting job.
Do you actively contribute to a retirement account of any sort?
My consulting company has a 401(k) program and will match each dollar up to 6%. However, this only kicks in after the first year. I will max out my 401K contribution after I pass the one-year mark.
Have you ever jumped income brackets (either going from low to high or vice versa) and how did your lifestyle change?
I feel like my lifestyle expenses increased quite a bit when I was in business school. What’s interesting is that if I had foregone business school and stayed in the Marines, I would be a Captain by now and would actually be making the same salary I am making now as a management consultant.
Do you talk to your peers and family about money?
I talk to my mom a lot about money.
Do you worry about money?
I think about money quite a bit - how can I make more so I can provide for my mom and for myself!
Do you have a plan to make more money?
Starting next year, I will be doing some freelance work as a MBA admissions consultant. I’m also thinking of launching a startup that manufactures powdered energy drinks for video gamers. I work out a lot so I’m pretty familiar with the fitness market.
What would it take for you to feel like you are completely rich?
$500K / year after taxes. This is a completely random number because I’ve never given any thought about this question. $500 / year after taxes feels like a rich number.
In terms of money, what was something you did in the past that you could do differently?
I wouldn’t have lived so extravagantly when I was a MBA student!
What is this?
An anthropological look at how people think about money. Created and edited by Star Li.