Monday, April 30, 2018

My Overall Financial Situation

Recently I started reading Refinery29's Money Diaries. Maybe I'm just super nosy, but I love hearing about other people's financial situations. Despite having participated in Franish's Budgeting Blogger series (RIP) for years, I realized that I have never fully disclosed my own financial situation. So if you have ever wondered how I can afford to live the kind of life I do on a grad student budget, here it is.

I am Chinese-American and an only child. My immigrant parents moved to the U.S. almost 30 years ago, and they have always emphasized to me the importance of hard work and higher education for getting ahead in life. When it was time to send me off to college, they generously paid for all of my tuition as well as room and board, even though they were not well-off at the time. Of course, I took summer jobs every year and used that to supplement what my parents gave me, but mostly I relied on their support. I finished college in 3.5 years, and because of their generosity plus a few small merit-based scholarships, I graduated debt-free. Then I went to grad school straight from undergrad for a master's degree in engineering, because I knew that having the extra degree would significantly increase my starting salary. During that time, I found a research assistantship, which paid me a stipend as well as generated a tuition waiver.

When I graduated with my master's degree in 1.5 years, I felt burned out from school, so I accepted a full-time engineering job at a company I had interned with previously. It was relatively close to home (within a 30-minute drive), so I decided to live with my parents. (Side note: they were thrilled about this arrangement. In China, adult children typically live with their parents until marriage.) Most of the people I knew at the time couldn't understand my decision, because the only people they knew who lived at home were people who couldn't afford to move out, and I made a good salary.

During this period, I saved a great deal of money on rent, although I paid for my share of utilities and food. Of course there were pros and cons to moving back home. I love my parents, we get along well, and it was very convenient (I had a reasonable commute, and my mom cooked for me every single day). On the other hand, I became socially isolated, because I lived too far away from my friends to see them regularly, and it irritated me whenever my sometimes-helicopter parents tried to interfere in my personal life.

After working full-time for several years, I realized I was disillusioned with my job. I felt bored, not challenged, and dissatisfied. I contemplated switching companies, but it wouldn't have made a difference, since the jobs I was most qualified for were basically identical to the job I already had. I started thinking about going back to grad school and began to apply to PhD programs. Once again, people kept asking me "But why? You have a perfectly good job." I couldn't answer them to their satisfaction, but I knew that I didn't want to wake up someday and realize I had wasted my life/career working at a job I didn't like.

I ended up being accepted into one of the top PhD programs in my field, which came with a research assistantship offer as well as an additional scholarship. Those two combined were sufficient to cover my tuition, fees, and living expenses with a little left over for the first few years. (Now that I am in my final year, my situation is a little different. More on that another time.) I haven't been able to save any money really during my PhD, but on the other hand, I've never had to worry about money either, which I realize is a luxury. I have been extremely fortunate that I can live in a safe neighborhood, eat at restaurants I like, buy clothes from stores I like, indulge my hobbies, and travel when I want (within reason of course). I also have the additional comfort of knowing that I could always fall back on my savings from when I had worked full-time (I haven't touched this money at all during my time in grad school).

Overall I realize I am very lucky, especially for a millennial. Thanks to my parents, I don't have student loans. I also don't have credit card debt. My retirement savings aren't quite where I would like them to be (thanks, grad school opportunity cost), but I know once I graduate, I will save aggressively to compensate for those lost years. In the meantime, I am just trying to savor these last moments of flexibility and freedom.

Anyway, this post is longer than I intended, so kudos to those of you who made it to the end. I hope you've enjoyed reading about my financial situation!

Are you interested in seeing more personal finance posts from me?


  1. That's great, and I wish you continued success!

  2. You can probably guess that I enjoy seeing personal finance posts!

    For the relatively few amongst my law school classmates who are able to live with their parents/family members for a while during the first few years, it really dramatically accelerates their ability to pay their student loans. It's a great financial choice, but generally does take some toll on their personal or social lives (for people working in New York City, their nearby relatives or parents generally don't live in the city, so commutes can be pretty brutal, and well, not all parents or relatives are that easy to live with!).

    1. Haha I did guess that!

      Honestly I'm not sure I would make the same choice again if given the opportunity, even though it was good for my finances.