Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Debt and my degree


Whipping up a bowl of debt-free delicacy
I have braved the waves in my journey as a 31 year old. I can now behold the majestic view that is a life officially debt-free, as I have just paid off the remainder of my $15,000 loan. This was only half of what I borrowed to go to 2 years of university. In 2003, when I entered Western Washington University, my mom's salary of $55k disqualified me for any grants. She ended up being forced to take out a "parent plus" loan for the other $15k, which is a crock of shit, but she wasn't about to let her son get priced out of a future.

It took 10 years after graduation to start attacking that debt, though. There were 2 years where I made more than $2000 a month. The rest of that decade, I was teaching part-time, or getting a low salary in one of the many economic traps for teachers. Then I got a sweet full-time job in a Japanese school, and everything changed. My friend Zack had turned me onto the idea of financial independence, and taking money more seriously. I used to take so much pride in never paying full price for things, and opting for old fashions, but in the end I just used the money to buy more games and collect bullshit. I've always been frugal, thanks to my grandfather, but 2013 was the turning point where I started investing my savings rather than buying more shit.

With my first full year in Japan in 2013, on a good salary, I defeated $10k in debt that had crept up over the years, and invested another $5k. The tax rate of the still-big loan was 3.75%. Basically, the half of my salary that I sent home in 2013 was better used to destroy high-interest credit card debt (~12%) and invest in aggressive stock market returns (~15%) than that wimpy loan tax rate.

I learned from this 10-year loan that college debt is pretty forgiving when pit against other middle-class expenses. I didn't' have to start paying until a year after graduation, plus there were further deferment options, and a really low minimum payment, like $50. There was no car note for me, and I didn't have a family to support, either.


College is supposed to be your shot for a boost in economic mobility. But, I found that to apply so generally that it was disappointing. I chose to be an ESL teacher overseas, where you can get hired with ANY baccalaureate, and only minuscule does your employer understand that your major might be relevant to teaching the language. This realization hit me first after I saw a Spanish language major get paid more than me, who majored in Linguistics, with a TESL certification. While there are other factors at stake, like experience (though it was the first year teaching for both of us) and negotiating power, that was the first ego deflation that my diploma didn't mean as much as I had thought. It turns out that I didn't get to use any of my training and knowledge of language until a few years later, when I got to teach grammar to some higher-level students. This helped me re-define a university diploma as a badge of discipline; proof that you were able to get things done, more or less on time, for 4 years. 

For years, I devalued my diploma because I thought my honed language skills weren't recognized. It made me quite bitter to teach in a school alongside science, literature and loads of international business majors. However, if you take the above definition, you can add on that while you're shaping yourself to be a responsible worker bee who finishes projects on time, you at least get to choose something you're interested in. Well, assuming your parents don't take that away from you and force you to become a major THEY want. However, chances are that if you're in that position, you won't get control of your life any time soon. The flip side is that your parents are probably paying for your education, so bonus!


I am very happy for the connections I made at university, and it was nice to satisfy some curiosities I had, while walking away with some certification that put me into a 10-year-strong career. Teaching is all coming to an end, as I'm changing paths to retail customer service, but I've left a bunch of doors open in dat old career.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Cheapass wins...flawless victory. Frugality!

Hey, y'all! I wanted to give an update on how I'm living cheaply. My 2 games in, 1 game out strategy has gone well. I paid $48.99+tx (NOT full retail price) for StarWars Battlefront, and have completed Titan Attack, and I am almost finished with Crimson Dragon, a free title via Xbox Live Gold.

Sistema is made in NZ, and durable as hell.
Since March, I've lived with a family I'm very close to, which is cheating, frankly. Lots of you who are looking to save money don't have this option, but as more 1-bedroom apartment rents soar north of $1000, you might start to make nice with old neighbors and relatives. The family gives me access to their car, but I still walk 20 minutes to the transit center, and bus in to work, like a good boy. Another cheating point is that the family cooks for me and hates leftovers, meaning I get to bring my lunch to work everyday. If you decide to go that route, forget traditional tupperware. Sistema microwave/freezeware is the real deal. I've used mine for a year and a half, and there's no peeling or melted plastic scarring. The seal comes out, and all the plastic parts are easily washable.

Just need to plastic wrap them suckers
Breakfast, however, is where I can contribute. Barring some unfortunate allergy, I would suggest peanut butter (or another kind of--don't laugh--nut butter) balls. Take a buncha oats, mix in a pinch of cinnamon, an even tinier bit of salt, some chocolate chips. I currently use about a tablespoon of maple syrup or honey for a sweetener for every 1 cup of unsweetened PB. Boom! Then I wrap a heaping tablespoon with plastic wrap in my palm and make into a ball. These balls are the calories you need, and beat pastries (my weakness!) in the health department by a longshot. I make 1cup into 4 balls, and that's 3 breakfasts and a pick-me-up on the days with long shifts.

$5 per kit. I still want to add another type of candy.
Speaking of shifts, I'm taking advantage of the holiday season and working two jobs for the month of December. I wouldn't recommend this for anyone who isn't relatively strong, but have found that I can do just about anything for a month. At work, I've resisted the Keurig, and clung to sharing the pot with co-workers or using the single-cup aeropress.



These cute paper/cardboard boxes are $1.50 each at Daiso.
Tadaa! I may add some filler, like tissue paper or paper confetti.
I'm hearing a lot of creative Christmas gift ideas for keeping it cheap. My favorites include homemade fudge, hollowed-out false books, and a toilet-paper roll with cash stuffed inside. I've also gone some shopping at Daiso (Japanese dollar store - everything is $1.50+tx, but the selection is a cut above your typical dollar store) for my younger gift recipients. As a person who has moved and traveled a lot, I'm a huge fan of giving consumable gifts, which won't take up more room while someone feels obligated to keep something they may or may not actually like. I like gift cards, but I'm sure a lot of you who give those wonder how big a gift card is good enough?

Credit Cards