In our Money Mic series, we hand over the podium to people with controversial views about money. These are their views, not ours, but we welcome your responses.
Today, one Brown University senior tells us why she won’t accept any money from her parents—how she’s learned to bank 85% of her limited income and what taking control of her own finances means to her.
I’m a senior biology major at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and despite the fact that I’m in college and only working two minimum-wage on-campus jobs (at the library and organizing art exhibits for a creative friend), I refuse to accept spending money from my parents.
For most of my life, I didn’t really think about money because it was always just there. It was something I asked for in high school before I went out. During my first two years of college, when my parents were putting money into a checking account for me, money was just a debit card I swiped when I wanted to buy something.
It wasn’t a tangible thing that I ever dealt with. What’s more, my father minimized its importance for my entire life. He stressed that I should study hard so that I might one day earn a better income than he and my mom, both of whom are librarians for the government.
As for my mother, I would see her worry about bills, yet she continued to refill my debit card with unfailing consistency. “Your school is so expensive,” she’d tell me over the phone. “I just gave you $500 last month.” I’d feel a little bad for spending it all … but she always gave me more.
So when I took my second year off school and went to live with my aunt while doing research at Stanford University School of Medicine, earning $500 a week, I spent that money too. I loved going to art and fashion sales and dropping $200 dollars on nice jewelry or dresses right from the designers—pretty, artsy things have always been my weakness.
I come from a middle-class family, but I spent like my upper-middle-class friends. My parents supported that: They were hoping that enabling me to live that kind of lifestyle would motivate me to become a doctor and eventually truly live that life.
My Aha Moment
One of my best friends at Brown graduated two years before me, in the class of 2012. She was a pre-med student and earned a B.S. in neuroscience. However, she never had a paying job during college, and as a result she had no savings. What my friend really wanted to do was move to Boston and get her own apartment, but instead, she was forced to move back home after graduation. Among my classmates, going back home after graduation is like having your tail between your legs. It’s totally disappointing. When my friend, who I saw as an older version of myself, had a “failure to launch,” I realized that it could happen to me.
In that moment, I recognized how a lack of savings could impact your life. By moving back in with her parents, it meant they controlled the flow of her life, and if I wasn’t able to secure a job right after graduation, I knew I’d be in a similar situation. I wanted to become in control of my money so it could enrich my life, rather than dictate what I could and couldn’t do.
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Soon after that happened, I was browsing through TED talks online and stumbled across LearnVest founder Alexa von Tobel’s amazing TEDx Talk. In it, she explains what young people need to know and start doing at an early age in order to have financial freedom. I watched it once, stunned, and then I watched it again and took notes. And then I started learning as much as I could about personal finance. I learned the basics by reading a lot of articles on LearnVest; I read books on budgeting and investing. Many of my friends at Brown will go into investment banking, so I started talking to them about how to invest my money.
All of this helped me come up with a plan for how to save and spend. I have student loans and financial aid, but my parents cover the rest of the costs, so I’m lucky enough that my food, rent and essential expenses are covered. I have dealt with guilt over my privilege, but although I’m not paying for everything, I decided that I could take control of my own money situation if I really wanted to—I didn’t need to wait for my parents.