Money and Stuff Isn’t Everything

Day 5 | $0 paid | $90,717 till freedom

Not be confused with MoFo.

Last night was the first night I’ve ever lost sleep over money. Well, scratch that–there was the night I got my first offer letter over email while job searching at Harvard. It was from the tech firm in Austin where I currently work, and I was so excited about the starting salary–basically a 100% increase from my pre-MBA salary–that I tossed and turned in my hotel bed for most of the night, involuntarily trying to figure out if I could get a new 370z, a new Yamaha R1, and rent an apartment in downtown Austin with the salary proposed in the letter. I had been flown into New Jersey for an all-day interview the next day at a different company, and all I needed was sleep, but it just wouldn’t come. I was way too giddy. I eventually dozed off somewhere around 3 AM, the alarm woke me three hours later, and I was so tired that I bombed the entire interview.

More money, more problems.

Anyways, last night is the second time I’ve ever lost sleep over money. The interview with the pedi-cab company, spending some time on pedi-cab forums, reading Austin Pedicab News, going on Craigslist in search of a loyal steed to pull my cab with…it made me realize how real this all is. Starting next weekend, my entire life is going to change. I’m used to going out Thursday through Saturday with my friends. I became single in January, and having been a serial monogamist for most of my teenage and adult life, I realized it was time to be by myself for awhile. So during the past eight months, I’ve been living up the single life, making new friends, and doing a lot of guys’ nights out. And yes, scenes from the movie Swingers should definitely be playing through your head right now.

While I have developed some really, really solid friendships during this time, there have been some financial implications, as well.  The charges below are all the entertainment charges from my credit card during August.

On Friday of next week, I won’t be getting ready to go downtown to drink with friends and meet people. I won’t be putting on jeans and shirt, having some friends over to pre-party, arguing over who is DD, and then heading out to spend the rest of the night having a blast. Instead, I’ll be putting on some biking shorts, a t-shirt, loading my bike in the back of the Murano, and spending 4+ hours giving rides to strangers.

Now, make no mistake about it, I think the pedi-cab gig is going to be a lot of fun. But it’s going to be a different kind of fun, almost like a lonely kind of fun. I know I’ll enjoy meeting people and giving them rides, but they’ll be keeping me company for only a short while, then they’ll be out of the cab and going into the bar to have fun, and I’ll be wanting to go in with them. But I can’t because that’s not the way to pay down $90k of loans in ten months.

In the meantime, my friends are going to be having a blast at some bar–The Ranch, Roial, Dogwood, Kung Fu, Qua, Kingdom, Suite 101, who knows where else–taking shots, telling jokes and stories, hitting on girls, getting ignored by girls, getting digits, trying to get digits and failing…and I’ll be riding a bike around alone. I’ll be missing out.

At Harvard Business School (HBS), there’s this thing called “Fear of Missing Out,” or FOMO. There’s so much to do at HBS that nobody can possibly do it all. Every evening, an email called the MBA Event Calendar Daily Digest is sent out that lists the next day’s events, and it’s always chock-full of things to do. Multiple high-profile speaking engagements coincide with each other so that students have to make the tough decision of whom to go see. Then there are the balls, dinners, section drinks, bar nights, weekend trips, games, workshops, club meetings, club events, treks, and of course, company presentations and interviewing prep sessions. So students develop FOMO, and they go crazy trying to fit everything in because they realize how rich their experience at HBS could be and how important it is to leverage these opportunities that might never, ever come around again. And because the school is full of a bunch of overachievers, mostly everyone feels compelled to read the cases and at least do a high-level analysis of the case questions to prep for class the next day. FOMO typically results in a lack of sleep.

What my own personal FOMO over the past eight months has resulted in is a lack of savings and the lack of a serious and committed debt pay-down plan. I know that my single years are slowly coming to an end–one only has to look at the calendar to realize it’ll soon be time for me to start taking dating seriously again. I look at my friends, and I realize that their single years are coming to an end, too–a few have already retired their jerseys, and we hardly ever see them again. One day there’s Sean taking down shots, the next day he’s married and nowhere to be found. So during the past eight months, even when I was exhausted and had no desire to go out, I went out anyway. I don’t want to miss out on these single times. I have FOMO.

I lost sleep last night because I realized that by pedi-cabbing, I’m going to be missing out. It’s inevitable. There’s no way I can pedi-cab from 10PM to 2 AM and still go out with my friends. And that made me very anxious last night.

My biggest fear in this whole venture is not that I fail. My biggest fear is that I succeed and repeat the debacle from the summer of 2002.

My Pride and Joy Is a Nightmare
I’ve wanted a motorcycle ever since ninth grade, when my physical science teacher told the class that Kawasaki had just introduced a motorcycle, the ZX-10R, that can accelerate faster than gravity. Imagine that for a minute–moving forward in a straight line at faster and faster rate than if you were falling off the top of the Empire State Building. Being an adrenaline junkie, I was completely hooked. I had to have a motorcycle. When I was 18 and my parents said I could finally have one, I dedicated the entire summer after my freshman year of college towards saving for a motorcycle. I took up rough carpentry, framing houses with a seven-man crew for $13 an hour, roughly 2x what most of my friends were working at jobs like bagging groceries and the like. I started the summer with about $1,500 in savings, and I decided that I would save every single penny I got, and I would get a motorcycle at the end of the summer. I needed about $5,500.

I succeeded. I saved literally every penny I got, and near the end of the summer, I added $4,000 to my savings, and I bought a bike. Below a pic of the bike taken shortly after I got it.

The first time I fired it up and guided it down the driveway, I got more and more excited–easily the most excited I had ever been in my life, including Christmas morning from the age of two to twelve. I was completely high on life. I found the twistiest and hilliest roads I could find, and I spent hours on them.

Then I got bored and went home.

Since I was no longer maniacally focused on a mission to save money, and even had a little money left over, I decided it was time to go see my first movie of the summer at the local theater.

But I couldn’t find my friends.

The same guys who had been calling me every day for the first half of the summer were now suddenly nowhere to be found. They all had excuses–lame excuses, like chores, or homework for summer school, or work.

I lost my friends that summer. We had spent the summer leading up to freshman year hanging out almost every single weekend, if not every single day. I went away for school, but we reconnected during winter break and spring break, and all was good. When I came back in June, it was an opportunity to reconnect again, but I declined, since I wanted to save money, and all they wanted to do was hang out and spend it.

Riding along on that beautiful motorcycle with no particular destination in mind–no movie to go to, no party to go to, nobody’s house to go to–I realized just how lonely I was. It dawned on me that money isn’t everything. Stuff isn’t everything. What good is a motorcycle if you’re not riding it to hang out with your friends?

Money isn’t everything. Do I want more of it? Of course. That’s one of the reasons I went to HBS. But the fact that money isn’t everything is the reason I go downtown every weekend and spend time with my friends. That’s the reason why I didn’t even bother interviewing for a banking or consulting job where I’d be working 80+ hours a week and/or leaving town every week for business travel.

If you were to look at my expenses, you’d see that my second biggest expense is entertainment and experiences–at $1,300 to $1,400/month, it practically matches my mortgage. And that’s the reason I lost sleep last night. I know I can do it. I know I can cut my entertainment budget down to $50/month and stick to it. I didn’t lose sleep last night because I was afraid I might not be able to stick to it. I lost sleep last night because I realized I’ve done it before, but the results were not what I expected.

In order to achieve my goal and keep my friends, I’m going to have to look for cheap ways to hang out with them. I wish we all didn’t like going downtown so much…


Filed under Cut Costs

14 responses to “Money and Stuff Isn’t Everything

  1. Hey, didn’t just want to be a lurker. I’m continuously shocked when I run into someone I know who I haven’t seen in a long time and when we start to catch up they tell me I don’t have to tell them about me, that they’ve been following my blog (never ever leaving a single comment – so I didn’t have a clue). I continue to find that strange.

    So even though we DON’T know each other, just wanted to say hi. I’m following along – and interested to see how your adventure plays out. Thanks for sharing. And good luck!

  2. Can you… get the girls to buy you drinks instead? 🙂 Seriously, though, if you make an effort to still hang out with your friends, they should understand. Just don’t drop off the face of the earth. Have you told them about your goal? I’d think they’d be supportive, and maybe even have financial goals of their own that they want to / can achieve with fewer nights out.

    • Zeona

      You have a point! Maybe he could get some of his friends interested in using the next 10 months to pay off their debts too. Then he would have a support group and other people around who would want to find fun cheap entertainment ideas, i.e. book club, game nights, bbqs, etc.

    • That would be nothing short of amazing! “Hey, I’m poor. Will you buy me a drink?” That would work wonders on West Sixth, I’m sure 🙂 I told them, and they support!

  3. Keith

    just found your blog through Ramit Sethi’s twitter… I’ll be paying attention because I’ve got 90k in debt too and would love to pay it off in 10 months. My current goal is 3 years but that can change… keep it up, you can totally do this.

  4. I’m with Keith, Ramit Sethi pointed me your way. I totally sympathize with your story; one of my main focuses right now is paying off debt as well. I’ll be following along, encouraging you to accomplish this admirable task.

  5. Pingback: I Get a Pass | No More Harvard Debt

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  7. Kara

    Thanks so much for this blog. I’m taking one last summer off to *just* be a mom to my kids (four of them, teen to toddler) before my senior year of undergrad studies (at age 35), then I’ll be spending two years getting life/work/overseas/resume building experiences and working on paying down undergrad debt while my now-almost-sixteen-year-old finishes high school. *Then* I’ll be applying to grad schools, starting with the Ivy League, meaning rebuilding that debt until I can start working in my real life dream job while raising my other three younger kids. YOU ARE INSPIRING. It doesn’t seem so crazy or improbable now.

  8. First off I would like to say excellent blog! I had
    a quick question in which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.
    I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your thoughts before writing.
    I’ve had trouble clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out there.

    I truly do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are
    lost just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or tips?
    Appreciate it!

    • Thanks! I can’t tell you how many times I’ll begin writing and then go back and delete a ton of stuff because I realize that I’m beating around the bush or taking too long to explain something. So what at first appears to be a slow build-up will actually turn into a pretty quick sprint out of the gate. As a reader, you don’t see all of those revisions and re-work.

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