I just paid off the last of my student loan debt and my ebullience knows no bounds. Part of me is concerned that there’s another forgotten loan out there, lurking in the dark, but after so long, I’m sure the lender would have tracked me down by now.

I graduated from the University of Maryland in May of 2011 with a BA in Criminology and Criminal Justice. The parchment, which is still rolled-up in the cardboard mailing tube buried in the basement somewhere, cost me approximately $70,000. I had to take out loans for everything. I also worked while in school, but that money paid for car insurance, fuel, and other living expenses. I kept costs low by not buying textbooks after freshman year.

The plan was to teach English in Guangzhou, China, but that wouldn’t pay enough to cover my debts. So, my first job after school was as an assistant manager at Abercrombie & Fitch. Folding jeans in the mall wasn’t what I had anticipated, but a job is a job. Afterwards, I secured an office position with my current employer, no major complaints thus far; I’m just glad I don’t have to wear skinny jeans and flip flops to work anymore.

The overarching goal was to get out of debt as soon as possible, which necessitated certain sacrifices. I had to move back into my parent’s house to cut down on housing costs. (I pay rent there, don’t worry, it’s not just a handout.) I have never owned a car with fewer than 100,000 miles on it, they have all been rusty too. I have never owned a smart-phone, my basic one costs $20/mo. I have not gone on vacation in six or seven years. I cut my expenses to the marrow, put approximately 60% of my net income against the loan debt, and paid it off within 4.5 years.

But enough about the costs, let’s not forget the benefits. By surviving this gauntlet of compound interest and debtor’s prison, I developed a few relevant life skills. First, I learned to budget my money. I have set budgets before, but none as detailed and crucial as what I live with now. Second, my credit score rose as I paid my debts, it’s around 725 and should be higher, but not bad since I’ve never had a credit card. Third, I learned how to plan well. With no excess funds, all I could do was plan for future events. I made lots of spreadsheets to compare volunteer opportunities, project car builds, and investments. Fourth, with no social life to speak of, I read a lot and took online courses on everything from IT and supply chain management to philanthropic giving and marketing. Finally, I daresay I have a much stronger hold over my personal finances than the average 26 year old.

Now, nothing really changes. The money that was going to the loan payments has been redirected to save for a downpayment on a house. But in another six months, who knows, everything might change.


How To Lose Money In The Stock Market

I bought my first stock approximately 2 months ago and it caused me no small amount of concern and trepidation. I wanted to get into the market, and for better or worse, the world runs on gasoline, so I bought 1200 shares of New Source Energy Partners (NSLP). Before oil got cheap a while ago, they were trading at $22, but I bought these shares for a mere 57 cents each. If someday they returned to their former heights, I would have profited handsomely.

The price fluctuated, but I wasn’t worried, I knew this was a long shot. On September 9th, NSLP was removed from the New York Stock Exchange. Overnight, my 1200 shares became worthless. I didn’t even know de-listing could happen (obviously I do now) so this was a shock.

Days later, once everything shook out, NSLP ended up on the Over The Counter markets, you may have heard about these Pink Sheets on “The Wolf Of Wall Street.” The shares floated around the 10 cent mark for a few weeks. I refused to sell because I was trying to follow Warren Buffett’s Rule #1: Never lose money.

But the analysts kept lowering their ratings on NSLP, from buy, to hold, to underperforming, to sell. The company themselves stopped paying dividends because they foresaw funding issues in the immediate future. Today, I read that one firm lowered their rating to “strong sell” and I thought, maybe I should cut my losses and get out before they declare bankruptcy.

I sold my 1200 shares at 35 cents each and lost approximately $260 doing so, which was a better result than losing it all.

The important thing is that I learned a few important lessons:

  1. I was speculating, not investing, I didn’t do enough research beforehand
  2. An inexpensive security does not necessarily deserve to increase in value
  3. Once investor confidence is lost, it is very hard to regain
How To Lose Money In The Stock Market

Dear White People

I watched a movie this weekend, which was relaxing because my recent weekends have consisted of feverishly reading finance books before they’re due back at the library. “Dear White People” was great. I wasn’t too sure at first, but it was both hilarious and profound, both honest and poignant. The film was set on an Ivy League campus and focused on how different kinds of black people adapted to and resisted against the ever-present culture of mostly white academia.

I am half black and half white, so “Dear White People” held a special significance for me. At different times in my life, I have been both too-black and not-black-enough, both ethnically-ambiguous-suburban-youth and educated-employee. I had to prepare a quick response for when people asked “What are you?

I related to some of the characters, both white and black, as well as their social philosophies. Being mixed has its benefits, one of which is being able to see both sides. Another is being able to say whatever I want and not be called a racist.

Dear White People

One Step Forward, One Step Sideways

After three months of ferocious studying, I passed both CompTIA A+ exams, and earned my certification. This victory puts me one step closer to my goal of volunteering in Bolivia. Only entirely-too-many steps to go. In celebration, I didn’t study anything for almost an entire week.  Upon reflection, I don’t think I’m meant to relax. As soon as I finish one gargantuan mission, it’s on to the next herculean task. Maybe I should take up Tai Chi and calm down a bit before I run myself into the ground…then again, there’s always more to learn.

Furthermore, I got some disappointing, albeit not unexpected, news yesterday. Some friends and family members have asked if they could donate to fund my journey and use HOPE Worldwide (the organization I’ll be working with) as a sort of fiscal conduit to deduct their 501(c)3 nonprofit contributions. Unfortunately, the IRS says “nah, you can’t do that.” It’s not the end of the world, hopefully people will still support the cause even if they don’t get a tax write-off.

Now, I’m focusing more on my Spanish. I converse in Spanish once a week with a friend of mine, which has been most helpful. I’m also going through some flash cards to slowly build a greater vocabulary. Once I reach the B1 proficiency level, I will most likely go back to the IT side of things and start studying for the Network+ exam; because why not, all these certifications will add up sooner or later.

One step at a time, at least we’re making progress.

One Step Forward, One Step Sideways

The Weasley Family

Long ago, when we were kids, it was my younger sister’s turn to pick a movie to watch on family night.  The four of us crowded around the old TV in our townhouse basement and ate pizza as we watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  Not long after, I got the first four books, all that had been released at that time, and started reading.  Our parents used to pay my sister and I a penny per page for all the books we read.  This helped us learn to love reading, but the arrangement stopped since The Goblet of Fire was so thick.

Over the years I have read through the saga many times.  I pre-ordered books 5, 6, and 7 to ensure I had them in my hands as soon as possible.  Book 6 was released while I was out of the country.  A friend of mine somehow had a copy with her in Jamaica, so I avoided spoilers like the plague.  We have since fallen out, so I can’t look at The Half Blood Prince’s cover art without remembering a lot of drama and tense text messages.

My plan was to re-read them all again for the last time and then donate my hardcover set to someone for whom the magic would still be magical.  I plan on finishing the seventh book tomorrow and now I’m not sure if I can stick with my plan.  For one thing, my name is written in different handwriting inside the covers of 5, 6, and 7.  For another, this was the first story I really loved.  I grew up with Harry Potter.  No longer having these books, in varying states of spine damage, on a bookshelf for the rest of my life wouldn’t feel right.

So we arrive, finally, at the point: The Weasley Family troubles me.

I never wanted to get married, ever since I was a teenager, and I still don’t.  My reasons are ill-defined and wavering, but they are based on the theory that I don’t want to be married.  Long-time readers may remember when I went to a friend’s wedding, their love and joy was so palpable it rocked my worldview.  We can learn something new from every story, no matter how many times we’ve already turned that page.  This time around, the Weasleys have started changing my mind.  I found myself thinking that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to have a family.  Maybe it would be great, we’d be like a team.

The Weasleys are giving, just, and brave.  They’re also poor, because they have seven kids.  Even though they live in a rickety house and aren’t well respected by their bureaucratic peers, they seem to have no regrets.  They love and support one another and that’s enough.

Their example, combined with another lesson I heard recently (self sufficiency is the road to poverty) makes me think that there’s a good reason why most people pursue relationships.  It’s a flickering candle in the void where my love should be, but who knows, maybe that’s enough.

The Weasley Family

Feeling Frustrated

Yesterday was unreasonably distressing.  My life is fine, I have no serious complaints, however, like a lot of comfortable people, I’ll invent problems where none exist.  As you may know, I still plan on volunteering in La Paz, Bolivia for a year.  The earliest I could fly out is [redacted], and there’s plenty to accomplish between now and then, while working full-time of course.

  1. CompTIA A+ Certification
  2. CompTIA Network+ Certification
  3. Out of Debt
  4. Attain B2 Spanish proficiency
  5. Fundraise $10,000
  6. Logistics (Visa, Immunizations, Flight, etc)

Paying off approximately $70,000 of student loan debt within 4.5 years is a big deal.  Learning a foreign language well enough to have operational fluency (B2) is a big deal.  The IT certifications aren’t that serious, but the tests cost a few hundred dollars and I need them to be more useful while volunteering.  I’ve been told it costs about $10,000 to support myself in La Paz for a year, so I’ll need to come up with that somehow.  Each one of these steps is its own mountain, and I have to climb them all (while praying that no unforeseen expenses set me back) concurrently.

All this was weighing on my mind last night as I limped into the climbing gym.  Bouldering while suffering from minor nerve pain in my back was a disappointing experience.  Spoiler alert: 3 ibuprofen isn’t enough.  It was one painful frustrating failure after another.  In front of highly capable witnesses.  Eventually I left.

But the plan is the plan and the schedule is the schedule.  I will continue striving since I really want to help the needy.  If it doesn’t work out, that’s ok, I’ll just get started on my real life a bit sooner.  But I’m going to try.  Assuming I don’t go crazy from all this self-imposed stress in the meantime, we’ll see what happens.

Feeling Frustrated

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

Once upon a time, while bouldering, I saw a tattoo.  It was a large block of text on his right forearm, so I asked what it was about.  He told me it was a section from a book.  When I asked the obvious follow-up question, I heard that this youngish guy had a page from Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World tattooed on his body forever.  That was the most potent book recommendation I have ever received, I had to find a copy and read it, if only to validate that climber’s life choices.

“I never trust people with no appetite. It’s like they’re always holding something back on you.”

Many months later, I borrowed the book from the library.  I just finished reading the story tonight, and it was strange.  I read a fair bit, so I have encountered strange literature before.  I wasn’t offended or repelled by its oddness, but it bears repeating that this novel was more than a little bit weird.

“You got to know your limits. Once is enough, but you got to learn. A little caution never hurt anyone. A good woodsman has only one scar on him. No more, no less.”

I find it difficult to describe, and I fear that I would degrade the story if I gave you any hint as to its meaning.  However, if you, like me, find the fact that someone would have an entire forearm covered in words from this story for the rest of their natural life to be a compelling reason to read the novel that impacted them so strongly, then by all means, go for it.

“Life’s no piece of cake, mind you, but the recipe’s my own to fool with.”

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World