Can you start getting rich in college?

financial independence

A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by Araminta over at Financially Mint.com.

Araminta told me how she earns money while studying in Edinburgh.  I was intrigued:  is it possible to combine earning with studying?

I have mixed feelings about university / college education. University can either be a 3 (or 4) year holiday camp where you rack up hangovers and large debts that you never pay off for a degree that qualifies you for nothing.  Or it can be a stepping stone to a higher paid, professional career.

It’s a big subject that I’ll return to. For now, I’ll just say that college is no longer the no-brainer it was when tuition was free, there were grants for living costs and only ~10% of people went to college.

One of the things that The Millionaire Next Door tells us is that most make it by embedding frugality into their habits early on…and then continuing to be frugal whilst hustling as their small business or professional career takes off.

That, plus the power of compound interest, means it would be really powerful if you were able to get on The Path to financial independence whilst still at college. Is that even possible? Let’s ask Araminta….



Araminta

I’ve been on my path to FI for some time now and I hadn’t even realised.

I don’t have a high paying job, I don’t have a super high savings rate and I don’t have a ‘FI number’ that I’m aiming to retire at. In fact, I’m still studying for a degree.

So how’s that work? It all started one very late night in a tiny room in Shanghai. It was one in the morning, and I’d just finished reading Rich Dad Poor Dad: my entire life had changed. I was going to be financially free. I had no idea how, but I knew it was going to happen. I was 18.

Before I go on to tell you my story on the search of financial independence at university, I want to give a bit of context on what the path to FI really means.

What are the paths to FI?

We’ve heard of the more traditional and well-known path to FI: you graduate from college, get a high paying job, save a high percentage of your income so you can get out of there as early as possible. Once you reach FI, your nest egg allows you to do what you want and gives you the choice to work or not.

But FI is about having choices, not just having a huge nest egg. So really, there are other ways of having choices. We touch on this in my awesome interview with Barney; what if you skipped the whole high-income part and went directly to having choices? What if I could live the FI life right now?

No security of having a nest egg, no high-income job, maybe not even a college degree. Is it possible to reach FI without all that? Can you live with choices now…without enough money to never have to work again?

My path

Let’s take a look at my own ‘path to FI’.

It’s September 2017, and I land in Edinburgh, Scotland. I’m excited for my new life here after finishing my gap year travelling, living and working in different countries. The plan: study Accounting with Law at Edinburgh Napier, get a student job and stay here for a few years.

I got a job as a waitress, became a normal college student trying to figure out what management accounting was all about and shared a normal flat in the city centre. That lasted 3 months.

In September 2017 I also started my personal finance for college students blog: Financially Mint. I had Rich Dad Poor Dad in the back of my mind and a mission to be financially free – but had no idea how, so I started a blog about it to help me (and others) figure it out. The more I learnt about money, the less I wanted to be a normal student studying management accounting. I realised I wanted choices. I wanted freedom. But really, I wanted it now. Familiar?

Life took a dramatic change. I got fired from my job (apparently I didn’t move ‘fast enough’ for a waitress), I quit Napier (to my parents’ slight angst) and I changed flat. I enrolled in The Open University studying Business and Finance, I continued working on my website and started earning money with some marketing clients I found through Upwork and eventually through my blog. I also started volunteering for The British Heart Foundation.

Earning while studying

How did I earn money with these clients? I discovered a big demand for Virtual Assistants. If you do a quick search, you’ll see VAs charge around £20-£50 per hour (or more!) something not all bloggers or online businesses can afford. So using my marketing experience from Financially Mint and my own writing skills, I popped on to Upwork and charged from £10/hour upwards.

Not much money, but I was willing to hustle – not only was I earning money, but I was also learning more about digital marketing for my own blog. I started using great tools such as Snappa and SmarterQueue, and really dug into SEO. Next thing I know, I’m doing the podcast show notes for ChooseFI, a truly amazing podcast and community focused on learning about financial independence. I was learning about FI, gaining marketing experience and earning money – triple win.

But don’t get me wrong: I was terrified. Here I am, having to convince others that I don’t waste my time everyday ‘working and studying online’ and that I do in fact have a social life (which has interestingly improved). Terrified, because I was going against what everyone else was doing, leaving the security of university and not depending on a normal job.

That’s when I realised I was kind of on my own path to FI; thanks to the online world, I get to work and study when I want and where I want. And I get to work on something I’m passionate about: helping other students manage their money in university.

You have choices!

Turns out you can go to university for practically free, there are alternatives to getting a job and sometimes paying off your student loans isn’t the best idea. I’m still working for marketing clients on the side, but I have a huge amount of flexibility and freedom. Again, sound familiar?

My income is low, but so is my spending; it’s amazing what you can do with £500/month. No commute to university, drinks at home rather than clubs and Lidl is my best friend. While my friends were blowing money away on takeaway and cigarettes (I’m talking a pack every two days), I spent £15/week on Lidl food and tried my hardest to stay away from tobacco. And it’s important to note that my parents do help out financially and help cover my rent (the fact that they also emotionally support my ‘path to FI’ is still mind-blowing to me).

I’ve been living this new life for 4 months now, and although it hasn’t been all rainbows and unicorns (a lot of ‘WTF am I doing with my life’ moments), it’s a thousand times better than my previous ‘normal student life’.

So am I really on the path to FI? Do I really have more choices and freedom? Or am I just wasting time and should get back to university asap? The daily questions of my mind.

The future

Believe it or not, there is a plan behind all this: to eventually earn money purely doing what I love. This means I need to keep working on the website and taking part in different projects.

In terms of FI: Although I do invest part of my income and do a lot of experiments with money, the goal isn’t necessarily to accumulate a large nest egg to retire on – it’s simply to earn money doing what I enjoy, all while having flexibility and freedom. But I still depend on an income to live. So does that still count as financial independence? Discuss.

Whether the plan works or not, the good news is that I’m young enough to have plenty of time to fail. I have time to search for different income streams, I have time to go broke and start up again, I have time to learn as much as I can about money.

The business and finance degree is my backup plan: if in 5 years I’m still on a low-income, I’ve told myself (and my parents) I’ll get a proper job. A lot can happen in 5 years.

How other students can plan for FI

Good news: you can get started with FI in university. In the interview, we discuss how students can prepare for FI; turns out it really isn’t that complicated. No, you don’t have to go a little crazy and study/work online, but you do have learn to be financially conscious. Start by building good financial habits and understanding the power of compound interest.

Encouraging students to take interest in money will change their lives. Instead of getting a job they dislike and working for 40+ years, they’ll be working towards achieving freedom, whether through flexible jobs or early retirement. Starting so young gives you the option to plan and choose – what do I really want my life to look like?

So if you’ve got a child in university, work on their financial education. Give them books to read, documentaries to watch, blogs to read (hem hem Financially Mint) and help them get started with investing. Once they understand the amount of freedom they could have with correct money management and earning skills, that’s it.

The path to FI is a deeply personal one – each person can design their life how they want. So let’s start designing it early.

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Further reading:

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  1. Financially Mint
  2. Rich Dad Poor Dad
  3. Financial coaching

25 comments

  1. Congratulations on your achievements and thinking outside the box. Often the hardest thing for youngsters is to decide what they want to do with their future…what to study at University…what career to follow etc. Sounds like you have found something that works well for you. Educating yourself about financial matters from a young age is certainly a very good idea. Both my kids went to University and now have well paid jobs that they love….but this path is not for everyone. Thanks for this very interesting article. I will pop over to your blog now to check it out😄

    1. Araminta · · Reply

      Thanks Gilda! And yes, the earlier you realise how important understanding finance is the more time you have to sort out your life!

  2. Sounds like you’re on a path to be a freelancer, and that’s awesome! If I were your age I would probably choose the same as I found the monotony and structure of a regular job to be boring after 20+ years.

    Plus with your lifestyle all you need is a connection to the internet and you can work anywhere. Good luck!

    1. Araminta · · Reply

      Yes – it truly is amazing the flexibility and options we have now with the internet and a laptop. Thank you and good luck to you too!

  3. Well done on your journey. The most terrifying thing is at the start when you veer away from the pack and think “maybe I could do something different and better”. For me that meant not going to uni at all even though I had offers from Bristol and a few other good red bricks.

    Instead I got a digital marketing job, worked hard to learn as much as I could. Then I went freelance with Upwork (odesk back in my day) as a copywriter. It enabled me to travel to San Francisco and live in London and travel to other parts of Europe. Then I got burnt out and had a bit of an existential crisis. But not needing much money meant I could rest and heal.

    But you’re right that it’s amazing how little you need to live off, especially if you’re with parents. With a bicycle to get around, cooking for the family and not needing all the frills, I was living off £200-300 a month max. That was with contributing to the housekeeping. In fact my biggest expenses were books and computer games.

    I think FI isn’t about having a big nest egg, it’s really about having the confidence to go for what you want. For me that was having the time to learn skills like cooking and and make art (writing, playing guitar). And furthermore avoiding toxic workplace situations and horrendous commutes.

    This might interest you:
    https://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2018/03/09/money-and-confidence-are-interchangeable/

    1. Araminta · · Reply

      Wow Alex! We’ve gone down very similar paths – congrats on being able to travel at the same time (I’m trying that atm and it’s not so easy). I totally agree with you about what FI really is: having choices. Are you also trying out geoarbitrage? Living in a cheaper country also helps lower expenses as well as teach you a lot about new cultures! And love the ‘Recipe for Badass Confidence’ from MMM’s post, definitely going to write my own one.

  4. I love this Araminta, you’ve got it all sorted it at such a young age. I’m sure I just used uni as an excuse to meet new people and drink a lot! Future career plans and concepts such as FI were not even on my radar.

    And as education becomes so commoditised, we are going to see more and more people eschewing university and going for alternative paths – it’s all very interesting to watch and see how things develop.

    1. Araminta · · Reply

      Thank you Ms Zi You – trust me, I do not have it all sorted out! Freelancing can be quite a ride sometimes. I agree, it’s very interesting, wonder where we’ll all be getting our education in 50 years!

  5. Living Cheap In London · · Reply

    Looks like a great way to explore options whilst you are young enough to bare the greater risk.

    Interestingly there is some ‘flipside’ to your approach making headlines today: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jun/01/capita-scheme-graduates-tied-servitude-graduate-schemes-young-people

    1. Araminta · · Reply

      Very interesting article. I do believe getting tied up with a company can sometimes be a bad idea, especially if they’re the one giving you the degree at the end. Always good to do research, test it out and as you say, always have options ready (e.g. possibly working online).

  6. Survivor · · Reply

    Hi, the majority of the population are unquestioning conformists, so while most people on niche sites like this will probably understand you, I’m guessing we’re the exception that proves the rule.

    What sort of reaction do you get from family, friends and strangers in general though? I got a mixed bag, but enough animosity and accusations of naivete to change my strategy to keeping quiet. A couple of experiences were unpleasant, angry accusations that what I was suggesting was my lifestyle was simply un-doable, after which, I speak only if prompted …….& even then, mostly tell people only what they’re comfortable hearing if my instincts are that they can’t handle the truth.

    1. Araminta · · Reply

      Good question –

      My close family has been exceptionally supportive and understand why I prefer not to go to university and do my own thing. Friends and other family, on the other hand, are very sceptical and either aren’t interested in what I’m doing or simply think I’m extremely lucky. It’s difficult to explain to people, so I do exactly what you say: speak only if prompted.

      As more and more freelancers appear it’ll become more normalised! How long have you been freelancing for?

      1. Survivor · · Reply

        Hey, ~ 7 years, it wasn’t a choice though, I had a conventional life for years and it chaffed worse & worse as I got older and fitted in less ……while getting less tolerant of how society expected me to be – my flight path was similar to the ermine’s. [SLIS site] One day I flew too close to the sun, burned out & decided I had nothing to lose, so made a plan to escape and my glide path was a gradual descent of stress. Triggered by losing a good job that’d been my only anchor in my adult working life, I was so unhappy I felt I had nothing to lose, so walked out of my marriage & career too, re-starting with just savings, I didn’t even have a home or an idea of what I was going to do.

        After a lot of soul-searching, I figured finance was the first step and reasoning that if the prophet Warren Buffet started by investing his sister’s savings because he didn’t have enough of his own to get by on, it was good enough for me too. One of the few good cards I had was a few close family members that I could trust with my life & vice versa, So I experimented [like you] with tiny amounts in various ventures to get an idea of what would work, only with my money, so as to not risk theirs & then when I was confident my ideas were safe enough, I approached them as a man with a plan.

        Now I invest for us all & can survive on it, but am looking for the next step to raise the quality of life because this is viable only at a modest level, so scaling up would be beautiful. Though I’m far from wealthy, I couldn’t go back to a normal life doing busy-work for a corporation now, no matter what the pay; because having tasted this level of freedom, it’s too addictive. I realised this recently when I had builders doing some repairs at my place for a few days and found to my surprise that it was stressful spending so much time being with strangers all day, every day doing stuff you wouldn’t do if you had enough money to avoid it – & then it occurred to me that that’s the definition of work 🙂

      2. Survivor · · Reply

        I hope you don’t mind me answering this point, seeing as the question wasn’t for me, but on student loans, maybe I could be helpful – a younger sibling just paid of hers after ages, years of work – forced to take a loan to pay off the loan because the student one [at >6%] was several times the interest rate of the new loan.

        How? ……she kept her taxable income as low as possible, for as long as possible so as to not trigger repayments, by using every legal loophole in the book, all your various tax-free allowances, limiting hours of paid work, not being paid in money where possible – it can be done with a little research, discipline & willingness to think for yourself.

        I have an acquaintance in the building/development industry who’s involved in the university industrial complex’s current quiet revolution in converting all their free land to substandard accommodation for students. The wealthy are making a fortune off investing in this as universities across the country flush with student debt throw up housing blocks that aren’t required to comply with normal residential standards. [the gist of it is that it’s because they’re not permanently/full-time occupied or some such ruse] So these shoeboxes are even worse than crappy modern new-built rabbit hutches. The university/corporations can then milk students endlessly for rents, get the capital gains on property & for the most part only have to put out a few cheap courses that’ll never lead to jobs. [My point here is that it’s dubious whether it’s so moral to pay back student debt that the ruling generation never had to pay to achieve their comfort and position over us]. With all the excellent free courses available online today by the best qualified lecturers/professors anyway, when the last piece of the puzzle falls into place – an accreditation system for exam passes on these accepted by employers/society at large – then universities will be obsolete as teaching institutions. [remaining slum landlords & research institutions already in the pockets of big business]

    2. Araminta · · Reply

      Couldn’t agree more, once you taste the freedom of freelancing and working for yourself you can’t really go back. Your story is inspirational, it really shows how bit by bit you can build your life back up and choose to work on what you want – and many times it starts with that: the finances. The more people understand it starts with the money, the more people will choose to live a more ‘intentional’ life.

      On your second point: it pains me to see how people take advantage of students. They’re the most financially ignorant and are just learning about the real world. No wonder so many of them graduate with large amounts of debt and then spend their entire life paying it off. So, as you say, our best bet as students is to use the loopholes, study using different methods and looking further than the ‘traditional system’. A very interesting comment!

  7. plc_scada_engineer_FIRE · · Reply

    Interesting article.

    One other way to get round Student Loans is to study for a HNC on day release and convince an employer to pay for it. That is what I am currently doing to attain my HNC in Electrical/Electronic Engineering.

    The end result is that there is no debt, I am able to make a decent salary while studying, I will have more industry experience compared to University counterparts at 21 and I can always transfer the HNC to a degree if I wanted, cutting down a degree to two years.

    1. Araminta · · Reply

      Thank you! Wow, sounds like a really great deal – congrats! These kind of college hacks make planning for the future so much easier. How did you figure out the plan for getting rid of student loans?

      1. plc_scada_engineer_FIRE · · Reply

        I knew that what I wanted to do was be a Software Engineer designing Industrial Control Systems and noticed that a lot of people in that sector hold this qualification and attained it through the Part Time route.

        Even if an employer didn’t pay for it, the course fees are £2000 as opposed to £9000 so it could be paid off quickly.

    2. Excellent choice, plc_scada_engineer_FIRE. I did something similar in my field, an accountancy NVQ followed by professional exams. I sought out an employer to sponsor me, had no tie ins, and worked full time throughout. No degree for me, no student loans, happy days! ☺
      The breadth of practical work experience you can acquire on this path is incredibly valuable. Yes it’s important to pass the exams, but it’s what you have proven you can actually do that makes you stand out.
      All the best to you! I’m sure you’ll smash it.

  8. David Andrews · · Reply

    Interesting article.University used to be seen as the only path to proving you had the tenacity and ability to learn to a certain level. Now I think that other routes are available into a variety of careers. If you can show your “smarts” in other ways such as work based evidence and experience. I hit FI a couple of years of but I’m still working …. for now as I’m suffering from one more year syndrome. I’ll most likely ask for a 50% cut in my hours and go part time – if they’ll let me. If they won’t then I may be cutting my hours to 0.

    1. Araminta · · Reply

      Congrats on reaching FI! And yes I totally agree with you, if you can prove your abilities in different ways then a degree isn’t as necessary. Good luck with cutting the hours!

  9. Having a partner really helps too! My wife is getting her master’s and I work full time, while she still works part time. We are still able to keep our savings around 50% to 75% a month depending on when her tuition is due. Although, I wouldn’t go marrying someone for the financial security… 😆

    1. Araminta · · Reply

      Wow! That’s an amazing savings rate! Marrying certainly helps when you’re older, especially when you’re on the same page financially.

  10. “But I still depend on an income to live. So does that still count as financial independence? Discuss”

    I guess by the strict definition the answer is no, but I totally get where you are coming from with this.

    I mean what is the point in going through 10/20+ years of toiling in a job you might not like so you can quit to do something you do like? Why not just design your life around doing what you like in the first place. When you are Young you have far more flexibility so may as well try these things out at that stage of your life before you get “locked in” to the system after which escape looks a whole lot harder.

    I certainly wish I’d thought a bit more outside of the box when I was your age but I was too busy getting drunk… Haha.

    Massive kudos to you Araminta! Great name for the blog as well! I get it! 🙂

  11. Interesting article! Starting young always helps. Thanks for sharing!

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