Aitken: ‘Life After Yale’: maybe I should learn to budget

I spent more on clothes last summer than I did on two months’ rent in New York City.

Needless to say, this didn’t go down very well with my parents, who were already convinced that I don’t understand the value of money. My accounting of the summer’s expenses — documented beautifully in an Excel spreadsheet, no less — was met with a lot of yelling, crying and wringing of hands (and necks). My parents asked me to reconsider whether the financial services industry was really an appropriate career path for someone who couldn’t stick within a budget. I replied that there is a big difference between knowing how the stock market works and knowing how to turn down a Diane von Furstenberg dress.

Given that I’m about to graduate and return to New York City in less than four months, it’s no surprise that my parents are very, very concerned about my imminent future. My angsty mother sends helpful, upbeat e-mail messages to remind me daily that the stratospheric cost of living in New York City is going to sap my i-banker salary dry. My Republican father tells me next year’s income taxes will make me wish that I had never voted for Obama. My sister yells at me to get my spending under control “because there’s, like, a recession going on.” The only person who doesn’t seem to care about my financial future is my brother, who’s pursuing a career as a freelance comic book writer (and has his own financial issues to worry about).

My father also has taken to keeping a running list of things he will no longer be paying for after I graduate: my dry cleaning, my cell phone bill, my contact lenses, my Economist subscription, my late-night Durfee’s runs and so on. This is a fun game for him; less so for me. He’s also started making cruel jokes, such as suggesting that I spend the next two years living at home with the family, or worse, in Brooklyn.

My parents claim that they love me, that they’re doing it to scare me into understanding that “in the real world things cost money, and you have to learn to save and spend accordingly.” But there’s so much I don’t understand: How much do utilities cost? What tax forms will I have to fill out? Is it bad to spend $3,000 a month on a two-bedroom in Greenwich Village if it comes with a breakfast bar and exposed brick walls? Why is “budget” such a funny word anyway?

The appalling truth is that I’m about as clueless as every other second-semester senior when it comes to this stuff. One of my friends asked me yesterday whether “you’re actually supposed to keep receipts,” as he put it. Another forgot the PIN to his debit card and had to skip class to go to the bank and get it changed. Yet another confessed to not understanding how a credit card works. I can name half a dozen Yalies who have confided to me in hushed tones that they’ve never actually balanced a checkbook (and another who was surprised to learn that checkbooks actually cost money).

Fortunately, there is a solution to this endemic financial ineptitude — “Life After Yale,” a survival guide put together by the folks at Undergraduate Career Services with input from recent Yale alumni (the 2008 edition is available online). It might not have all the answers, but it does provide some useful rules of thumb. For instance, if you work from an annual salary of $40,000 you should expect to lose about 23 percent of it in taxes. Rent should cost between a quarter and a third of your monthly salary. Groceries should cost about $150 per person per month, and so on.

It’s apparently important to save money, too. If your company gives you the option of contributing a percentage of your salary to a 401(k) plan, contribute the maximum amount. You should also save your signing bonus and your annual bonus, if you’re fortunate enough to earn one. “Reinvesting” your bonus in companies like American Airlines and Marriott International does not count, even if you do own stock (trust me, I looked into it for spring break).

In short, the “Life” guide is a veritable treasure trove of financial wisdom in pdf form. Find it. Save it. Memorize it. Yale may have milked us for every tuition dollar we had over the past eight semesters, but it’s good to know that $160,000 later they really do have our financial interests at heart. The “Life” guide even includes professional fashion advice and fun little recipes for those of us who are not just helpless at finance, but helpless at life. And just for the record, I may not know how to budget, but I can rock business formal attire and make a mean penne alla vodka — and you can’t do that in Excel.

Kate Aitken is a senior in Silliman College and a former Arts & Living editor for the News.

Comments

  • Yale grad student

    If you leave Yale without learning any of these very basic life skills, then the world is more sad than I realized. Maybe if you priviledged undergrads actually appreciated the opportunities you had, you wouldn't be so lost in the world.

    My public university education at least taught me how to balance a checkbook. Sure that $160,000 was worth it?

  • Yale 08

    The author might want to be cautious in considering *certain* employee-sponsored retirement accounts -- one of my peers at SOM lost almost all of a ~$300K retirement account which was predominantly invested in restricted stock of her company when her firm, a to-be-nameless bulge investment bank, filed for bankruptcy in September '08.

  • Alum

    Seriously?

  • Yale undergrad

    I like this article - it's candid and cute a la fois. For those interested in the "Life After Yale" pdf's advice (I know I am), you can follow this link:

    http://www.yale.edu/career/alumni/media/Life_After_Yale.pdf

    Dude, "Yale grad student," why are you so down on us practically-ignorant undergrads? If I'd wanted to learn about how to deal with the real world, I could've moved to a new city and tried it out for free. Instead, Yale undergrads - at least speaking for myself - pay the $160,000 to get the best that undergraduate education has to offer: the residential college system that promotes close and lifelong relationships, interaction with the best professors around, and four years experiencing traditions of excellence in both academics and beyond the classroom.

    In short, what gives? This article expresses concern at the practical education many Yalies miss along the way, but there's no need to bash us for recognizing our deficiencies. You don't have to de-value another person's educational preferences to validate your own.

  • Anonymous

    A critical factor to living a happy life is to maintain a sense of humor, and especially to be able to laugh at yourself. The author seems to be able to manage both of these quite well, and with some added style.

    Besides, if you are savvy enough to check your account balance and bill pay on-line, maybe there isn't a need to learn how to balance a checkbook?

  • Yale Undergrad

    What is appalling about the column is not the fact that the author doesn't know about basic financial responsibilities, it is the fact that all these issues are discussed so lightly. It is insulting that many people here don't realize or appreciate what they have and the opportunities afforded to them purely because of their wealthy parents. The comment "If I'd wanted to learn about how to deal with the real world, I could've moved to a new city and tried it out for free." is equally disturbing; since when is rent/food/life in New York City (or any city) free? As someone who is on a large bit of financial aid, I am offended that you have disregarded my constant worry about the uncertain financial situation that awaits me after I leave the veritable utopia that is Yale College. Yes, I would LOVE to buy pretty clothes and travel to Europe and eat out every night and go clubbing in New York City, but right now I have to balance my part-time job, my schoolwork, and the extracurricular activities in which I feel I must participate in order to generate enough resume-worthy leadership positions so that I spoil my children as your parents have obviously spoiled you.

  • staff

    This is the brattiest, most out-of-touch with reality article I have read in a long time. It seems like the author thought she was being cute; it comes across as sadly naive and careless, if not downright offensive. I can understand comment #4 and the undergraduate has a valid point – but surely along with your lifelong friendships and professors your Yale education also gives you a sense of civic duty and perspective on the world as a whole and not just the tiny bubble you live in…

    Today's crisis is fueled by the public excesses of many, DVF dresses included. Maybe it's time to focus on taking your education to make the world a better place?

  • Kate Aitken

    Kids, this is not juicycampus. If you have something to say, please email me rather than anonymously posting an ad hominem attack on the internet? I'd greatly appreciate it.

  • Y09

    Kate, we love you just the way you are.

  • Anonymous

    I doubt that her lack of financial savvy has anything to do with a Yale education. It is merely based on how she was raised. While I like the article, I assume that your parents have spoiled you to the extent that you may not know fully how to take of yourself. Do you have a part-time job on campus? Have you worked for any of the money you spent?

  • Working Stiff

    I was prepared to think the critical comments were over the top (yes, I read the comments first), THEN I read the article:

    "I spent more on clothes last summer than I did on two months’ rent in New York City."

    "My father also has taken to keeping a running list of things he will no longer be paying for after I graduate: my dry cleaning, my cell phone bill, my contact lenses, my Economist subscription, my late-night Durfee’s runs and so on."

    Wow. I mean, seriously: Wow!

    You have *dry cleaning*? As an undergrad? and you DAD pays for it?

    This article must certainly irk those, say, working their way through college… Don't get me wrong: I am happy that your Dad takes care of you; must be nice. Rubbing others' noses in it rates somewhat less so (and being ignorant of your doing so, even worse).

    This from a campus that protested the high cost of baked goods in CCL (er…Bass)?

  • Rich

    Its so important that this opinion piece got out to the world. People just don't understand how hard it is to be privileged and rich: maybe now they will.

  • Poor

    Did Aitken really just whine about the existence of the comment system the YDN put in place last year, while she was an editor? I'm writing not because I'm optimistic about changing her way of thinking, but because I'd like to make it clear that she doesn't speak for all graduating seniors, as she claims.

    The column's pretty self-deprecating when it comes to managing your personal finances, Kate, but it's more embarrassing to hit us over the head with the fact that you're coming from and headed to great wealth. Given your well-to-do standing and your admitted lack of economic common sense, the fact that you're about to become an investment banker -- your salary drawn in part from those of us who know how to pay their taxes -- is terrifying.

    But hey, if that doesn't work out for you and Daddy's still unsympathetic, this kind of writing would feel right at home in the NYT Style section. Make friends with Maureen Dowd and the world is yours to expense!

  • yaylie

    It is a sad sight that after four years of Yale some still fail to develop the self-awareness of being able to perceive one's own viewpoint from the perspective of others. If somebody so bratty and prissy is about to become part of the next generation of investment bankers, it seems little has been done to repair our nation's financial crisis. You do realize that you'll have to work 100 hour weeks or you won't survive on the job long, right, Kste? I imagine daddy had to pull some strings to get that job offer arranged…

  • question

    Isn't this column some kind of joke/parody?

    It has a lighthearted tone, so I am hoping it is sort of a fake sendup of what a mind-numbingly overprivileged, profligate, overly entitled Yale undergraduate and her friends would sound like.

    I went to Yale too (graduated about a decade ago) and I don't remember a lot of real Yale students actually being anything like this bad. So my hope is that this is a parody -- or at any rate, heavily exaggerated for effect.

    Yalies aren't really like this. (Are you?)

  • Sadly…

    To #15:

    I believe the comment at #8 gives you the insight you seek…

    Boo. Hoo.

  • Kate Aitken

    Since people seem to be genuinely confused: yes, the column was intended to be tongue-in-cheek, self-deprecating, hyperbolic, and more generally emblematic of a trend I've noticed than a reflection on any one person. (The fact that there is an official UCS "Life after Yale" guide at all is an indication that there clearly was some need for advice on how to survive post-college, and that there must be some seriously clueless people out there at Yale. I personally find this more hysterical than reprehensible, hence why I wrote a humor column about it.)

    My first post was not at all a complaint about the comment system (which I had no involvement in establishing, by the way), but rather an expression of dismay that people who had dramatically misunderstood the humor and intent of the column and clearly felt strongly about it would choose to anonymously bash me/my family on a website rather than email me and ask "Are you serious?" The answer would have been "clearly not."

  • je11

    Kate is amazing. She is beautiful and wonderful and a great writer. If you don't understand that this article is hilarious, you are the one that needs to read the 'Guide to Life After Yale'

  • Ha!

    To #18: thanks Kate.

    To #17 (also Kate): so, then, it is a total fabrication that you had a lucrative, financial services internship? And you are doing the Peace Corps, not Wall St.? And you had no dry cleaning? And your parents are regular, middle class folks who can barely scrape by with your tuition bills? And you have loans?

    Whew! Once you confirm the "facts" it will be SUCH a relief.

  • j23

    Huh? Kate got a job in banking??? She can't even deal with her own finances. Plus, I thought i-banking died, Kate.

  • DancesWithWolves

    This article is asinine. To the young woman who wrote this, all I can say is that this article is an embarrassment. Shame on you.