This is one of many True Story Interviews, in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting, amazing, challenging things. This is the story of Sabrina and her total and complete financial independence at age 19. Tell us a bit about yourself!
I’m a 19-year-old Human Evolutionary Biology concentrator at Harvard College and I love writing, reading, traveling, acting, modeling, fashion, baking, and trying new things. I enjoy chick flicks, dancing badly, and Top 40s (cue hipsters crying). I also blog over at Living, Learning, Eating.
How did you come to be totally financially independent at such a young age?
My dad lost his job when I was in eighth grade and tried, unsuccessfully, to establish a consulting company in the following years. By the time that he realized it wasn’t going to work out, the recession had hit and, despite an agricultural sciences PhD, he couldn’t find a job anymore. So for me, become financially independent at seventeen wasn’t as much a decision as it was a necessity.What skills have you learned in order to support yourself?
I’ve definitely learned pig-headedness and that creativity can be your best friend! When you’re juggling being a full-time student and supporting yourself, you don’t have time for traditional down-time. On the other hand, never relaxing is really unhealthy and can back-fire. So I found ways to get paid for my “down-time!”For example, I love writing. Though I’m not at the (super lucky) point where my books or my blog support me, I can use writing to make money – I’ve worked as a freelance writer for journals, sold articles to magazines, and won a good bit of money in writing contests!I also like going to the beach in the summer, but definitely can’t afford that – so I weekend nanny for a family who lives at the beach! They pay my transportation from the City and I get to spend the weekends playing with a pair of kids on the beach (and getting paid for it).
I also enjoy good food and people watching, so I’ve worked in a lot of food service situations, from ice cream shops to restaurants. It’s all about being resourceful.
Can you tell us – like, really break it down – how you afford rent, school, food, etc?
Fortunately, I have scholarships to cover tuition (a whopping eight – I spent 12 hours a day scholarship hunting/applying for a significant part of my senior year in high school and can’t even tell you how many I applied to, in order to scratch together the funds to afford Harvard).
Unfortunately, I’m drawn to big cities with sky-high rent. My rent in NYC this summer is $825 per month, plus about $80 of utilities, and my rent during the school year is a whopping $975, plus utilities. I clip coupons like a mad woman and keep my eyes open for sales – and if a club has an event with free food, I’m there!
I also work about 12 hours per week during the school year in the library and an additional 20 or so per week in the school year at odd jobs (babysitting, freelance writing, tutoring, etc.). During the summer, I intern 30 hours per week and work 30 hours per week. Sometimes it ends up being more – I rarely will turn down an odd job, because I need the money.
How do you parents feel about you supporting yourself?
I think they really appreciate it. As I said, it’s not something that was an option. I have to support myself and I think they’re glad that I’m not being a baby about it and being like ‘give me money, I need clothes!’ or ‘give me money, I want to come home for break!’
I’ve given them money before, at our worst times, when the phone was ringing off the hook with calls from debt collectors, our services kept getting shut off for overdue bills, and foreclosure loomed over our heads. It made them sad to have to take it from me, because they’re really awesome parents and they try their best, but I also know they appreciated it. It’s what helped keep milk in the fridge and veggies in the pot.
I also help out with my little sister’s costs (like buying her school supplies, report card rewards, etc.) whenever I can because she’s the sweetest thing ever and I love her so much. I know my mom really appreciates that!
How does your financial independence affect you on a day to day basis?
It makes me look at things differently than other people. I think a lot more before I splurge on stuff for myself and I’ve learned to be satisfied with virtual shopping sprees or window shopping sprees, where I just enjoy seeing the clothes. I don’t have to have them, I can just appreciate them. On the other hand, it’s made me look at my peers funny when they complain about their parents (who are bankrolling their college educations) or say they need to call their parents for money. Or whenever they act like they’re entitled to having their parents pay food, rent, etc.
I’m sure most of your friends receive at least partial financial support from their parents. Is it ever a struggle not to feel bitter because you know that you won’t ever have that?
I’m not going to lie and say that I don’t have moments where I get a little jealous, but life is at is and I’m enjoying mine. It may be hard, but it makes me stronger. I believe that things happen for a reason. Also, I love my family a lot and that helps with not feeling too bitter towards them. I just feel bad sometimes that I can’t help them more.
Are there any benefits to being financially independent at such a young age?
Responsibility! You sure as heck learn a thing about responsibility. I think it also makes you more appreciative, and it definitely makes you mature and grow up faster.
What advice would you give to someone in a similar situation?
Be resourceful! Figure out ways to earn money that are fun for you (like babysitting, freelance writing, or hiring yourself out as a freelance baker to parties – flyers, flyers, flyers!) If you find ways to have fun with it, making your own money can be empowering.
Also, just accept that it will be a drag sometimes and you will get down. But it will also get better – make sure you don’t stay down!
Thanks so much for sharing, Sabrina! Were any of you financially independent at a particularly young age?
original image (without the text on top) by palander metal works, for sale here.