Clothing Budget: June 2018

Parade of headless people.

Not a lot of original content happening on these days on this ol’ blog, but my upcoming work deadline is this week, so life should get back to normal after that. (Or another deadline will pop up. Funny how that seems to happen…) Anyway, still found some time to do some shopping πŸ™‚Read More »


Weekend Link List

This is myΒ orchid cactus plant. It only blooms once a year for a single night! My bedroom smelled amazing that day πŸ™‚

I’m still alive and kickin’! Since it’s been crazy busy at work lately (why do I feel like I’m always saying that?), in lieu of writing a proper post, I’ll just link to some articles/documentaries that I’ve been enjoying recently.

  • The foundations of productivity (I Will Teach You To Be Rich): I know some people find his writing style abrasive, but I like Ramit Sethi and his blog. In particular, I can’t agree more with his main message: the foundations of productivity aren’t special apps or “tricks” or “hacks”, but a solid night of sleep and reducing the number of choices you need to make every day. I have to say I’m pretty bad at the sleep part (started having insomnia in the last few years due to stress), but I’ve been trying to improve this by cutting down on screen time. I moved my phone charger out of the bedroom, which helped, but I somehow just switched over to the iPad instead 😦
  • Theranos book (Amazon): What is it about “fall from grace” type stories that are so alluring? This is the book version of the original WSJ article, which I simply devoured. While the Theranos parts were good, what I found particularly interesting was the investigative reporter’s side of the story: how he heard about the story, worked to find and keep sources, the (understandable) squeamishness of the sources, etc. The bravery of the people who helped expose the fraud, especially Tyler Shultz and the potential litigation and other financial repercussions he faced, is amazing.
  • Academic #metoo (Huffington Post): Another fall from grace type story. Different from the #metoo stories you see in major news outlets, this is a smaller-scale, academic #metoo complete with text messages and email exchanges. As far as I could find out, the prof is currently on administrative leave and not teaching any courses. My friends and I have discussed this one quite a bit, with most people on the stern condemnation side.
  • Wild Wild Country (Netflix): This is a documentary on the Rajneesh spiritual movement, and what happened when they moved to the US to try and establish a city in a remote part of Oregon. I’m still in the middle of it (it’s a 6-part series), but I’m creepily enjoying it so far. What I like is that the filmmakers try to present a nuanced view of things, not just a black and white “cult is bad” message. The interviews with the 2nd in command, Sheela, almost makes you believe her message, until you learn about her actions.

Money Story of an International Student in the US

American money needs some more color!

You’ve always heard of these great schools in the US. Although education is publicly funded in your home country, you want to see the world and try your chances in theΒ  uber-rich United States. If you’re successful, you will be covered in wreaths of glory whenever you return home πŸ˜‰ . How does one make it in the United States?Β (aka, the story of my financial journey in the US told in the second person)

  1. You need to get accepted to an American university. For undergraduate admissions, there’s a weird balance – on one hand, schools like the extra revenue that international students bring in; and on the other hand, they want to limit the number of foreign students, to preserve the character of the school and because some of their funding is tied to residents only. (The percentage of international students at my alma mater was ~10%.)
  2. You need to find money to go to an American university. With the sky-high tuition, US schools are so expensive! Are they even worth it? All these online websites and personal finance blogs (ok, not really, I didn’t read personal finance blogs back as a high school student) advocate applying for scholarships. But most schools don’t have scholarships for international students unless you’re a Math Olympiad genius. There are a veeeery few exceptions for some liberal arts schools and Ivy League schools.
  3. Luckily, you got accepted! And you’re not paying too much, through some combination of financial aid and student loans from your home country. You show up on-campus and being a good millennial, realize you need a smartphone. You head to AT&T and find out that because you have no SSN and thus no credit history, you have to pay a $500 deposit for the phone. You also record “00000” as your zip code, which will forever cause you problems whenever you’re trying to verify your account information to a customer service rep πŸ˜›
  4. After your first semester, you look for a job to help fund your education. Since you’re international, your visa severely limits your search to on-campus jobs (also, no work-study). Through a friend, you find one! But you need to get paid. You head to the sketchy SSN office in Harlem and sit there for hours waiting to be called. You get assigned a number that will follow you around for the rest of your time in the States.
  5. Meanwhile, you’ve been steadily using your debit card but want to get a credit card. You’ve heard about something called “credit score” that seems to be something useful. You apply for several credit cards advertised specially for students, but nope, denied for all of them because in the eyes of the banks, you don’t have any credit history (catch-22!). You get a secured credit card instead by putting $300 down.
  6. You graduated, yay! Since the economy sucks (go 2010), you decide to go to grad school. You receive a small stipend from your advisor since you are studying a STEM field. But you can’t apply for any of those nice National Science Foundation scholarships because they’re restricted to US citizens only.
  7. You go to fill out your taxes, and realize you’ve been here for 5 years and thus become a resident alien for tax purposes. This means that you are taxed at slightly higher rates than before. But you’re still a non-resident for immigration purposes, boo. You still have to wait in the long-ass lines at JFK when entering the country, since you can’t use the automated machines.
  8. You want to pay back your student loan using some of the education fund that your parents invested for you back in your home country (similar to a 529 fund). But because of the unfriendly US tax code, you are charged taxes on its earnings as a foreign trust, basically removing the original tax advantages of the fund.
  9. You graduated grad school and found a job! You’ve finally made it! Happily settled, you start the legal immigration process for the US. 3 years and $10,000 in lawyer’s fees later (luckily paid by your employer), your application is still stuck in the quagmire known as the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. You keep waiting… and waiting… and waiting…

Now, in all seriousness, I know some of the things I said here are trivial. For many international students, going to US for school is a dream that so many other factors have to come together for. Also, I grew up in a first-world country, and didn’t have to face additional barriers, like language, culture, money, and family support, that “true” international students have to face. I see my own PhD students (who are from China and Iran) facing the challenges above, and many more. But I wrote this post as a reminder of the little things that long-time residents of the US, like myself, take for granted.

Have you ever been a stranger in a foreign land? How did you handle “starting up” your banking/credit accounts?

Two Small Incidents

My Wonder Woman costume at Halloween last year πŸ˜‰

I guess I’m sort of a feminist. My partner makes fun of me because I like movies/stories with “strong independent female” characters (think Hunger Games, Wonder Woman), which gives you a small idea of my character, ha. I strongly believe that STEM can benefit from and therefore need more diversity (although undecided about the best way to get there). I try my best to support the female-oriented student orgs at my school (we just started a new org this year which is going great, and managed to get funding for a couple of students to travel to a national conference).

Recently, I traveled to an academic conference, and there were two gender-related incidents that I was uncertain about. So I’m writing down some thoughts about them, and turning to the blogosphere to help me interpret them.Read More »

The Cost of Keeping a Cat

Camouflage, kinda.

I promise this is not going to become a crazy cat-lady blog! I only have *one* cat, who I got for companionship when I first moved to California. I know nobody wants to hear about other peoples’ pets, so I promise this will be the only cat-related post. Not a word more about cats after this (unless you follow my Instagram πŸ™‚ )

I’d always wanted a pet, but previously being a student andΒ  living in rentals, it wasn’t the best idea. After finally settling down and starting work full-time, I thought it was a good opportunity to level up my adult life and get a cat. I love dogs, but since I’m not home all day and live in a condo, a cat seemed like the more responsible option. Thus, Zuri came into my life! In light of her two-year anniversary of joining the household, I thought it would be interesting to look at the expense of keeping her.Read More »

Expenses after Co-Habitating

Our newlywed custom t-shirts!

Despite all the potential financial disadvantages of marriage, there are some upsides to co-habitating as well! Since monthly expense reports seem to be all the rage on those personal finance blogs, I thought I’d do one myself, comparing expenses before and after my partner moved in, to see what has changed. I’m not planning on making this a regular series, as there are approximately 1024 other blogs if you want to read other people’s net income or expense reports πŸ˜› This is just a financial glimpse into our lives, as I weirdly enjoy reading these reports on other peoples’ blogs.
Read More »