Who I am & The Story Behind Money After Graduation

39 Comments

I recently backed up all of Money After Graduation’s posts… manually. I literally copied and pasted every word into word documents, and then saved them in the cloud. This was done primarily to back up the site before its redesign in the coming weeks, but also because I never back anything up and it was becoming too much to comfortably lose. Years of my life are chronicled in this blog, and I feel nostalgic about the record of my twenty-something years in this little corner of the web.

As I went through hundreds and hundreds of posts — dating as far back as four and a half years ago when this was merely a personal blog — and watched my journey through personal finance at an accelerated speed. I was shocked by how much I had forgotten about my own journey, the numbers and the experiences. At one point, I was striving to live on $900/month so I could put the rest of my income towards paying off my debt and building my net worth. That’s dedication I didn’t even know I had! No seriously… I can’t believe I did that. It’s funny to think how much those personal finance efforts absorbed my life, and now how quickly I’ve forgotten most of the details. I was serious about money, but at that time I had no idea how serious my passion would become.

I often write like everyone reading this blog has been subscribing since it’s inception. However, Money After Graduation’s readership continues to grow, I realize that the majority of readers currently checking back every day haven’t been reading for years. They’re new, and I’m new to them. So, now that it comprises a coherent tale, I would like to share my story.

I grew up in a lower middle-class household, and we struggled with money. One of the very first things I understood about money, is that we never had enough of it. My parents worked humble jobs and we lived paycheque-to-paycheque, and sometimes those paycheques ran out. We never faced homelessness, but that was definitely more luck than planning. We did run out of food sometimes. My parents divorced when I was nine, and legal bills devoured anything that would have made life more comfortable. My sisters and I wore secondhand clothes, we participated in free or low-cost extra-curriculars, and for the most part we didn’t even notice our socioeconomic standing.

I didn’t realize until my twenties that all the families I had considered “rich” were actually only middle class. It’s only in recent years that I’m really getting a clear picture of how close to the bottom we were, because it grows increasingly further than where I am now. My parents have not gained any traction as the decades have passed, which is an ever-growing source of frustration and concern for me, but also serves as a nerve-wracking example of what not to do. Additionally, I can see firsthand the widening gap between the rich and the poor. There was rarely ever money leftover to save, but in failing to keep pace as the years went by, my parents are now irrevocably, hopelessly behind. I will probably have to help them through retirement, but I am ok with that.

From birth until age 24, I straddled the poverty line, always at risk of toppling over. After a bumpy childhood on a tattered shoestring budget, I was expected to be financially self-sufficient by age 18. And I was, but it was hard. Having grown up in a household with two parents that didn’t even complete high school, there never was a push to pursue post-secondary education. However, it didn’t take me long to struggle to pay rent on $6/hr before I decided that working entry-level jobs would never lead to a life I wanted to live. I spent a year working for chump change and saving as much of it as I could, and applied to university.

I enrolled in university at age 20, sustained on modest savings and scholarships. When those funds ran out, the bank extended to me a $16,000 line of credit, and I promptly rang up a $10,000 balance. Unsurprisingly, my money mishap parents hadn’t provided me with solid budgeting skills. I took out student loans in years three and four of my Bachelors degree, and somewhere in this mess calculated that I might be over $50,000 in the hole by the time I graduated. I downright panicked. I started using to scholarship money and tips from my serving jobs to pay down my line of credit, and the balance hit zero before I wrapped up my classes. My student loan balance in the meantime had ballooned to just over $20,000. I found Gail Vaz Oxlade and started a casual blog of my own, hoping to chronicle my journey out of student loan debt.

It was 2010 and the market was still climbing out of the 2008 crash. Even though Canada was less severely affected than the US, it wasn’t an ideal environment for a new grad. My $20,000 student loan debt was TERRIFYING, and I desperately needed a job to start hacking off the balance. Much to my dismay, there were few jobs for general science degree holders, so I did what every lost early-twenty-something does: I enrolled in graduate school. I spent a year in a microbial genetics lab, which was one year more than I needed to realize I did not want to spend the rest of my life behind a lab bench. I dropped out of my MSc. at the halfway mark, and took off to France for a month.

Taking a month-long foreign vacation with $20,000 of student loan debt and no direction in life sounds reckless, but it was my first experiment in what would become a powerful philosophy in lifestyle design. With the exception of my plane ticket and accommodations, I lived cheaply in Europe, and spent my time self-indulgently in figuring out my next step rather than visiting tourist spots. In my Paris apartment, I sat down and wrote out a list of everything I wanted in my life: career, relationship, self. In retrospect, it was a list of modest demands: a job in an office, a role where I could use my degree but still gain new skills, a salary of at least $45,000, to start an stock investment portfolio, to pay off my debt in less than 3 years, and so on. But at the time everything was so far from where I was, it felt like I was stretching.

I came home from Europe and knocked everything off my list. Passionately, aggressively, and even more successfully than originally planned. To this day I still scribble my “next steps” in worn notebooks, and when I fill a book, I start another. I don’t call them goals because goals are stupid. These are my next steps, a renewable to-do list to guide my life.

I landed a job at the university I had graduated from as a recruiter and student advisor. My starting salary was $50,000 with a killer benefit plan and more vacation time then I knew what to do with. My personal blog became Money After Graduation, and I started to earn money online. I tackled my student debt with a vengeance, sometimes making payments as high as $1,000 per month and throwing anything extra like income tax refunds or babysitting money at the balance. It was totally gone in less than two years, during which time I had also started saving for retirement and gotten the hang of investing in the stock market.

Personal finance felt like secret I had finally hacked. After a lifetime of money being a leading stressor in my life, it suddenly wasn’t any more. Somehow I had managed to pull myself out of poverty, and for the first time I wasn’t in the lower income or wealth bracket: I was comfortably middle class. It was something my parents had never achieved. By age 27, I was earning as much as both of my parents combined, but I was still unsatisfied. Having lived on the edge for so long, I was constantly terrified that it would be taken away at any moment. I was hungry for a bigger buffer to insulate me from the bottom. I realized middle class wasn’t enough, I wanted to be rich.

During this time, Money After Graduation was continuing to grow. Hundreds of readers had followed my journey out of student debt, and now thousands more were using the site for advice on saving, investing, and career progression. My story was featured by major sites and news sources like Business Insider, The Globe & Mail, and MoneySense magazine. I didn’t think I was unusual millennial, but I was living an unusual life. Unlike most twenty-somethings, I was debt-free, saving for retirement, and I wasn’t afraid of the stock market. But also unlike most twenty-somethings, I didn’t live at home or have my lifestyle subsidized by my parents. I was independent, self-sufficient, and I’d done it all by myself, even with the odds stacked against me. Which meant anyone could do it.

With dollar signs in my eyes, I went back to school for an MBA in Finance. By this time, my online and freelance writing income was nowhere near enough to replace my full-time salary, but enough for me to grind it out as a student for two years without eradicating all my previous hard work. I chose an affordable school, and dramatically downgraded my lifestyle. The MBA now ranks as the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I’ve questioned my sanity in going back to school on more than one occasion, but I met my husband-to-be so it certainly had its upside. By the time I had finished my first year, I knew I didn’t want a career in Finance but I felt too committed to switch out. I worried incessantly that I had shot myself in the foot going back to school, and I should have stayed safe in my cushy academic job.

But then I took this incredible week-long class in the first term of my second year of my MBA, that would change everything. The course was in technology commercialization, and every morning we would study venture capital funding and IPOs, and in the afternoons we had guest speakers that were entrepreneurs and angel investors. Hearing people talk about investing in early-stage companies and building them up to multi-million dollar enterprises was incredible, and I couldn’t help thinking, “I want to do this”. It was a bold admission, particularly for an underpaid intern who’d recently dumped most of their savings into an advanced degree they weren’t entirely certain would pay off.

Inspired, or just plain crazy, I ended up quitting my MBA internship a few weeks later, much in the way I did grad school: with no back-up plan. I was lucky once more, in a way that makes me think I might actually have a superpower that let’s me bend the universe to my will: three weeks after ditching my internship, I got a job as a consultant to early-stage start-ups. I now spend my days evaluating the opportunities and potential of new products and companies — the perfect training ground to eventually become an angel investor or venture capitalist.

My focus right now is this: 

to amass $1 million in personal assets and earn an income in excess of $200,000 per year.

Why? That is the criteria to become an accredited investor, the next hurdle I need to clear to pursue my goals of investing in early-stage start-ups.

Those are crazy numbers, but I stopped feeling overwhelmed by crazy numbers a long time ago. I’m not afraid of the things I want, because I’m not afraid of myself. And I’m not afraid of failure, because I do not fail.

My journey in personal finance and my career have been empowering, but they’ve also given me perspective and insight. I KNOW there are certain things you can do to ensure personal, financial, and professional success, because I’ve done them. You CAN lift yourself (and your family) out of poverty, you DON’T need to live paycheque to paycheque, you WILL be a millionaire if you work for it, and your life can look EXACTLY how you want it to, every single day.

I’ll be done with my MBA in Finance in less than one month, but it wasn’t until 3/4’s through the program that it dawned on me that my journey with Money After Graduation was far more about entrepreneurship and lifestyle design than it ever was about money. Money is just one piece of the puzzle, but it is one that you can’t complete the picture without. I’m convinced that if you get your financial house in order, you can do or have anything you want. Which is why I don’t want your debt to crush you, your job to eat your soul, or your budget to keep you from buying the things you want (even if the thing you want most in the whole world is marshmallows).

So thank you for reading, I’m glad you’re here. This is me, but I’d love to get to know you. Leave a comment or drop me a line at bridget@moneyaftergraduation.com. Tell me your crazy goals, because we’re in this together, and we’re going to knock everything off your list.


39 Comments

  1. Brian

    Is it different in Canada? In the US you only need one or the other to be an accredited investor.

    I enjoyed my time getting my MBA, but to be honest I thought the program was much much easier than my undergrad engineering program. But part of that might be because I enjoyed my classes more for my MBA and it just came more naturally.

    No matter what, I can tell you will get to where you want to go, I have read your blog long enough to know that! Congrats on the MBA

    • Bridget (Author)

      No, it’s one or the other — I’m just not entirely sure which one I can get to first haha!

      The first year of my MBA was easy, the second has been very hard, but I have definitely enjoyed it way more than undergrad. …. can’t wait until it’s done though, so exhausted from the journey =p

  2. I am so inspired after reading this, Bridget! I’ve been a reader for the past year and half, so it’s really cool to see your whole story in one place. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I remember us not having a lot of money in my early childhood years and there being more later, my parents not making reasonable money until they were well into their thirties. Sometimes we drive past the house we lived in when I was little and it seems so different from our lives now. (They got me into a magnet-type elementary school because the neighborhood one was the worst one in the city.)

    I don’t outearn my parents by myself, but our household income (mine and my boyfriend’s combined) is definitely higher than my parents, which is really strange considering how much younger we are. It’s interesting talking about these sorts of things with my boyfriend as, even though we make similar incomes now, we come from different backgrounds and have different reasons for caring about money.

    I’ve been hoping to hit $200,000 in income one of these days, but it’s really looking like it won’t happen without a promotion at this point. I’m totally fine with that.

    My parents were always very controlling with money with us kids, so even though I could fall back on them if something terrible happens in my life, I’ve built up savings upon savings so that I don’t have to depend on them or a job or a spouse or eventually, a bank for a mortgage loan, and it’s a great feeling.

    • Bridget (Author)

      I think it will take me a few years to hit $200K and I know it will never be from my salary (which I’m totally fine with).

      My fiance & I are close in income, and while he didn’t grow up at the bottom like I did he still came from humble beginnings. He definitely wants to be comfortable but he’s not as blood-thirsty for wealth like I am haha

  4. While I’m glad things are working out so well for you and am again thankful for our Twitter conversation yesterday, I have to say I am curious as to why you’re adamant that I don’t quit my PT job when you have quit jobs “with no back-up plan”.

    I know it’d be a major gamble to quit, but it seemed to have worked out for you?

    • Bridget (Author)

      When I left graduate school, I had a part-time job at the Apple store @ $15/hr, and when I left my MBA internship I was earning more than $2,000 per month online via this blog and freelance writing.

      Having no back-up plan NEVER meant having no income.

      When your side hustles are bringing in thousands of dollars per month, by all means, eliminate the things in your life that are draining you. But it’s never acceptable to bail on a job you need just because you don’t like it, and push your costs of living on to someone else to support you.

      • Okay, so I just have a different interpretation of what a “back-up” plan includes. Thanks for clarifying!

      • Louise

        “But it’s never acceptable to bail on a job you need just because you don’t like it, and push your costs of living on to someone else to support you.” I agree 100%. If mathematically possible, I would agree more! Having had a terrible employer in the past, I made sure I had something (anything) to fall back on, especially because money is always tight for debt adverse savers and it is not fair to put that added pressure on someone else. Now that I am rapidly approaching mat leave, I saved twice as much money as last year so that my spouse does not have that pressure…and neither do I. It’s important to enjoy life, which includes enjoying part of your work life…but one needs to eat to live. Not making ends meet is definetly more stressful for me than not liking my job.

  5. Wow! What an incredible journey you have had and are still on. You clearly have focus and drive. Congratulations on everything you have accomplished so far and your new Next Steps seem like a challenging yet natural course for you.

  6. Thanks for sharing your story. You have an amazing success story that has, and I’m sure will continue to, inspire people. I really hope that you are proud of all your accomplishments!

    • Bridget (Author)

      ahhh that is so awesome for you to say, thanks for your kind words!!

      I rarely feel proud of my accomplishments — way too hellbent on what I want to do next 😉 but you’re right, it has been an amazing journey!

  7. J

    About a year ago or so when I started my own personal finance journey to get out of debt, I read all the entries about your time in Paris and I really enjoyed them.

    I also in general enjoy your posts and your drive is motivating to me, so yeah. Thank you.
    🙂

  8. Amazing post Bridget! You’re story is so inspirational, I feel like making some crazy big new goals for myself right now! So excited to see what the next few years will have in store for you.

  9. I’ve been reading for a few years now so I had pieced together basically most of what was here, but I loved getting to see it all in one place. It’s pretty awesome to see how much immense progress you’ve made over the course of less than a decade – I have no doubt that will continue as you keep giving’er.

    On a slightly different note, can I just say how impressed I am when people accept certain things aren’t for them and actively change it. One thing I talk about with my friends (very grad school heavy because of how I know them) is that I always respect someone making their own decision on grad school and being able to say a terminal MSc is “enough” instead of continuing on to an unwanted PhD because of pressures.

    • Bridget (Author)

      It IS insane. When I look at the past 5 years it blows my mind… and makes me so excited for the next 5 😉

      I think it’s hard to quit. It takes a lot of courage because most people won’t get it. But IMO there’s no way to push through something that isn’t right and not going to serve you in the long run.

  10. I found your blog either when you were still in France or recapping from home. (I can’t remember now whether you did those posts in real time). Like Alicia, I’ve pieced most of this together but I don’t remember you being as frank about your parents’ situations before.

    Long before my husband and I married I knew that we would be helping his parents through retirement and I am fully supportive of this fact. What scares me, as the +1 in the situation, is that we may either be the only ones supporting or that we may unintentionally wind up supporting one of his degenerate siblings that is still heavily dependent on the parents.

    • Bridget (Author)

      I am so used to being ashamed of or embarrassed by the financial mess my parents are in. Additionally, like I mentioned in the post, I wasn’t even totally aware how little income and wealth my family had while I was growing up until the past few years, when I started earning a good income and had a basis of comparison.

      I can’t imagine supporting siblings as well as parents… parents are one thing, because chances are they’ve made sacrifices to provide for you and it’s good to give back, but siblings had the same opportunities as you and shouldn’t need your help.

  11. Jaye

    My childhood sounds all too similar to yours. My parents, despite being hard workers, worked for very little money as they hadn’t finished high school and pursued an education – so could only get unskilled jobs.
    They separated when I was still little & my mother predominantly raised me thereafter. My father was long gone, along with his income (were talking now).
    My mum struggled with money for the bulk of her life before deciding, at 40, she wanted a career change. She went to uni and is now a registered nurse and she totally aced her studies. Prior to that she’d only ever worked as a cleaner, kitchen hand, etc. She’s still playing catch up with retirement but she’s paid off a humble house and owns a nice car and for the first time was able to buy all new furniture for her home.
    I think when you grow up as we did, your more determined than the majority of your peers to be successful. You have a burning desire to attain the perceived unattainable, or I do at least. Thankfully I never inherited my parents ‘money doesn’t grow in trees’ mentality 🙂

    & Bridget, it was great to read your whole story. I check back often and have found a lot of solid advice / guidance from your posts.

    • Bridget (Author)

      Thank you Jaye! Your mom is a rockstar for going back to school — I can’t imagine how challenging that is, but when you think about it, even at age 40 you still have more than two decades in the workforce so why not do something you love and that pays well?

      I agree my humble background has contributed to my determination… it’s heavily fear-based but as long as that gets things done I guess it doesn’t matter haha

      I’m glad you’ve found my site helpful!! I love writing here, it’s so amazing to hear that other people are enjoying it too.

  12. Sarah

    This post made me realize how long I have actually been reading your blog – close to four years now! It’s still one of my favorite blogs, even though many other have popped up throughout the years. I think your blog speaks to me more personally, as I live in Calgary, we’re around the same age, and I too grew up in a lower middle class family. I have to say, I’ve definitely have been inspired and have made some personal moves in my life (getting a side hustle, changing jobs, and asking for more money) all using the tips you provided me. So thank you for being a voice for not only Albertans, and for women and showing that you can in fact overcome your circumstances and rise above them. I’m excited to see what your future holds 🙂

    • Bridget (Author)

      hahaha the years have gone by SO fast. I can’t even believe I turn 30 at the end of this year — I still remember being a lost early-twenty-something.

      I am SO thrilled to hear the blog has inspired you to get paid what you’re worth!! <3

      This is high praise I'm almost tearing up at my work desk like a fool right now. You are the best!

  13. Love this post. I did the same thing when I was going through my MSc. I ended up finishing it because my mom was all about that school life, and not finishing it meant a waste of money.

    • Bridget (Author)

      That makes sense! I think my MSc. would have cost me more to finish than to leave.. just because of the lost income. Thankfully, because my parents aren’t super into the post-secondary thing they didn’t really mind me quitting grad school =p

  14. Great story! I’m new to your blog but sounds like you have some great goals, and am excited to see you progress!

  15. Amazing story! Can’t imagine how much it took you to manually back up all those posts though. I took an elective on entrepreneurship during college, and the class was fascinating. It was great learning about start-ups, funding, VC, and seeing success stories and the failures.

    Being able to actually fund a start-up would be really cool. One of my favorite things we learned about was Kozmo.com, there’s a documentary on it. Failed start-up during the dot-com bubble I recommend checking it out if you get a chance.

  16. This was such a great post and you’re right, even though I have been reading for a while, I really didn’t know most of your story! Your position is definitely an excellent place/training ground for a future investor, especially in technology. I hadn’t heard of “technology commercialization” before and now I am diving into it. I feel connected, seriously! I’m going to send you an email too!

  17. It’s good to know that you came a long way Bridget. Like you, I do also come from a financially-constrained background. I could totally relate to your story.

    Anyway, at the speed you are progressing, you will achieve your goals in no time.

    Cheers to lifestyle design,
    Josh

  18. Aleksandra Sagan

    So nice to get to know you more through this post. A lot of this has obviously been said in other places on your blog, but it’s nice to have it all in one place.

    A lot of it felt like reading my own life story. I grew up in the same kind of impoverished family (minus the divorce) and definitely participated in free or low-cost extra-curriculuars, but didn’t really notice our socio-economic standing until we were much older.

    I think this line really hit the nail on the head for me: “I didn’t realize until my twenties that all the families I had considered “rich” were actually only middle class.”

    I’ve made some ambitious money goals myself once I got in control of my finances. I think partly that is because of what my life was like growing up.

    Good luck on your goal of becoming an accredited investor. I can’t wait to read all about it!

  19. SP

    Been reading for quite some time, but I found it fun to see your story all pulled together in one post with your current perspective. Best of luck on your next steps! (In my life, I call them goals, but semantics aren’t important!)

  20. What an inspirational story. You’re living proof that hard work pays off. Congrats on all your success.

  21. This was so great to read, it’s crazy to think of all the change that the last few years have entailed for you. Way to go!
    Your job sounds SO AWESOME, that is right up my ally 🙂 It’s also fantastic that you’re loving it, which makes it way better.
    Thanks for sharing all of this. I hope a lot of people find it inspirational and clue in to how much opportunity there is in Canada (and in a lot of situations in the US.)

  22. Sean

    Great article. I just came across your blog and am happy with what I’ve been reading so far. I’m jealous of the fact that you only had $20k in student loan debt… I have over $100k…

    • Bridget (Author)

      You’ll get through it. My $20K was just because I was lucky and “woke up” to financial management while I was still in school. If I hadn’t, I would have owed over $50K for my undergrad, and I wouldn’t even have an MBA now because I wouldn’t be able to afford it or borrow more.

      $100K will take longer to pay off but it’s still doable (and not even uncommon!). Good luck! Let me know when you hit some milestones (like under $100K — that will feel amazing!!!)

  23. Meg

    I appreciate you sharing your journey of personal finance. I am 24 and just finished graduate school this past December. I recently began paying off my student debt from undergrad and grad school (which at the end of the day totalled around $47k). In the last five months since starting my full time job, I have paid off over $2k in interest and about $2k off the principal. My plan is to have it all paid off within three years of the day I graduated. Reading blogs such as yours keeps me pumped for the day I can take my mom out for a fancy dinner and celebrate being debt-free. Thank you for helping to keep me motivated to make the choice for myself, every month and every day, to get there.

  24. Christian

    I’m so glad you posted the link to this article today, because this was before i started reading your journey and it was VERY empowering. In my own personal finance journey, i’m somewhere in the middle of where you were in this journey. A year out of grad school with a pointless degree and extra student loan debt, but paying back heavily ($1500 a month….oh what i could be doing with that instead 🙁 ) with an ambitious plan myself. Financial freedom and investing heavily is something i cannot wait for, and I love reading your posts because they inspire me to keep going. You rock, Bridget!