Jessica Chang has graduated from Hathaway Brown School and planning on attending Stanford University.
In Korea, when a baby turns one year old, it's tradition to place them in front of a variety of items in a ceremony called doljabi. Whichever item they pick first predicts their future in life; string represents long life while a paintbrush represents artistic talent. On my first birthday, I cheated and chose two items: a book, symbolizing a good education, and a dollar bill, symbolizing good financial sense. My parents were delighted. For me, financial responsibility and education have always been intertwined. Growing up, my family didn't always have money, but we always had enough to pay for my education, even if it meant our socks were more holes than cloth. While financial responsibility enabled me to pursue a great education, great education also enabled me to pursue financial responsibility.
By pushing myself in school, I was able to earn money as a tutor to other students, apply to scholarships to help alleviate the cost of education, and craft an attractive resume to help myself land a job. Once I started earning money, I then taught myself to make the best use of it. The first pillar of financial responsibility in my book is saving. Rather than making impulsive choices, I decided to ask myself a question: do I really want this more than I want to achieve my long term goals, like paying for college or buying a car? Using this weighing mechanism helped me stay focused on what really mattered to me and prioritize saving for the future over the immediate present.
Money isn't just meant to be saved, however. The second pillar of financial responsibility is spending wisely. Through free online classes and YouTube videos, I learned how to plan monthly budgets that balanced necessary payments, like utilities, with "nice to have" but unnecessary choices, such as books, clothes, or new earbuds. I also started learning about making smart investments to help grow my money instead of just letting it sit. This summer, I plan on making my first investments in mutual funds, as well as continuing to use resources like Khan Academy's personal finance class to learn more practical skills, like filing income taxes, taking out college loans, renting a car, and more. One of my current areas of study, for example, is learning about the pros and cons of credit and debit cards, APRs, and FICO scores.
Financial planning can seem daunting; when I first started managing my own money, I never thought I would be able to budget correctly or understand the stock market. What I've realized, however, is that financial responsibility isn't a special skill that some people are just born with – it's something that you learn. It's just another class. And as I head off to college, which I see as the ultimate smart investment for the future, I hope to be able to use this scholarship to help repay my parents for their financial responsibility, which helped me get this far and which I am incredibly grateful for.