September Money Diary: Leveling Up



Ivan here. We ran a deficit for the first time in September - and for good reason too. At the beginning of every year, we set aside $5,000 in savings specifically to invest in ourselves. This covers expenses like tuition or program fees, tickets to conferences, or a year’s supply of books from our reading list.

This month we spent $3,000 on Jennie’s altMBA, an intensive four-week program created by entrepreneur, author, and marketer Seth Godin. Jennie works in a marketing role at a cybersecurity start-up in LA and we expect that this program will help to accelerate her career. Jennie will be publishing her thoughts on her experience after she finishes the program in mid-October.


Generally, there are three guidelines we consider when deciding where to invest our dollars:

1. Underweight credibility and credentials

Here’s the most meaningless answer someone can give when asked why they’re doing a particular job or applying to a specific program: because it’ll look good on my resume.

By contrast, we ignore the ‘prestige’ factor entirely. Frankly, it’s a weak and stupid argument. What you’re essentially saying is that you think something is worth doing because everyone else thinks so.

There’s this disturbing assumption out there that credibility can be bought instead of earned through real-world experience. With the prevalence of social media, how something looks becomes a substitute for who we actually are. This lulls people into a false sense of security, and leads them to waste their precious time and resources (i.e. go into debt) in pursuit of yet another box to check before they’re finally ‘ready.’ But of course, they’ll never be ready - because they never bothered to start in the first place.

2. Learn by doing rather than wait to be told

We prefer learning through project and team-based assignments with clear deliverables over lectures and reading. And that’s exactly what Godin’s altMBA offered. The traditional academic model is both overpriced and broken. Why are people paying $50k for the privilege of having their hands held through readings available in a bookstore for less than $1,000?

3. All else being equal, take the path less traveled

The first thing you learn in finance is that scarcity drives value. About 300-400 people are admitted into the altMBA (100 per graduating class), compared to over 100,000 MBAs graduating from U.S. universities every year.

By definition, the average person is not someone people should be aspiring to. It follows that all else being equal, the more conventional an opportunity is, the closer you move towards this mediocre average.

Expense Breakdown

1. Rent and Bills ($1,778.85)

2. Groceries ($301.32)

No surprises here. Boring is good when it comes to budgeting. It means we’re doing something right.

3. Eating Out & Entertainment ($249.93)

We’re trying to be more adventurous when dining out. This month, we sampled Indonesian, Burmese, and Indian food. We found a great hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant in the Jasmine Market, which serves delicious and affordable curries and biryanis in generous portions.

Here’s something I don’t understand: why are people willing to pay a $20 premium for a burger or BLT sandwich while complex cuisines like Mexican and Indian get priced into the bargain bin? I suspect that this has something to do with what people have grown accustomed to. In any case, we’re happy to exploit this market mispricing.

4. Savings, Education, and Investments ($3,000.00)

Jennie’s altMBA program fees. Not much of a financial sacrifice considering it’s just one month’s savings. If Jennie gets even a quarter of the value we expect from this, the return should more than make up for the initial investment.

5. Miscellaneous ($169.09)

Overshot the budget a little due to all-too-frequent taco truck runs.

6. Life Happens ($103.00)

Passport renewal fees and a business dinner.