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I have had many long talks with my friends and family about attending graduate school and argued about the pros and cons. This article summarizes what I have gathered from our collective experiences.

  • The most common reason for my friends to attend graduate school is that they don’t exactly know what they want in life yet. So they try to delay entering into the “real world” by going to graduate school. In graduate school they have a flexible schedule to think about what they want to do while working on possibly cutting edge projects.
  • Then there are a massive group of immigrants who absolutely need to use graduate school just to get into in America. For some of them, graduate school is their livelihood. A lot of my coworkers went to graduate school in the United States in order to have a job here in the US and create a better life for their families. My parents, for example, came to the US through graduate school.
  • Next there are those who are practically forced into graduate school, either by their parents, a weak job market, or by the realization that the fun and interesting major they studied in school is not in demand in the job market. Additionally, some professions such as doctor or lawyer require graduate school so it is merely a continuation of education and training for the college graduates pursuing those careers.
  • Also, there is a group of people who already have great jobs but want to either advance in their careers or change professions completely. Several of my former classmates turned to medicine or law after working as software or mechanical engineers.
  • Finally, there are those idealists who are actually truly passionate about their field, and want to be professors and researchers and possibly change the world with their studies. I know several PhD candidates who are in this category.

  • One big reason is that I am a woman that wants kids. Going to graduate school would delay the creation of a family. My personal take on kids is that if you want to have them it’s probably better to have them earlier rather than later. Since with inflation, the cost of raising a child heightens as years go by.
  • Since I am a woman in engineering, academia is not a very friendly place. One of my best friends said that she felt true sexism for the first time in her first year of her PhD program at MIT . One of her professors pretty much implied that she was slow and didn’t bother to answer her question at office hours, and when a male classmate asked almost the same question, the professor began a very detailed explanation of the problem. As a woman, becoming an engineering professor is also extremely difficult since tenure is decided by an old boys club in most universities. Anyway, I never ever wanted to be a professor in my life.
  • Since I don’t want to do a PhD program, what’s left is a masters program. Most master programs  are self-funded, so the return on investment isn’t very attractive. At least in computer science, masters program graduates earn a comparable salary as those with a bachelor’s degree and two to three years of experience. The difference is that the person with the bachelor’s degree would have savings instead of debt.
  • I don’t really want to change careers now because I have a great job with a lot of responsibilities and very good benefits.

So by process of elimination, I concluded that I should not go to graduate school. If you are thinking about graduate school, it’s probably best to think about what you intend to do after you graduate. Do you want to be an academic or work in industry? Do you want a family? Do you want fame and glory? A PhD program takes up five to six years in science, and up to fifteen years in humanities. Those years of your life can never be recovered. A masters program is quick, but the knowledge you buy might not really be much more than your bachelor’s degree. Also, you’re most likely to take a hit in the pocketbook by pursuing a masters program. It’s probably best to do a personal cost and benefit assessment of your choice to go to graduate school. This is a quick summary of my analysis:

Cost of getting a masters degree in computer science: having children later and sacrificing two years of pay in industry and the masters program tuition.

Benefits: none currently.

Your assessment is probably very different from mine and it’s possible that your perceived benefits is much greater than your perceived costs. It’s possible that one day I will revisit the analysis again, and find that the benefits greatly outweigh the costs, then I will consider graduate school again.

Well, it seems like   is in the   is a weekly list of the best blog articles relating to personal finance and I am very happy that I was chosen.  Please take a look around at my newest articles.   Subscribe and you never know what I’ll write next!

My frugality is largely due to my education in China as a child. In China’s elementary schools I was always told that saving money and not wasting resources is a virtue. Chinese children are also given cash as gifts on birthdays and new year’s and encouraged to save it. So most Chinese children are taught about the value of money at a young age. The experience is in sharp contrast to the education I received when I moved to the United States at the age of nine. At that time, my parents were graduate students and they did not have the means to purchase a lot of toys and clothing for me. I was actually teased for not having brandname clothing and shoes. When you are a child and you’re ridiculed that way, of course you would go home to your parents and ask for the things you do not have. Looking back, now I realize that American children are taught at a very young age to want, and quite often things they don’t actually need such as plastic dinosaurs and talking dolls. Gifts are rarely just cash in America, it has to be something that has be wrapped up and then ripped open again. Giving cash as a gift in America is even seen as offensive sometimes (my fubby, for example, thinks that opening a big box is just more fun). As a result, most American children do not really learn about the value of money until they step into true adulthood, and by then, many have already contracted a habit of spending money they may not even have.

The present day China is very different from the China of my childhood. American culture is extremely popular and has invaded every province, city, and township. A few months ago my mother and I strolled on Shanghai’s famous Nanjing Street and tried to find an eatery with Shanghai style dimsum. We walked for blocks and blocks and saw signs for two Starbucks, a McDonalds, and a KFC, but no prominent Shanghaiese cuisine. The shopping district had extremely upscale malls where they sold clothing for hundreds to thousands of Almost every American name brand was present and sold for slightly more than the US retail price. It seems that Chinese people are now also big spenders. What is different from America is that most Chinese people still use cash. Some of the larger retailers do accept credit cards, but the credit card adoption rate is very small. What is more surprising is that mortgages are also not very common. Since the Chinese government once again allowed home ownership, people have been purchasing homes left and right with mostly cash saved in the years when the government provided housing. So even though Chinese consumers are spending much more money now, they buy what they can afford. Hopefully this monetary culture that advocates saving will not change that much as mortgages and credit cards become more popular in China.

The difference in the monetary habits between Americans and the Chinese creates some of the friction between the two governments. For example, the United States is always pushing China to float its currency, the Yuan in an attempt to get the Chinese to spend more on US goods. The Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Chinese government is taking a regulated approach and letting the Yuan go up against the dollar slowly. The US government doesn’t seem to care that if the Yuan goes up, Americans will also have to spend more on Chinese goods. So much of the items that we use everyday is made in China that a sudden and abrupt change in the Yuan would disrupt the lives of almost every American. There are people who argue that if Chinese goods suddenly became expensive, maybe Americans will consume more American manufactured goods and create more American jobs. The bottomline is that Chinese labor will still be cheaper than American labor because they have 1.3 billion people and many are willing to do the manufacturing jobs. Furthermore, a lot of large corporations already have significant manufacturing infrastructure in place in China, and they probably would not move their operations to the United States. Ultimately, American consumers will still have to spend more if the Yuan is reevaluated 40% higher like the article suggests. I suppose the mindset of the U.S. government is that Americans can always borrow more money to spend?

Why should you care about China and its monetary policies if you’re not Chinese? Try reading this book: by Sara Bongiomi.

After I graduated from college, I got a job as a software engineer paying around $60,000 per year. I thought that was a fairly good offer, except, I ended up living in San Mateo County, where . I must say, I do enjoy living here even though it is very expensive. For the past two years I shared a three bedroom condo with two other women and paid around $700 a month in rent. In other parts of the country, I am sure you can rent entire houses with that much money, but here it’s pretty much impossible to rent anything more than a studio or single room for that price. My parents have always encouraged me to buy a place of my own, because they do believe that renting is throwing away money. Now that I am forming a new household with my fiance, his parents also suggested that we should buy a place, and they even generously offered to help us with the downpayment.So I did some research on buying a house, and found some excellent housing bubble blogs, and some truly horrifying houses. I blogrolled Irvine Housing Bubble and Dr. Housing Bubble because I love their posts, but the scary homes they feature in the OC and the “Inland empire” really can not compare to the barf-inducing shacks and McMansions in San Mateo county. Here’s somewhat of a faceoff, SoCal housing bubble against NorCal housing bubble:
SoCal Home quick stats: A small 2 bedroom and 1 bath home measuring 816 sqft, age unknown, listing for $400,000, short sale, last sale price $500,000 on 8/31/2006. For all the rest of the gory details click on the link.

This house that looks like a matchbox supported by matchsticks is probably the only thing I can afford in this county. When you look at the price per square foot on this home, I might as well just pack up and move to Manhattan. For those of you unfamiliar with the cities in San Mateo County, let me give you an SAT style analogy Southern Californians can instantly understand: Compton: Los Angeles = East Palo Alto : San Mateo. The last sale price on this home was $350,000 on 04/19/2006. That means the seller stands to gain more than $80000 in a little more than a year. This is a gain of 22% in 16 months if it manages to sell. I send the future buyer my condolences. As a direct comparison to the Real Homes of Genius, this East Palo Alto beauty is much older, and costs approximately twice per sqft. It also makes potential buyers feel like San Mateo real estate is really not deflating.


Now onto the next round:

Lately IrvineRenter has been blogging about homes that are dropping in price back to the prices of yesteryears. So this home he featured is not a trainwreck at all. So the question is, are there any decent San Mateo homes in my favorite neighborhood that’s rolling back prices?

My search parameters on Redfin was: 1000-1250 sqft, 2 bedroom+ single family home located from Ralston in Belmont to Woodside Rd. in Redwood City west of El Camino Real. The search yielded 39 results, and the average price square foot is a whopping! The San Carlos home featured here is the closest thing to a “rollback”. The last sale price was $760,000 in February of 2006, and the current listing price is $779,900. Needless to say, I cannot afford a home like this. It really makes me wonder who is buying all of these homes since the . I am sincerely hoping that the rollbacks in Southern California and the surrounding counties will move into San Mateo, so people can buy their only little secret hideouts again. For now, my fubby and I are renting a great condo in Redwood City for less than half the mortgage required to buy a similar unit.

Today I arrived at the fubby’s place and he was on the phone with someone, and sounded reasonable upset. It turned out to be his car insurance company. He made a simple call to update his address, and the customer service representative increased his insurance rate by almost 100%, even after removing some coverage, the insurance rate still went up more than 50%. The reasoning was that now he drives longer to work. The fact is, we are moving less than 10 miles away from his old apartment, and he is actually closer to work now than he was before. The problem is that, he also changed jobs last year and did not feel like it needed to be reported to the insurance company. So from the perspective of the insurance company, fubby’s commute length changed from 5 miles to 20 miles, and more driving means more risk. From our perspective, my fubby just moved 10 miles closer to work. Honestly, we did not know that moving could affect the car insurance rate that much. So we proceeded to shop on the internet for cheaper insurance, and along the way, I learned a few things.

  • Being single increases your insurance — since we’re getting married in less than a month, at first we input “married” as a marital status. Then we thought about it, and wondered if “single” is the correct status since he is technically not yet married. Well, it seems that married people are considered more safe, because the six months quote for “married” was around 21.5% cheaper than the “single” quote.
  • Being young increases your insurance — Apparently 25 is the magic number for the auto insurance industry. The quote difference between a 24 year old and a 25 year old is approximately 10%. My fubby is 24.5, so he has the higher rate. Auto insurance is the main reason why many people under 25 have to pay a higher rate to rent a car.
  • Even tickets negated by driving school can increase your insurance — on one of the quote forms we filled out, they actually asked for if we’ve gotten tickets that weren’t recorded because of driving school. What is the point of driving school if that information is collected by insurance companies? Not quite sure how much this increases your insurance exactly, but the mere fact that they asked for this information means that they use it somehow, otherwise, it would not fit into their business logic.
  • Getting in accidents increases you insurance — I think everyone knows this one, but it seems that different companies assess this very differently, and the difference in quotes is sometimes thousands of dollars. It definitely pays to shop around.

So finally, we settled on Progressive Direct because their forms were the easiest to use and the rate was reasonable. The new policy actually covers more than fubby’s old policy, and once he gets married they said they will adjust his rate down 20%. Anyway, insurance companies all use some sort of proprietary formula to calculate how risky a person is, and some things they do are plain bizarre. I guess we all live and learn.




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