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My Best Financial Moves in College

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When Patrick at Cash Money Life tagged me for this meme, he said that I probably had a couple little “hustles” going on the side when I was in college. I have no idea how he knew, though I had hinted about them in the past (selling stuff on ebay, online poker and blackjack), I don’t think I ever really wrote them all out in their full glory. I had some pretty lucrative things going, in college student terms, and it certainly easily sustained my lifestyle. However, the number one best financial move in college made the rest pale in comparison.

The number one best financial move I did in college was to graduate a semester early. That one move alone saved the cost of one semester’s tuition at Carnegie Mellon University, located in Pittsburgh, PA; which amounted to somewhere in the neighborhood of $15,000 plus room, board, food, whatever. I was able to do that because I always loaded myself up with classes, with AP classes in high school and then regular classes in college, and always pushed myself to the limit for those three and a half years. I don’t think all my little side projects, in total, earned close to that.

Of course, that financial move isn’t at all interesting and is borderline boasting (“oh look how smart Jim is!” we won’t go into what my grades were, shhhh!), so let me tell you about the most interesting of the side jobs I had:

Selling on eBay: eBay had started to get big and the whole “Buy Hot Deals from Fatwallet and resell on eBay” was still in its nascent stages. Whenever I see someone trying to make money, I try to figure out how that person is making money and then try to do it and then improve on it. So I saw these great deals on eBay for brand new products and so I investigated where they must be getting these great deals. Some were getting them wholesale (I didn’t want to get a tax ID and go through that process so I skipped it) but some were just buying stuff that was cheaper after rebate and then selling it on eBay. I did that a couple times before I realized the effort wasn’t worth it.

Eventually, I realized that what you needed to do was find products on sale where the eventual buyer wouldn’t be searching the Fatwallet forums or other deal sites. Computer and electronics shoppers are savvy enough to search the forums for a deal so eBay margins on those items is much lower. If you want DVDs, hats, and sports jerseys… those shoppers go to eBay first. Over the course of a year or so I sold maybe a eighty Michael Jordan Wizards jerseys, fifty John Deere hats (this was after Ashton Kutcher made them popular on Punk’d), and who knows how many DVD sets (my fiancee likes telling the story about how we ripped open a package from Canada of Band of Brother Gift Sets and then shoving them into packages for the post office because I was late on shipping them).

Eventually it got to the point where I was tired of looking at the eBay completed sale pages to try to figure out how much something could sell for and I put that Carnegie Mellon Computer Science education to good use. It took a few hours but I put together a Java application that went onto the eBay website and screen scraped the text off the completed auction pages. It collected the last two hundred auctions and then ran some simple statistic numbers. It told me percentage sold, average sale price, standard deviation, range, and who knows what else. I just wanted to know, in a few seconds, whether I could make money with a deal. It eventually started collecting the names of bidders, repeat bidders, losing bidders, and other information that would tell me how many people out there still want this stuff. So if someone was a losing bidder many times, I know at least one person is going to probably want this.

I actually sold the tool, after converting it from a Java app with a GUI to strictly command line, to a PhD candidate friend of a friend for $500, the first, and only, time I had sold a piece of software for money. It was pretty cool! Now eBay’s systems make the tool useless as they now require login, sanitize much of the bidder information, and otherwise make data collection difficult for people who don’t use their API. It was still a ton of fun though and I learned quite a bit from doing it.

So there you have it, both the smartest and the most interesting financial move I made in college. The smartest overall move, of course, was meeting my lovely wife! 🙂

{ 6 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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6 Responses to “My Best Financial Moves in College”

  1. saladdin says:

    Summer classes.
    The quicker you get into the workforce the quicker you start making “real” money.

    I guess you could expand and say junior college classes your first 2 years also.


  2. It is interesting that when I was at college I thought the only option for me to make money would be working in a shop which I didn’t want to do in a strange country where I had difficulty understanding the language. I had never used the Internet before and so I had no idea what opportunities were out there. This was about 15 years ago so I guess there were probably not so many opportunities there then.

  3. Adfecto says:

    I’m impressed. I worked an on-campus job (but not work study) for $10/hour fixing professor’s computers. It was a pretty sweet deal. I spent about 70% of my time doing homework or messing around on the net. I got into the computer field in high school by volunteering my services at a computer shop free of charge in the afternoons after school. After 6 months I had sucked up enough info to start getting paid. I made good money and learned lots of useful skills.

    I did the standard 8 semester plan for undergrad and then got a job that paid a decent salary and full tuition for my MS. I worked 40 hours a week but left a few hours each day to attend courses via teleconference. At 24 I was done with my MS and had 2 years work experience (and raises) too.

    If you can find these types of gigs I highly recommend going this route.

  4. Four Pillars says:

    Very interesting story…and you also answered the question of whether your wife reads the blog or not… 🙂


  5. MonkeyMonk says:

    Hey . . . CMU was my alma mater as well. Unfortunately I made the mistake of taking 4 1/2 years to graduate but I feel that my education there has paid for itself 10-fold. It was a very well-equipped school to be at during the Internet boom.

  6. Patrick says:

    haha… “hustles”. 🙂

    I think the words I used were “the consummate entrepreneur..” But close enough!

    I tried poker, was OK at it until I lost patience, and I’ve sold stuff on Ebay, but I never did it with the intent to profit as a reseller. I just did it to clear space.

    My best move – letting someone else pay for my college (the USAF), and still working full-time. I graduated with no student loans and no debt. OF course, the military isn’t for everyone! 😉

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