My Unpopular Opinions #2: Money + Scams Edition

My first Unpopular Opinions post was a hodgepodge of my personal thoughts and beliefs that go against the mainstream. In this one, I thought I’d focus on one topic: money, what I consider to be ripoffs and scams.

I’m not saying it’s wrong if you want to splurge on the following. If you’re well off, you can spend your money on whatever you want. I’m pointing out it’s unwise to go into debt for many of these things, especially if you’re doing it to keep up with the Joneses and not for your own value or enjoyment.

 

Going to college is a waste money

You don’t need a college degree to be successful unless you want to work in a field that definitely requires it. (If you want to be a surgeon, please get a degree!) Otherwise, you should really weigh whether what you might gain from college is worth the time and money you’ll lose at the end of it. I say this as someone with a BFA in Film Studies and an MFA in Creative Writing. Both are for creative fields that don’t require degrees, unless I wanted to go into academia, which I didn’t. I don’t regret getting these degrees and in fact enjoyed the classes, but I also didn’t go into massive school debt. It would be a different story if I were American!

The average cost of tuition in Canada is $6,500 CAD (with the terrible current exchange rate, around $4624 USD) per year for an undergraduate degree. For a private college in the US, the average cost is $36,801 USD per year. (Gosh, If I convert that into CAD, it’s $51,715.) Yes, that means Americans pay over $32,000 USD more per year for the same education. I think that’s absolutely insane. On the low end, public college, in state, is $10,116 USD per year. Even if you get financial aid, there are still other costs such as room and board, textbooks (side note: are textbooks straight up scams?), food, etc. On top of that, your college is likely to hit you up for donations after you graduate, because your $140k+ tuition clearly wasn’t enough.

With the current COVID-19 situation, classes shifted online, and many American students are questioning why they’re paying so much to learn on Zoom. Aside from accumulating knowledge in a specialized field, the college experience provides networking and connecting with students from around the world, access to facilities, extracurricular clubs and activities, a sense of community, and a dedicated time and environment to studies. Not to mention all the partying. But is this all worth going into, on average, $147,204 in debt for?

I recommend higher learning if you can afford it. Here’s how you know college would be a bad investment for you: you already know what you want to do (and a degree is not a requisite to doing it), you’re self-motivated, you’re an autodidact, and you have entrepreneurial spirit. With so many courses and resources on the Internet, you can educate yourself for next to nothing. You’re also saving the opportunity cost of not taking four years out of your life to go to classes and instead can focus your time and energy on your career.

If you’re uncertain about your chosen field, don’t waste time and money on an expensive degree to “find yourself.” You can enroll in affordable online or night classes to see if you like the industry. Volunteering, interning, or getting an entry-level job at a company in the field you’re interested in can also help you test the waters while giving you work experience to put on your resume. If a community is what you’re seeking, join some meetups or networking events to connect with people with similar goals. If you want to party, that’s easily done without flushing 140k down the toilet.

 

The Wedding Industry is a Scam

I’m not here to rain on anyone’s parade because I’ve enjoyed the few weddings I’ve been to. Who doesn’t like a good celebration? But come on, only the wealthy can comfortably afford a decent wedding these days.

An average wedding in Canada cost between $40,000 to $50,000. The average salary in Canada is $52,600. So the average Canadian is spending under a year’s salary for a five-hour party. That’s ridiculous. Instead of being in the hole after getting married, that money could be better spent on owning a house, a car, investments, multiple vacations—literally anything else.

Call vendors to get quotes for a wedding, and call the same vendors again a couple of days later but tell them it’s for a birthday party. Compare the two prices. Note which vendors are overcharging you. CBC and Vox both investigated if the “wedding tax” is real. Conclusion? It is. Vendors do this because they know people will spend big for “the most important day of their life.” And then there are the actual wedding scams, the con artists who cash in on people’s wedding dreams.

I’m sure some vendors deserve to be paid extra for wedding services because they have to deal with demanding, stressed-out couples who expect everything on their big day to be perfect. But “bridezillas” are still the creation of the wedding industry. Weddings weren’t always elaborate. They used to be informal affairs with family. Nowadays, weddings show off wealth under the guise of tradition. Add engagement parties, bachelor/bachelorette parties, bridal showers, and you can kiss that down payment for a house goodbye.

An expensive wedding not only puts financial strain on the couple, but guests and those in the wedding party as well. If you have to go in debt for a nice wedding, opt out. If elopement is not for you, it’s still possible to have a party with friends and loved ones without spending a fortune. Here’s how one couple did it for less. Or you can google “wedding with $_ budget” for ideas. There are also new services such as the Pop-Up Chapel which take care of the planning for you. In short, consider all your options and get creative.

Maybe I’m an idealist, but I think that when rich people get married, their weddings should be charity fundraisers. Instead of bringing gifts, guests can donate money to the charity of the couple’s choice. What better way to draw blessings on your big day than to give back?

 

Takeout coffee is a waste of money

I’ve written about how disposable coffee cups are terrible for the environment. Another reason to ditch takeout coffee is their absurd markups given that making your own coffee at home is only $0.18 to $0.25 per cup depending on what kind of beans you buy. I also don’t think it’s any more convenient to stand in a long line for coffee than quickly using a coffee press or something at home.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my local cafes. I usually order my drink to stay, so what I’m really paying for is a space to sit in the cafe (“real estate”— this is also how I justify the high cost of cocktails in nice bars.) I’ll only buy a drink to go if I’m really craving something when I’m out, or if I want to try a special drink as a treat.

Frugal millionaire Youtuber Graham Stephan, in his “How to Make 20 Cent Iced Coffee” video, shares his formula on how to be a millionaire with the money you save on coffee:

$2 savings per cup / $2 per cup x 3 = $6 per day

Invest $6 per day over 55 years at 7% return = $1,311,086.16

Thanks, Graham! I’m on my way to becoming a millionaire.

 

Logo/Branded Goods are Ripoffs

I shared my stance on why I don’t wear logos in this post, so I won’t get into it here. In short, no way am I paying up to 10x the markup price on a T-shirt or hoodie to be a walking billboard for a designer brand.

I’m also talking non-apparel goods too—food, tech, homeware, etc. C$269 on AirPods? Why don’t I just get a C$59 pair that works just as well and doesn’t look as silly.

 

Women are getting ripped off on everything

The cost of being a woman is way too high. We’re subjected to the pink tax on everything from tampons to clothes to vehicle repairs. See this post for more weird examples. (So it’s definitely fair that men pay for dates as I stated in my first Unpopular Opinions post.)

Ladies, do your research to avoid the pink tax. Maybe that means going sustainable and switching to menstrual cups to bypass the high cost of tampons and pads, buying men’s version of things, and avoiding overpriced beauty products. C$435 on a jar of La Mer moisturizer? It better brush my teeth and do my taxes too. If you’re going to splurge, make sure it’s worth it.

 

Beware of the Commercialization of Feminism

“The advertising industry, once bent on selling us sex is now selling us its disgust with sexism,” writes Nosheen Iqbal for The Guardian in 2015.

No, I am not buying a feminist T-shirt made in a sweatshop.

No, I’m not dieting or working out like crazy to look “strong” instead of “skinny” because it’s the same pressure to obtain an ideal body repackaged with a feminist label.

No, I’m not buying from corporate beauty brands using “real beauty” advertising campaigns when the products are full of toxic chemicals.

No, I’m not spending $119 to attend a women’s conference, ironically named Ladies Get Paid, that doesn’t properly compensate its female speakers.

etc., etc.

Again, these are my personal opinions so feel free to disagree. I hope this gave you new perspectives to consider. If you want me to continue this series with other topics, be sure to let me know.

 

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