I first heard of Aja Dang from this story in Yahoo Finance about a woman who paid down $100K in student debt. As I have kids in college, this story really attracted my attention. When I think of “influencer”, I think of beauty influencers like Michelle Phan and people on Instagram projecting the “perfect” life, but a student loan debt influencer? Intrigued, I decided to see what she was all about it and to figure out 1) how she accumulated $200K in student debt and 2) how she paid off half of it.
First, I asked my kids about her. Number One Son follows her (not surprising as she was a 2011 Maxim Hometown Hottie and as does The Daughter does, while Number Two Son has a friends who do although he doesn’t. The Daughter said she became interested in Aja Dang after the personal finance and debt videos started coming out. When I looked at her YouTube channel, which Dang says is her main avenue of expression, I found she had some videos you might expect, such as travel videos, beauty tips, and music video parodies. But also there were finance videos, where she goes over her monthly budgets. She even posts spreadsheets of her monthly budgets online. Seems like a weird area for an influencer to make a living, but many of the commenters on her visitors find them useful and even inspirational.
How did she accumulate $200K in student debt? In this interview (and in the video above) she says that she borrowed money to cover undergraduate private school, and then borrowed more for a masters at USC. Does she regret going to college? Not really, although one of her recommendations is that people who not sure if what they want to do should take a gap year to figure it out. She reminds that people that they don’t have to go an expensive private school, as she did twice.
My other question was how she paid down $100K in around a year. I took a look at her budget spreadsheets, and she made substantial amounts of money with “brand” deals. Her YouTube income and her side hustles (I found her video on side hustles to be very interesting) are much smaller in comparison. In the above video, she is doesn’t have that brand income yet and is scraping by making debt payments by doing things like dog walking. Her spreadsheets show that the life of a freelancer is extremely unpredictable, with very large variations in income month to month.
When I was an undergraduate, a Filipino American classmate once asked me why I was pronouncing my last name wrong. What? I was pronouncing my name wrong for the first 20 or so years of my life? Apparently so, and my parents never bothered to correct me, leaving our last name constantly mispronounced. But what’s in a name really? According to this article and others, quite a lot, especially if names are “hard” to pronounce.
Well, I was watching the premier episode of Season 9 of Shark Tank (originally airing on Sunday, October 1st, 2017), and saw Korean American and fellow Duke alum Yunha Kim (not to be confused with *the* Yuna Kim) – who I actually met briefly a year or two ago at a Duke alumni event in San Francisco – trying to raise money for her company and namesake meditation app, Simple Habit.
“The $12 million valuation she was putting on Simple Habit was, for Shark Tank, probably one of the highest ever. She felt it was worth it, though, because she already had a built-in user base and other investors. Kim knows she has a hit on her hand, especially given the popularity of apps like Calm and Headspace.
For Mark Cuban, that’s where it all fell apart. Kim was having trouble explaining why she needed to get a shark involved with her business when she already had plans to get other celebrities and influencers involved. There’s also the matter of her prior rounds of investments and the fact that she’s coming from Silicon Valley, a place the investors on Shark Tank are notoriously wary of. (“The Valley takes over,” Cuban groaned when Kim started her pitch.) They usually feel like the entrepreneurs are pitching into the publicity void, since they’re already set for money.
Cuban felt that Kim had the cash, and she was working on securing the celebrity endorsements, so why was she taking up the time of hungrier entrepreneurs who didn’t have a proven track record of turning products and ideas into proven businesses? “You’re a gold digger,” he told Kim. She looked absolutely shocked.”
Personally, I was a bit disappointed in Mark Cuban using that term. I understand Cuban’s concern about other entrepreneurs using Shark Tank as he termed it, a “growth hack” to get the publicity and growth resulting for appearing on Shark Tank without really needing to attract investment capital. Cuban could have more artfully said that Kim was using Shark Tank as a publicity vehicle or was seeking the limelight.
In her defense, guest “shark” Richard Branson called out Cuban on his remark, and Cuban later was backpedaling to explain himself. But it was a bit too late for Branson as he threw a cup of water on Cuban (and vice versa).
As I had commented on one of Yunha’s posts on Facebook (we’re “friends”):
“I just watched the episode tonight on my DVR. You did a great job. Cuban’s remark was sexist and inappropriate. Even if your goal was for publicity, gold digger would be the wrong term to use professionally, especially to a woman. I’m a fan of Cuban on Shark Tank as well as his strong endorsement of Hillary Clinton last year, but his comment disappointed me.”
Personally, given the years I’ve watched Shark Tank, I don’t think Cuban is sexist, but I do think calling Yunha a gold digger was definitely not appropriate.
More than half of all American “personal appearance workers” (including manicurists and pedicurist) are Asian American, while more than a fourth of all casino workers are Asian American. A little more than a fifth of all computer and mathematical area workers are Asian American. While some of these facts are surprising and others are not, all are revealed in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report on jobs and ethnicity for 2016, also summarized nicely in this article from Bloomberg. Above, I show some of what I consider highlights of the data, shown against the percentage of Asian Americans in the work force (6.1%) as a way provide some context.
As I mentioned, some of the stats are not surprising. There are a lot of Asian Americans in the manicure/pedicure salon business, as we have talked about in the past. No one should be surprised by the large amount of Asian Americans in STEM professions. Some of the other stats are more unusual. Indian Americans have concentrated, for various reasons, in managing hotels and motels and driving taxicabs. Many Asians and Asian Americans like to gamble, so casinos and many of the local card rooms in our area hire Asians Americans to provide services. A significant number of Asians have moved to the Las Vegas area to work in the casinos and find cheaper housing – enough to support two 99 Ranch markets.
The Bloomberg article has interesting numbers on other ethnic groups. Almost 40% of all barbers are African American. Almost two thirds of dry wall installers are Hispanic. One thing not highlighted in the Bloomberg article is the opposite – what jobs ethnic groups don’t do. I looked at the BLS data, and there are practically zero Asian American loggers! Not surprising.
One take away from this data is that along with great cultural differences, Asian Americans have also have large differences in the jobs and the income that Asian Americans families take in. Being a nail salon worker averages $26,220 a year compared to a medical scientist averaging $80,530. Note that there are more than twice as many nail salon type workers than medical scientists. It would be interesting to see how different categories of Asian Americans fare in the different categories, but that data doesn’t seem to be available.
After he graduated from high school this year, Number Two Son mentioned to me that one conversation he has continually had with a close Filipino American friend regards how few of their Filipino American peers were ambitious with their college choices. Their levels of achievement and college choices seemed much low, especially compared to other Asian American students at their Silicon Valley high school and despite that many of their parents were well educated. While I personally could see some examples, without real data, it was hard to say whether the kids he saw were just cherry picked examples within a self-selected group in an area heavily obsessed with education. A Pew Research Center compilation of Asian American data shows that Filipino Americans are indeed downward mobile from the initial immigrant generation (data shown above). This compilation should be useful to people who want to make data driven conclusions about Asian Americans.
The Pew Research Center has conveniently disaggregated data nicely into specific facts sheets for specific Asian American groups. A blog post looked at the aggregate data, and some of the findings surprised me – there are more than 20 million of us now and growing. Other interesting facts – Asian Americans are 11.3% of illegal immigrants, with the top country of origin being India (not what I expected). Asian Americans live in a multi-generational household more frequently than the general population (been there).
Because I had grown up in neighboring Newark and then lived in Fremont California for many years before moving to San Jose, I was intensely curious to read what Trespassers? Asian Americans and the Battle for Suburbia by Willow S. Lung-Amam had to say about Asian Americans life in suburban Fremont. Would it present anything that I didn’t know already? After reading the book, I was surprised at how much was new to me – primarily the amount of resistance Fremont’s Asian American community encountered when it starting asserting itself in areas ranging from education to shopping centers to housing.
In the Asian ethnoburb where I live, one sees three kinds of buses. One kind is the Santa Clara Valley Transit public transportation bus, and another is the kind is the tech bus, as white Google buses pick people up and drop off every week day near my house. A third kind is the bus that stops at the local Asian shopping center that picks up people to trips, often to casinos. My dad takes buses like this to gamble at distant casinos like Cache Creek – about two hours away from my house. I recently saw this article and was stunned to learn that some Asian Americans from New York, mostly seniors, take a similar two hour casino bus ride for a surprising reason: to make ends meet.
Jade Chang’s novel The Wangs vs. The World follows one crazy Chinese American family as they try to piece their lives back together after the economic recession of 2008. Mr. Charles Wang is a self-made man who immigrated from Taiwan and made a fortune with his beauty product empire. But a series of bad choices leaves him completely emptied out (house and cars included).
His family, including his second wife and three (almost all) adult children to dramatically change their lives and revisit their goals. Charles secretly hopes to the small amount of money he has left to retake his family’s ancestral land in China, while his oldest daughter Saina prepares for the arrival of her frazzled family. Instead of rags to riches, it’s riches to rags–an immigrant story turned on its head.
This book is an entertaining ride, exploring each character’s back story and current travails with wit and humor. And with a fresh voice, Jade Chang provides wry commentary on our modern life. At the heart of it all is an endearing story about a family coming together in the midst of a lot of sh**.
He never should have fallen for America. As soon as the happy-clappy guitar-playing Christian missionary who taught him English wrote down Charles’ last name and spelled it W-A-N-G, he should have known….In Chinese, in any Chinese speaker’s mouth, Wang was a family name to be proud of…But one move to America and Charles Wang’s proud surname became a nasally joke of a word; one move and he went from king to cock.
These are the moments that make you chortle to yourself quietly, or bemusedly note the bitter yet strikingly accurate commentary on the world, and turn to the next page.
I caught this NBC News feel good story about pursuing your dreams recently about Wellesley-educated, former lawyer and Washington, D.C. insider Victoria Lai who had worked for the Obama administration (as Counselor to the Director for U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services, DHS) to pursue her love of ice cream and open up her own ice cream shop – www.icecreamjubilee.com
I’m impressed. I don’t think I’d have the guts for financial and professional reasons to give up my day job to pursue a personal passion, hobby where I feel I could actually make a living. I wonder what Lai’s parents think when she gave up her career in law and government? Probably not a traditional career that a Tiger Mom would approve of.
The only Chinatown I remember growing up was Oakland Chinatown.
When my family first came to the Bay Area, we lived in the East Bay, and Oakland Chinatown was the nearest place my parents could get Filipino vegetables and other Asian groceries. For a long time, the nearest dim sum restaurant was in Oakland Chinatown, and when I was a grad student at Berkeley, I did volunteer work there – just a quick BART ride away. With that background, I was saddened to read that like other Chinatowns in the US, Oakland Chinatown is struggling.