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15 Little Life Hacks

What are we doing on this site?

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It’s 8:31pm on the day after graduation as I’m writing this. Almost everybody has moved out and the house is quiet. The end-of-the-year rush is crazy, but it’s something you get used to. Maybe too used to.

I was just outside throwing away more trash from my room when I saw a man milling around by the garbage can. I didn’t think anything of it until I really looked at him. He was staring at the garbage can like he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. I asked him if I could help him and he asked me, “Is all this stuff trash?” I told him it was.

See, every year many Stanford students frantically clean their rooms and inevitably decide that it’s just not worth it to lug a bunch of stuff home. So they throw it away–and “it” is thousands of dollars of stuff, often unopened decorations, electronics, clothes, whatever. Just today, as I was cleaning the house (I’m the RA), I threw away 15 bottles of detergent, new furniture, dozens of food packages, and decorations like you wouldn’t believe. The students know it’s easier to just throw this stuff away instead of shipping or storing it.




I guess this man didn’t think the same way, because as I was loading some more stuff in my car, he was just staring at the stuff and milling around. So I asked him again and he quietly said, “Do you think I could take some of this?” I said sure.

We were both outside for a while, doing our own thing, and then I asked him if I could help him again. He shrugged, so I asked him what was up. Finally, he reluctantly asked me if I could help him by driving him to take some of the stuff to his car.

Huh? My gut response was “no way.” Who would take a random guy in their own car? But then I looked at him. I saw his ABM Janitorial Services shirt, the things he wanted to take (a stereo and a child’s toy, both of which were pretty heavy), and then I did something I’d normally never do: I took him in my car and we drove to the other side of campus.

What are we really doing on this site? Teaching people how to make money with stocks and index funds and budgeting? Learning about money so we can…what? Help “struggling” people who are making $30,000/year as young single professionals live well? Or are we just spreading financial literacy so we can ultimately help more people? Maybe a little bit of each. This guy didn’t have Quicken or a Roth IRA or a money-market account. He lives in East Palo Alto and works 7 days a week. Today he was rummaging through the garbage to get an old stereo and a toy for his daughter. Anyway, after meeting him, it just occurred to me that being rich isn’t only about making money for just ourselves.

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  1. Good for you! Money is worth something, but kindness is priceless.

  2. Living here in Stockton has given me the opportunity to frequently make less-fortunate people’s days a little better. When most people scoff or shudder when they see a person pushing a shopping cart around the outside of a Burger King, I already have my hand in my back pocket as I get out of my car searching for my wallet so I can give the person enough money for a meal. If time permits, I’ll instead try to go into the restaurant, order them a meal, and take it out to them. As far as I’m concerned, the gratitude on their faces is worth so much more than the satisfaction you’ll get out of buying the Black Eyed Peas latest (which on a COMPLETELY unrelated note is simply fantastic).

  3. Go to the website, click your city, and post:

    “Free stereos, food, lamps etc. on the corner of….”

    It’s free and generally people will snap up the stuff very quickly.


  4. What would be really cool would be if there was some sort of “pick through the leftovers” day at the end of the school year. Because I always had an excuse to stay after they kicked out undergrads, I always snagged a few items. But if we can donate food through SPOON, it doesn’t seem like such a stretch to rescue half empty bottles of detergent either. I bet UMPA or Clara-Mateo would be interested. Okay, now I actually want to do something about this.

  5. It is absolutely amazing how much stuff we Americans buy that we just throw away. Adding to the shock is the realization that we are going deeply into debt to foreigners to buy it. If we find we have so much stuff that we can’t take it with us and have to throw it away, maybe that’s a signal that we need to buy less.

  6. Hmm.. Having a donation campaign at the end of the year would be a great idea. This type of thing happens at every college campus this time of year. Of course, it usually conflicts with final exams…

  7. You really have a grasp on reality that most people just miss.

    Taking that guy home makes me realize that you actually get ‘it.’

  8. hi, i’m from india, where 70% of the country is living on agriculture. its not a land of plenty like many countries in the west. but slowly wastefulness and lethargy is setting in. Let me pen a quote that i always would remember : Being rich is not having things that money can buy, but is having things that money CANNOT buy. How many things do u have today that money cannot buy ? – Mathew, India.

  9. John Bunyan, I believe, said, “You have not lived today until you have done something for
    someone who cannot pay you back.” Absolutely true.

    Even setting aside your good deed, however, I would point out you’re already giving and serving a great deal; teaching basic financial literacy is a desperately-needed service in this country (for reasons, I think, not entirely unconnected to the giant metal dumpsters filled to overflow on Move-Out day with usable, valuable, saleable goods).

  10. And let’s not forget to consider how much MORE we would be able to give if we were debt free. Think about – no boat payment, no car payment, no credit card debt, no second mortgage… Think you might be able to give above and beyond your tithe under those conditions?