I Lived Bitch

Economy Finance
I Lived Bitch

Splinter readers have only been getting a portion of me as Editor-in-Chief these past six weeks, especially the last couple weeks that were filled with finals and final projects. Back in August, I started attending the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business in a bid to transition my career away from journalism. I didn’t want to, but after a few years of fruitless job searching in an industry being destroyed by Google and Facebook’s ad monopoly, I became convinced that jobs like this didn’t exist anymore, and I needed to shift to a stable career that could carry me to retirement.

Last week, I took my last finance class ever. You get all of me going forward now.

I will write a more comprehensive “what I learned in graduate school” post with some finance lessons that I can pass on to our readers later. The experience was terrific, and it has provided me with another skill that I can use for the rest of my life. I am forever grateful to the University of Colorado for educating me.

But I can’t do any of that sappy stuff now because I’m free babyyyyyy!!!!!

Holy hell they are not joking when they say that grad school will fuck you up. I have never been the greatest student, and fifteen years off from being one did not help matters either. Transitioning from my comfortable world of words to one filled with numbers took a fair amount of time and emotional trauma to adjust to.

But soon you realize that the numbers are relatively straightforward and simple to understand. Money now is worth more than money tomorrow, and that basically is what all of finance is about. Everything you do flows downstream from that fundamental rule that governs this entire industry—and that’s where they get you. I swear they want to instill a false sense of confidence early on just to rattle you.

Back in the fall, just as I was finishing up my first real coding session in R doing a regression analysis on the S&P500 and a few other stocks, I sat back and thought “holy cow, I get this, we’re on cruise control now.”

Bitch you just had the training wheels taken off for the first time, sit down.

From that “aha!” moment forward it was like trying to drink water out of a firehose, packing as much knowledge into a one-year program as possible. They did a great job organizing it into increasingly more difficult blocks that all had their own adjustment periods. It was a tremendous learning experience and I’m very happy I saved all my professors’ spreadsheets and slides because a year from now I know I’m only going to be able to retain half of this stuff at best.

My brain hurts.

I don’t ever want to hear someone tell me what a stock is worth ever again. I know how to discount money throughout space and time now, but if I ever win the lottery, out of spite for the abuse that finance school gave me, I will tell everyone the total value and not the present value of my winnings. I have always had an interest in economics and finance but now I am acutely aware of where my limit lies. I have been scared straight.

I like words more. Words are easy. Ironically that’s why accounting was my surprise favorite class at first. You’d think something that granular and tedious would be the opposite of what a writer like me would enjoy, but accounting is just about matching the right words to their corresponding entries, and in those early days under the firehose, it was my lone sanctum protecting me from those abusive equations.

And don’t even get me started on the bond market. I loved my professor who taught this, but he did his absolute best to put lipstick on a pig. The way these people talk to each other is an affront to the common language of man. What the hell is this price quote Bloomberg?


I hate that I know this, but the plus is a half point and the 22 is out of 32 because reasons. Why can’t they just quote that like a normal person would and say it’s 98.703? What the fuck is wrong with you people? This stuff is difficult enough to wrap your head around without having to learn a new language invented by folks who clearly don’t understand what words are supposed to accomplish.

My first Splinter-finance school crossover article was about how capitalism is built on the “risk-free” debt of the United States government, and how this fundamental math underpinning all of capitalism proves that neoliberalism and its laissez-faire cousins are a lie. I do get passionate about the Treasury bond market because it is the largest market for anything in the world and it is a major player in our everyday lives.

But corporate bonds? Forget this nonsense. I do not care what Apple owes to who in 2045 and you cannot make me figure out what that crap is worth anymore. It’s all fake numbers that Michael Bloomberg invented to charge people $2,000 a month to not understand as far as I’m concerned.

Corporate finance may have been the one that really broke me. I get why they made us take it first so they could crush our spirits early. I got radicalized in this class over the government’s interest expense tax write-off that incentivizes the Mitt Romneys of the world to kill Toys “R” Us while I was struggling to figure out how to calculate earnings after factoring in those tax shields. Doing the cold-blooded math that underpins the world of predatory leveraged buyouts was a trip. All you need is a spreadsheet to put some distance between you and the people’s lives you’re destroying in the name of a hostile takeover and short-term profits, and poof! You’re a sociopath!

The math in finance is actually pretty simple once you learn the rules governing everything. Quants take it to an unhinged degree, but at its most fundamental level, moving money throughout time mostly just requires algebra. A significant portion of the program was simply just learning how to express the laws of finance through Excel spreadsheets.

When this became clear that first week of school, it felt like the entire weight of the world melted off my shoulders as the anxiety that I was potentially in over my head receded. I subsequently freaked out on my first quiz once I realized that I could not completely remember all this simple math that I last learned during the first George W. Bush administration. Wikipedia saved me that first week as I re-learned PEMDAS and all other sorts of rudimentary rules my brain had squeezed out of its memory over time so I could remember as many plays as possible.

I wanted to go to finance school so I could transition my career to be some kind of portfolio manager. My father was a stockbroker and my experience trading crypto gave me some confidence I could handle the market, and my advanced portfolio management class was by far my favorite class there. Getting a good grade on my massive final project justified all the checks I wrote to CU, as I proved to myself that I could climb the mountain I traveled to Boulder to summit.

But man, screw that final project. I’m not sure that I have ever worked harder on anything in my entire life. People actually do this for a living? If the fictional couple I was serving as financial advisor to do not exercise their stock options and reallocate most of their concentrated stock into the S&P500, I will inject my spirit into their fictional universe just so I can steal their portfolio and become a billionaire myself.

Whoever came up with the plan to tax non-qualified stock options is a sick person who just wants to make accountants cry. And calculating returns with fees included? My God, this industry is just filled with land mines you have to learn to avoid (that is the lone sober piece of advice I can give right now: do not pay fees unless you are getting better than market returns including fees. Any schmuck can open a brokerage account and buy the S&P500 themselves and earn market returns).

So in summation, grad school was one of the best experiences I have ever had, but also I hate the very concept of finance now and want to punch my computer screen every time I pull up the S&P500’s chart. Money is just a figment of our imaginations that we have manifested into the real world, and I now know the math to prove it. One day I will be able to be more level-headed and measured about all of this and can pass on some of the knowledge I gained there, but today is not that day. Grad school is a form of adult hazing, and I for one am extremely grateful to be through with it.

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