Less Taco Bell, more investing: How a high school senior is learning about money while at home

Sophia Kianni.
Photo by Andrew Markowitz

Eighteen-year-old Sophia Kianni had plans for her final semester of high school in McLean, Virginia. Her agenda included paid speaking engagements about climate activism at colleges and institutions and making some money refereeing volleyball matches over the weekends to put towards a new phone and a computer for college.

When the coronavirus outbreak struck, most of her activities were canceled, and "pretty much any source of income I could have had has been wiped out," she says.

Kianni's father is currently working from home and her mother is on paid leave. She believes they'll help her buy the equipment, but she's disappointed not to be able to do more herself. "I really do want to learn how to be more [financially] self-sufficient," she says. "So that's one of the things that was the biggest letdown for me."

The rest of her semester is going online beginning April 14, and graduation and prom have also been canceled. But Kianni is not wasting any time. She's using these weeks in quarantine to start her environmental nonprofit and is learning about budgeting by cutting her spending at fast food places she used to frequent with her friends, like Taco Bell.

The savings strategy: No more 'expensive lunches'

Each week, Kianni used to spend between $20 and $40 from her refereeing paychecks going out to eat at local malls or in Georgetown. She has found it easy to cut these costs as social distancing doesn't encourage them and many of the establishments she frequented are closed. 

She's noticed her friends are no longer paying to work out, either.

"My friends and I are actually saving a lot of money because we are no longer paying for services like gym memberships or going out to eat expensive lunches," she says. "We have been having Zoom workout sessions and syncing our workout plans to stay motivated. We have also been making almost all of our meals at home."

Sophia Kianni giving a speech in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Joe Hobbs

Getting ahead: Using this time to 'start my own nonprofit'

Kianni's been involved with climate activism since middle school, when she visited her parents' homeland of Iran and experienced the high levels of air pollution there. For the past year, Kianni has intended to start a nonprofit offering online translations of climate change explainers, as she believes much of the content on the subject is inaccessible to the non-English-speaking world. Before classes start up again, she'll finally dive into the passion project.

"I want to finalize my logo design," she says. "I want to finalize my website design. I want to have my launch date [and to] reach back out to organizations that I've been talking to about being partners so that they can promote it on their social media." 

She's also taking climate activism training and coordinating with other activists about Earth Day activities they can do safely, given social distancing guidelines.

Investing strategy: 'Prices are low'

"Many of my friends are also using this time to teach themselves about the stock market," she says.

Her friends are reading Reddit and watching TikTok tutorials about using investing apps. Whether they're getting loans from their parents or investing hundreds of dollars of their own money that they've saved, they "are starting to invest, since prices are low," she says.

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