Being an immigrant has its own challenges and I was curious to know from other immigrants how they were dealing with their finances. I wanted to find out the unique challenges they were facing and how they dealt with them
I am excited to present the 13th guest of the series, Brenda. She is a Nurse Practitioner on a mission to pursue financial independence!
I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did.
1. Can you tell us about yourself? Please include any details you feel comfortable sharing about how long you’ve been in the US, what you do for a living and your income range.
I am 29 years old, I am a first-generation American, both my parents are Mexican immigrants who came to the US in the 1960s and 1970s. My dad was in his teens and my mom was 21 years old when they moved to California from the interior of Mexico. They never moved back, and both have been legal residents for the majority of that time. I was born in south LA in a very Mexican area, and I didn’t know that people in America didn’t speak Spanish until we moved to a small town in Texas in 1997. It was a major culture shock (very white, German town) and I got to grow up in an upper-middle class community where most kids went to college, so I went. Now I am a nurse practitioner and I make 102K base salary but I work in the extended hours clinic and this year I’ve already made $21K in “overtime.” I think my gross salary this year will be about 150K.
2. What was your relationship with money during the early days of your life? How did it influence your finances?
My parents declared bankruptcy in the mid-90s, foreclosed on their home in 1997, and we moved to Texas to “start over.” Even after bankruptcy, I don’t’ think my parents had much education about how to manage money and most of the arguments between them were about money. We never lacked food or housing or clothing, but I always knew my parents were in debt. It influenced my finances because I knew how I did NOT want to manage my own money, and even as a teenager I was very conscious of how I spent my money. In my senior year of high school, I was accepted to a prestigious private school in the northeast but I chose to go to a state school to save money. I don’t regret that.
3. Do you discuss money with your friends, family or colleagues? How do they react when you bring up the topic of money? Is this a taboo subject?
I am pretty open with my family and with my closest friends (who have similar goals). Some of my colleagues know that I’m pursuing financial independence so I will talk to them if they bring it up first. My boyfriend and I are very open with each other and we plan to join forces when we get married.
4. What are some of the money mistakes you have committed? What lessons did you learn from it?
I bought an overpriced car when I was 23 (and making good money for the first time), traded it in for a lease, and spent 6 years paying on cars I never owned! I now have a paid off car and it’s great! I didn’t start truly investing until I was 25, but no one had ever told me about it until I started doing my own research.
5. What is your view on debt? Do you carry any form of debt? Has it ever been a source of stress in your life?
I’m comfortable with debt but have been strict to only use 0% credit cards in case I have to carry a balance. My parents were always comfortable with debt, their view was “why would I spend my own money when I could use someone else’s!?” Haha. I currently have about $34,000 in debt, all at 0% because it is from furniture purchases and the rest is on a 0% credit card. The 0% rate runs out in September, so I’m paying that aggressively first. Even though I’m not paying interest, my goal is to be debt free in my 30s. I turn 30 in September!
6. How is your money invested? Does being an immigrant have any influence on your investment decisions?
Currently, I invest in my company’s traditional 401k for 6% of my salary. I also have a rental property that needs to be paid off to family members since they let me borrow money on 0% interest. This has slowed down my property acquisition since I need to pay off the property in full before I purchase another one and I will be done paying it off next year. I also plan to invest at least $10,000 in my traditional 401k for future years.
- I would say it is about half in stocks and a half in real estate. I max out my 401K and Roth IRA and I own one rental property and house-hack my personal residence. I had a brokerage account but I used the money for the down payment on the second property, so once I pay off my debt I’ll start investing in the taxable brokerage account again. I’m debating between paying off mortgages and investing in the market once I’m debt free. Still on the fence about those.
- Being an immigrant has affected my decisions because I feel an extra pressure to be financially responsible for my parents’ sake because they have some assets, but I know that I am their real retirement plan. Current net worth is 95K, but I want to reach about 500K before 40.
7. Do you have any specific money situation as an immigrant (e.g. supporting an aging parent or family overseas) that influences your finances?
Currently, no. I do foresee taking care of my parents when they get into their 70s and 80s. It doesn’t bother me, as I feel my success is due to their bravery in leaving their country in hopes of a better life for themselves and their children.
8. Are you aware of the FI or FIRE movement? If yes, where did you hear about it? Are you pursuing (or have you reached) financial independence?
Yes! I am pursuing FI, not so interested in RE because I do enjoy my job very much (I am a nurse practitioner). I first heard about it through the Stacking Benjamins podcast and the Afford Anything podcast.
9. What are some of the apps or tools you use to manage your finances?
Personal Capital for tracking net worth. My local credit union’s banking app. Simple online banking for the finances of my rental property. Cozy website for transactions with tenants and tracking property expenses. Google Sheets for my month-to-month budgeting.
10. Are there any specific books, blogs or podcasts on personal finance that you’d recommend to others?
11. What money advice do you have for new immigrants who arrive in the US?
Don’t go into debt! Live within your means. Spend less than you earn. All the usual common sense stuff (but sense ain’t common!).
12. How can people connect with you on social media?
Twitter and Instagram: @almostbrenda
Are you a first-generation immigrant in the US? If yes, would you like to be part of this interview series? This series will focus on personal finance for first-generation immigrants and the unique challenges they face.
You can check out my page Immigrant Finances – Interview Series for more details on how to participate in this series.