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 very happy to present 15th guest of the interview series – Dr. Chipo Dendere. She is a Zimbabwean born scholar of political science. I study factors that influence party survival and democratization in the developing world. As a Consortium for Diversity – Post-Doctoral fellow At Amherst College, I teach Political Sciences classes on African Politics and Democratization in the Developing World.
I had a great time interviewing her. Hope you like 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 have been in the U.S for about 14 years. I first came here as an undergrad straight after high school. After college, I went on to do graduate school for a Ph.D. in political science. I am a professor. I realize that academia does not pay much but I really love what I do and the peace of mind from graduating with no debt is really nice. My salary will be changing this year but safe to say I make between $80,000 and $85,000.
2. What was your relationship with money during the early days of your life? How did it influence your finances?
My parents did ok so we never worried about money but I knew that what we had was a direct result of my mom working hard. My mom was a trader and my late step-dad was retired. My parents always encouraged me to earn my money either by doing extra chores or small investments.
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 discuss money issues with my mom and one of my best friends. I find that the topic is really uncomfortable for most people.
4. What are some of the money mistakes you have committed? What lessons did you learn from it?
Never invest in a business using a credit card especially if you are investing in an unstable economy. When we expanded our first business back in Zimbabwe I used my credit card to buy our stock. It would have been a good idea if things worked according to plan but like most developing countries with shaky economies by the time, we were done with the project we had accumulated almost $20,000 in debt and the interest was killing us. Our sales were good but not matching the rate of debt increase.
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?
When I was trying to pay off debt from our business it was really stressful. I managed to pay it off in just under a year after I got my first job by customizing the snowball method. It was a really aggressive push, but I felt great after paying it all off. I do not like having debt except to big purchases like a car or a house.
6. How is your money invested? Does being an immigrant have any influence on your investment decisions?
Being African or Zimbabwean is a special category because I have a lot of family obligations that influence how much I can save and invest. Quite a few people are starting to write on the impact of remittances (or black tax). I have been trying to focus on maxing my various retirement funds. I am learning about investing through acorns. As I get more comfortable I will look into bigger investments.
7. Do you have any specific money situation as an immigrant (e.g. supporting an aging parent or family overseas) that influences your finances?
Yes, my mom is well situated now but I always want to be able to take care of her. For the last decade, I have been paying tuition for two kids which is about $1,000 annually and monthly groceries. There are always random emergencies that I am trying to systematically budget for so that I am not in a shock each tome something comes up.
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 think from various blogs probably the wealthy doctor. I do not know if I want to retire early, academia is a nice long-term job but I do want to be FI soon. There also plenty of unforeseeable things and I really enjoy my work and the security of having good health insurance. We also plan to have kids so I think the RE part of FIRE is not for me but living within our means with no debt is something I have really enjoyed.
9. What are some of the apps or tools you use to manage your finances?
I use acorns, mint and the TIAA assert management app.
10. Are there any specific books, blogs or podcasts on personal finance that you’d recommend to others?
I liked Dave Ramsey’s book for figuring out basic finances, Elizabeth Warren, Richest Man In Babylon, the Immigrant Doctor, Frugal physician – I really like blogs by immigrant professionals, Budget and Paychecks, My Fab Finance, His and Her Money, Rich & Regular
11. What money advice do you have for new immigrants who arrive in the US?
Start saving early. I tell this to my undergrads and encourage everyone to open a savings account. For students, I always suggest setting aside $20-$50 a month then budgeting all their needs around the remainder of their income. College is a great time to start saving because at that point responsibilities are still lower. For adult immigrants I also suggest the same – the family back home does not know how much you earn so you get to decide how you spend your money. Set aside $100 a month for a start – that money will grow. If $100 is a lot then find a comfortable number that works for you. Spend below your means. Credit cards are good but they are also a trap so only use them if you can afford to pay them off. Sometimes diaspora communities put folks under pressure to have a big car and big house “American dream” but if that is going to strain you then do not do that. An American dream takes a long time to build so pace yourself it is not a race.
12. How can people connect with you on social media?
I am a Zimbabwean born scholar of political science. I study factors that influence party survival and democratization in the developing world. As a Consortium for Diversity – Post-Doctoral fellow At Amherst College, I teach Political Sciences classes on African Politics and Democratization in the Developing World.
Twitter – @drdendere
Blog – http://drdendere.com/
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.