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 the 16th guest of the of the interview series – Jarek from Time In The Market. He is a 30 something guy taking an easy path to financial independence. He is not overly frugal but wants to get out of the grind while he is still young enough to enjoy life. He believes there’s no rush but you never know what the future will bring and it’s always good to be prepared. The goal is to be financially independent by his early 40s.
I had a great time interviewing him. 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.
Hey, I’m Jarek and my family came to the US in 1994 so I’ve been here for a good portion of my life. I was 10 at the time so I had spent a few formative years in Poland before we came over. Like most first generation immigrants, my parents came here in search of a better life. Poland was just coming out of communist control and the US offered a lot more opportunity for my dad.
I wasn’t super excited about leaving all my friends and having to get used to a new place when I was ten but I appreciate the move a lot now that I’m an adult. I’m in a really good situation right now married to a great woman and enjoying life because my dad sacrificed a lot to move our family out here. I’m 35 now so I’ve lived here for over 25 years and every year, I’m more thankful to be a resident(now a citizen) of the US than the day before.
I work in the insurance industry making a comfortable living. My average income for the last ten years has been about 75k, less at the start, more right now which is more than enough for me as I don’t need a lot to enjoy life.
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.
I think the way I grew up had a lot to do with the way I live now and why I’m able to save so much. Poland in the 80s and 90s was either under a communist rule or just coming out of it so many things weren’t available. Both my parents had a job so we weren’t in dire straits but it was certainly a simpler life where we didn’t get everything we wanted. Food was often simple and even things you take for granted like oranges were a once a year treat.
We lived in an apartment in Warsaw and things weren’t too bad but I did get a taste of a different life as well when we visited my dad’s home. My dad grew up on a farm away from the city and we often visited there which gave us a taste of how difficult life could be outside of the city. There were no bathrooms or really any entertainment so I got used to just enjoying the space around me and making the best out of what I had. It wasn’t great having to wake up in the middle of the night in an unheated house and walk outside to the cow’s barn to use the bathroom but that’s how life was out there.
Back in Warsaw, my dad worked on airplanes making around 19,000,000 zloty when he came over. That sounds like a lot but it’s only about $6000 which was fine in Poland. However, when the opportunity to get a work visa to the US came about, it was clear why he took it. He was able to find a job here paying around $40k making airplane parts. That was clearly a big boost and he was able to support us and send money back to Poland as well by making the move. I remember life getting easier for us when he made the move and we even had the ability to get cool things like a game boy by the time the 90s rolled around.
He was here on that work visa without us for a while before we were all able to get green cards and come over. It was a big change for us but I know my dad wanted us to have the opportunity to grow in a country like the US. I didn’t like it as a kid but I’m very thankful to him for doing that as an adult.
We didn’t have a glamorous life in the US but it was enjoyable. My dad wasn’t making a ton plus he sent a good amount back to Poland to help our extended family. Both my parents worked hard taking on additional work like cleaning office buildings after hours to help make ends meet.
In essence, our life here was somewhat of a continuation of the life we had in Poland. We were making more here but things were more expensive as well. There was some more opportunity for extravagance but 40-50k for a family of four doesn’t go a long way even in the 90s.
As such, I kind of got used to enjoying life without having to spend a lot. We didn’t have a ton of money so I knew that whatever I wanted to get had to be special because I wouldn’t get a ton more. That sort of thought process continues in my life right now. I only buy things I value highly and have no issues saving money since I don’t spend a ton. I grew up enjoying hobbies that were inexpensive and that continued into my adult life.
On top of that, since I saw how hard my parents worked to put us through school and provide for us, I had a good understanding of what hard work means. That led me to put in the effort and improve my salary. Combine that with an inexpensive life style and you’ve got a good recipe for good finances.
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.
I generally try to stay away from discussing finances with people I know. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I started my blog as it’d allow me to talk about things I couldn’t in my personal life.
I have had some general conversations about finances with friends and have given them advice about money if the ask it but I don’t generally seek it out. I figure money is a personal subject and I’d rather not create any issues by discussing it with people I know.
4. What are some of the money mistakes you have committed? What lessons did you learn from it?
Early on when I was getting started with investing, I was a bit too eager to make it big ASAP. I played around with options and got burned multiple times although I did win a few too. It didn’t take me long to realize that short term options are rather akin to gambling as most of my wins weren’t any less researched than most of my losses.
On top of that, since options are a short term bet, it’s a lot easier to go from 100% to 0% in a snap of the fingers.
At first I was comfortable with that kind of risk but as I got older, I realized that I’d much rather be a long term investor rather than risk it all on short term profits. That’s the winning game.
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?
Right now, I have no debt which is awesome to say. I recently had a car loan and paying it off was a great source of excitement as the extra cash flow gave me more freedom to invest.
In general, I don’t mind debt. After all, you can often borrow money at rates that are close to 0% and that’s a winning proposition when saving accounts pay 2%, bonds return 3-4% and stocks might return 5-7% in the long term.
However, it’s when rates rise above that where you run into any issues. That’s why I almost never hold short term debt like credit cards and pay them off ASAP because I can get a better return elsewhere. I still use credit cards but never hold a balance and have not once paid interest on my credit card.
I went to a state school to avoid debt as well since those rates can be higher and I didn’t want to get out of college with something weighing me down.
I do think that too much debt can be a stressor and it’s one of the reasons I try to avoid it when I can. I like to have cash flow and having debt reduces that so it’s nice to not have any payments you must make.
However, despite all that, I still see the value of debt. Debt also allows you to buy things on leverage which can be great for investing if you’re into real estate. It’s not for me but it’s certainly one of the better paths to wealth.
We’re currently looking for a house(to live in, not as an investment) so we’ll be rocking a mortgage pretty soon too. I do plan to pay that off faster than 30 years but I think the ability to borrow is good to have when you need it. For the most part, I see debt as something reserved for things like cars or homes where it may make financial sense to borrow over buy due to the cost and rates offered on such things.
6. How is your money invested? Does being an immigrant have any influence on your investment decisions?
I don’t think being an immigrant has too much of an impact on my investment decisions. Most of what I know about investing, I learned here.
My investment style is very index heavy with some individual securities thrown in for good measure. I have an asset allocation I set upon graduating college and have stuck with it since then. I revisit it every year to see if I want to make any changes but haven’t done so yet.
The asset allocation I use is below.
- 42.5% US large cap
- 10% US mid-cap
- 10% US small cap
- 10% REIT
- 15% of International developed
- 5% Emerging markets
- 7.5% US bonds
It’s a relatively simple set up that is slanted a bit towards more aggressive investments like small caps and mid caps than the market average.
I track my portfolio monthly and divert money into areas that need it as required. It’s a fun little exercise that I enjoy and have been doing for a while.
From an accounting perspective, I try to max out my 401k, HSA and Roth IRA every year then invest the excess into taxable accounts. That’s where I do the majority of my individual stock trading and I’ve had good success there. However, I know that stock picking can be rough so that’s why I stick with index funds for most (80%+ of my 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?
I do not although my parents are probably a bit behind the curve in terms of savings so it’s possible I’ll have to lend them some support in the future.
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.
Yup, FIRE Is something that speaks to me and I wrote a post about why I’m pursuing FIRE but it basically comes down to wanting options.
I first heard about it on reddit but it was something I was doing before I even had a name to it. Like I said before, I was a saver naturally but I really only started getting serious about in the past few years when I heard about the movement.
I am currently 35 and I figure I have at least another 10 years before I can reach it but retiring at 45 would still be pretty awesome. I don’t make a ton and I’m not overly frugal because I want to enjoy life right now too. For me, it’s not a sprint to the finish where I want to save as much as possible and give up on things right now. I’d rather have a life that I enjoy now where I can build and spend money on hobbies that I can enjoy in the future as well when and if I’m retired.
I think FIRE is all about balance and it’s important for each person to find their own. For me, it’s spending a little bit more now even if it means I have to retire a few years later. That’s worth it for me but might not be for others. I think that’s what I love about FIRE, there are so many paths to the end zone, not just one.
9. What are some of the apps or tools you use to manage your finances?
I spend a lot of time on self-made excel spreadsheets. That’s where I track my monthly dividend updates which I post and also my portfolio and asset allocation. Beyond that, I don’t use anything crazy. However, lately, I’ve started to use and like M1 Finance which allows you to have some fun with individual stocks that I might not have bought before using M1 Finance.
10. Are there any specific books, blogs or podcasts on personal finance that you’d recommend to others?
My favorite book of all time is The Bogleheads Guide to Investing. One of my more popular posts is about the best beginner books and that book is on top of the list.
I think it’s one book everyone should read and it’s one of the reasons I started to invest the way I did after I graduated college. It has a ton of valuable lessons and provides a clear roadmap to investing for even the most novice investor.
11. What money advice do you have for new immigrants who arrive in the US?
Read a good investing book(see above).
Things are bigger in the US but your life doesn’t have to change much. Don’t get sucked into the rat race or keeping up with the joneses’ and life your own life whatever that may be.
The US truly is a land of opportunity. Try to make the most out of it. Work hard and excel and don’t be afraid to take a leap if it improves your salary or working conditions.
12. How can people connect with you on social media?
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.