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 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 a single 33 ( almost 34) year Jamaican woman, I immigrated to the United States at the age of 11 ( 23 years in the US). I grew up primarily with my paternal grandmother in Jamaica and once I arrived in the US for the rest of my childhood until college was spent living with my single mother in Queens, NY. I work in a hospital as an epidemiologist and I also have a side hustle with a catering company primarily on the weekends. My salary ranges from 100K-115K pre-tax.
2. What was your relationship with money during the early days of your life? How did it influence your finances?
I have two distinct relationships with money that stands out to me based on my physical location (Jamaica vs. the United States). While in Jamaica, I acknowledged that my family was not rich by any means but I had certain luxuries relative to that environment, like a home, access to clean water and I never felt lacking for food. To put this in context, I grew up 2 hours outside of Kingston in the rural/ countryside of Jamaica. My grandmother was a seamstress and my step-grandfather was a butcher (before he became blind) so we were considered comfortable. We still received money, food, and clothing from a family from the US but overall we were doing better than other families. We even had enough money to afford someone to assist my grandmother with the cleaning of the house.
Once I moved to the United States I experienced more financial anxiety, maybe it was a combination of me getting older and also realizing my mother did not have the skill set necessary to get a high paying job to support a household of two plus family in Jamaica. I vividly remember one day my mother got to let go from her job taking care of an older woman and I felt like my world was crashing in because I feared that would mean we will be put on the streets or worse deported. I remember getting my first job at 14 ( when I was legally able to work in NY) and worked a job all through college and graduate school, I have not worked.
I acknowledged the scarcity of money growing up with my mom and as a result, I learned never to ask for anything that was beyond the necessities and also to never discuss our finances with anyone even family.
These two worlds taught me the importance of saving, made me very resourceful, taught me the importance of a side hustle and also made me secretive about my 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 only discuss money with my mother. Our discussion is not very intrusive, she just reminds me to keep saving and sometimes I try to share some information or resources I found to assist her in making better financial decisions, it doesn’t always translate over well.
4. What are some of the money mistakes you have committed? What lessons did you learn from it?
I had to learn about money through trial and error. I learned about credit cards the hard way in college when I got my first card. My mom did not have much advice or information to disclose to me about what a credit card meant or interest rates etc so I remembered going over my balance, withdrawing money from the actual card ( treating it like a debit card) it was a mess.
Another big mistake I made was also taking on a lot of student loan debt. It was not a complete failure as I have the degrees to support the job I have now, but I had schools that were offering me full scholarships but they were outside of NY and since I was the first person in my family to attend college plus a girl my mom was more concern with the location of the school being in NY vs. the opportunity to go to someplace across the country for free.
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?
Today I have student loan debt from two degrees, a mortgage and some credit card debt. It has not been a major stressor in my life because I can actually pay the bills on time and save, however sometimes having this debt especially the student loans and credit card frustrates me because I know I can be using that money for something else.
6. How is your money invested? Does being an immigrant have any influence on your investment decisions?
I have a traditional 403b with my place of employment, I contribute about 10%, with a 6% match from my employee. I do meet with my 403b advisor every year or so to make sure I am on track for retirement. I would like to educate myself on other investing opportunities but I honestly don’t know where to start. I don’t think to be an immigrant influence my investment decisions but I am aware that any generational wealth or building of any stability starts with me so I have to make good financial choices for the future.
7. Do you have any specific money situation as an immigrant (e.g. supporting an aging parent or family overseas) that influences your finances?
In my family, I am considered someone who has “made it” because I own property, I have an advanced degree and I am able to take vacations to see the world beyond Jamaica. There is an expectation that I should be contributing to the finances of my family in Jamaica and I have done so in the past but my mother is very protective of my resources and shields me from a lot of the requests.
I also worry about the financial future of my mother so in any financial or career decision I make, I am always thinking of making enough to support myself in the future and also make sure she is okay. She still contributes a lot of her resources to family in Jamaica and I feel it’s a subconscious expectation that she will keep helping our family there, while I figure out how to save and invest my money to cover the both of us in the future. My mom rarely asks for money now but I know she sees me as her financial investment for 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?
I have heard of FI or FIRE movement. I am very interested in pursuing further financial independence.
9. What are some of the apps or tools you use to manage your finances?
I autosave a set dollar amount from every paycheck, it goes into an account that I do not have a debit card for, so I am not tempted to spend it. If I need to transfer money out it has to be an emergency. I also use Digit to do some passive saving for me. I also utilize Credit Karma to keep on top of my credit score.
10. Are there any specific books, blogs or podcasts on personal finance that you’d recommend to others?
Dave Ramsey’s financial series is pretty good, I did a course through my local church “Financial peace” and it gave me a foundation to explore my financial future. I follow paychecks and balances on twitter and read a lot of their tips and interviews. There is so much out there, it can be a bit overwhelming so trying to find the right resources can sometimes be daunting.
11. What money advice do you have for new immigrants who arrive in the US?
When you come from a country without basic resources, the US seems like the promised land but there are so many rules and financial missteps you can make that will ruin your American dream. I will say be careful with credit card debt and also although it is noble and sometimes obligated that you help your family back home, it’s important to establish a savings account for yourself and needs.
12. How can people connect with you on social media?
Thank you for the opportunity to share my financial story. I am available at @radiantidania on twitter.
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.