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 9th guest of the interview series – Little Seeds Of Wealth. This millennial blogger believes in the philosophy find happiness, live frugally and build wealth as a millennial.
I had a great time interviewing LSW. 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 moved to the U.S. in 2008 for my undergraduate studies. When I graduated, I began my career in a modest paying job in Washington, DC with a salary of $45k per year. I then got an MBA, which I finished almost 2 years ago. At the moment, I’m making a six-figure salary at a tech company in the Bay Area. It sounds high for most people in the U.S. but in the Bay Area, my salary is about average in the tech industry.
2. What was your relationship with money during the early days of your life? How did it influence your finances?
Growing up in a developing country in Asia, I have a very different view of what’s considered average. A 2000 sq ft, 3-bedroom house with 2 cars? That’s probably upper class where I grew up. My parents were about average there but may be considered frugal in the U.S. We never wore name-brand clothes and rarely ate out. This I believe gave me a huge advantage when it comes to personal finance. Since I’ve got used to living on less, I don’t care too much when other people post Instagram pictures of expensive restaurants or fancy vacations. Even though I’ve lived in the U.S. for more than 10 years, I still don’t own a car.
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 very frequently with my American fiance. However, I rarely talk about money with friends and family from my country. Usually, they try to divert the conversation to something more fun and less dry. While my culture highly values saving, most people there haven’t had much exposure to common personal finance topics in the U.S. This is partially due to the lack of resources and opportunities. There are still not many easy investing options available to the average person.
4. What are some of the money mistakes you have committed? What lessons did you learn from it?
I have committed several rookie mistakes partially because of my late exposure to personal finance. For example, when I had my first credit card, I let the payment deadline lapse several times and had to pay a hefty penalty fee. I then stopped using credit cards for several years out of anger, which left my credit score no chance to improve and cost me a ton of potential rewards. I’ve now become a smarter credit card user and am still learning.
Most recently, I unexpectedly fell into unemployment between October 2018 and March 2019. It dawned on me how naive I’ve been to assume that my ability to generate stable W-2 income will continue. I’m now working on generating more income from side hustles to supplement my full-time salary.
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 don’t currently carry any form of debt but I used to have student debt and potentially will get a mortgage in the next couple of years. I absolutely don’t like having debt but I think it can be a powerful motivator. I went to an expensive MBA program, which most people got into heavy debt to attend. As a result, almost everyone including myself works hard to get a high paying job to pay back the debt. Debt can force you to discipline your spending and motivate you to make more money.
6. How is your money invested? Does being an immigrant have any influence on your investment decisions?
My 401k is invested in a Vanguard target-date fund and I let it do its thing. I like the idea of a 3-fund portfolio but my company doesn’t have all 3 funds (U.S. stocks, international stocks, U.S. bonds) available as options to choose from. I’ve been maxing out my 401k for a few years now. Other than that, I have a brokerage account with Vanguard, a money market account with Capital One 360 and a small amount with Fundrise.
Believe it or not, I only opened the brokerage account in the last year. Growing up not knowing anyone having money in the stock market, I didn’t feel safe investing my money there. I also fear that as an immigrant I may have to leave the country on short notice and in the case that happens, cash may be the safest option.
7. Do you have any specific money situation as an immigrant (e.g. supporting an aging parent or family overseas) that influences your finances?
My parents are still working but I do expect I’ll provide them any monetary support they need when they get older. Luckily they’ve been savers their whole life. However, you can never prepare enough for true emergency situations like cancer.
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 am hoping to accomplish financial independence by 40 (or no later than 45). I can’t remember where I heard about the FIRE movement but this is something I’ve always wanted since beginning my career in the U.S. I want to have more freedom to spend with my family which now spans 2 continents.
9. What are some of the apps or tools you use to manage your finances?
I previously used Mint and it was a good tool to track your spending. Now I use Personal Capital almost exclusively because it covers so many things from spending tracking, net worth tracking to retirement planning. I like to keep things simple. A non-financial tool I recommend everyone to have is a good password manager like LastPass. Your financial passwords are some of the most important personal info you have. Create good ones (not 123456) and store them in a safe vault like LastPass so your loved ones can access them when necessary.
10. Are there any specific books, blogs or podcasts on personal finance that you’d recommend to others?
Rich Dad Poor Dad and The Millionaire Next Door changed my life. You don’t need to read anything new and flashy, stick with the classics and it’s more than enough.
11. What money advice do you have for new immigrants who arrive in the US?
If you could, look for a personal finance class at your university, your local community college or online to learn how the system works in the U.S in a structured manner. You can’t win the game without knowing the rules. Depending on where you come from, new immigrants may not be familiar with things many Americans take for granted. I actually have an immigrant friend who only started contributing to her 401k after working for 3 years and the reason was she didn’t even know what a 401k was!
Don’t be like that. Learn as early and as often as you can.
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.