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. This interview series is an attempt to share the stories of immigrants and how they manage their finances.
I am excited to present the 18th guest of the interview series, The Frugal Physician. She is a mother, a wife, and a primary care physician trained in internal medicine. Her family was the typical physician household that inflated their lifestyle right out of residency. They found ourselves deep in student debt and unhappy, even though they supposedly had everything. Reluctantly at first, they found the utility of frugality and it turns out to be the best thing that ever happened to them. Now, they are swiftly making our way out of debt and towards financial freedom.
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.
Hello! I’m Dr. D from The Frugal Physician. I am a mother of two toddler boys, wife to an amazing man, primary care physician, and an Indian American Immigrant. I moved to Augusta, Georgia, when I was ten years old with me, then, single mother. After living in a densely populated city in India with a population of nearly 2 million, landing in Augusta was a shock. I thought we had moved to the jungle! Well, it was a different type of jungle than I imagined and I learned to love it. I put myself through college and medical school and am now married to my Yankee husband who is a program manager.
2. What was your relationship with money during the early days of your life? How did it influence your finances?
We moved to the US after my father passed. So, it was just me, my little sister, and my mom, who was lab researcher making minimum wage. Ever since the age of ten, my mom leaned on me to help with cooking, paying the bills, babysitting, etc. I started running a summer daycare program in our townhouse when I was 13 (for friends who wouldn’t tell!). I was intimately familiar with how limited money was. We lived with the ultimate scarcity mentality.
Indian culture being as it was, discouraged discussing finances…, especially with children. So, I didn’t know much about our financial situation other than we were strapped for cash. We couldn’t go out or have nice things. This scarcity initially made me a rebel. When I finally started making real money, I wanted to spend it on nice restaurants and nice things.
But, soon I realized the spending was tying me down and keeping me living paycheck to paycheck. That’s when I decided to go back to frugality… but selectively… and focus on saving more.
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?
Talking about money is hard for immigrants. Especially, in India, wealth is shown, not discussed. Especially not by women. So, I don’t feel comfortable talking about money in the Indian community. I’m not sure I’d be taken seriously.
4. What are some of the money mistakes you have committed? What lessons did you learn from it?
Saving and investing only became a part of my reality recently. I wish I had started doing it much earlier! Compounding is magic and I could really have cashed in on that if I had started investing when I was younger.
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 am very debt averse. Recently, my family frugalled down to pay off over $200k of student loans in 17 months. I feel motivated to never take on debt again. But, I do realize that it can sometimes be beneficial, especially in real estate. We still have a mortgage on a rental property. I’m thinking about whether I want to pay that down or invest in a second one.
When I was growing up in India, the concept of spending borrowed money was almost taboo. No one financed anything. People saved and bought what they bought in cash. When we first moved here, I was amazed by the sheer amount of STUFF people had… houses, cars, furniture, toys… everything. I thought, they had to be really rich. I soon realized that they were still working on paying most of that stuff off and the debt was chaining them to their jobs. Before I came to this realization, I adopted the debt mentality and took on med school debt, car debt, and financed a primary residence and a rental property. Altogether we were nearly $750k in debt! That was not comfortable. I concluded that it wasn’t for me and got us the heck out!
6. How is your money invested? Does being an immigrant have any influence on your investment decisions?
I’m invested mostly in domestic index funds. Some international. Right now, the majority of our resources have been going to paying down education debt. Soon, I plan to invest more in real estate. Being an immigrant, I do see the potential in emerging markets. The returns are still volatile, so I’m waiting for them to stabilize a bit.
7. Do you have any specific money situation as an immigrant (e.g. supporting an aging parent or family overseas) that influences your finances?
Thankfully, my mom remarried and is in a stable financial situation now. I have offered to send money to my grandmother in India, but she declined. It may have to do with the fact that I’m a female. Generally, the boys in the family support the elders.
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’m more in the FI camp. I first heard about it by reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad, but then really adopted it after hearing Choose FI. I am definitely pursuing financial independence. I plan to reach it in my early 40’s.
9. What are some of the apps or tools you use to manage your finances?
My husband and I are old school with budgeting and prefer a Google sheet (i.e. a spreadsheet). It makes us go through our spending together and be on the same page. We use Personal Capital to track our net worth. We also use USAA’s budgeting tool to help us fill in our spreadsheet.
10. Are there any specific books, blogs or podcasts on personal finance that you’d recommend to others?
There are so many out there! The ones that have been the most influential in my life are Choose FI, Dave Ramsey (I know, I know, I don’t agree with all of it- but he’s great for getting out of debt), White Coat Investor, Physician on FIRE, Paula Pant, Mad Fientist.
My favorite money books are J.L. Collins’ Simple Path to Wealth, The Little Book of Common Sense Investing by John Bogle, Tax-Free Wealth by Tom Wheelwright, Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, and The White Coat Investor’s Financial Bootcamp.
11. What money advice do you have for new immigrants who arrive in the US?
Value what you know and what you have seen. Your global perspective will serve you well. Don’t buy into the financing lifestyle. Save and invest. But, realize debt can be a lever if used appropriately, especially in real estate. Unlike some other nations, the U.S. government incentivizes certain behaviors in the form of tax breaks- these include saving for retirement, saving for healthcare, and providing housing. Learn how to use these incentives to your advantage.
12. How can people connect with you on social media?
Dr. D of the House FIRE, First of Her Name, Queen of the Frugals, Breaker of Loans, and Mother of Budgets.
I blog at The Frugal Physician and I’m on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. I look forward to connecting with you!
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.