S2E5: Navigating Money As An Immigrant or First-Gen American

S2E5: Navigating Money As An Immigrant or First-Gen American

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When we hear American Dream, we immediately imagine the scrappy family that overcame barriers, and has a beautiful little house with a white picket fence. In this episode, we are here to talk about the reality of the immigrants trying to live and create the new American Dream. We talk with Anna N’Jie Konte to dive into the real, genuine truths of the financial aspects immigrants and first-gen Americans face, especially talking the emotional experiences, difficulties faced, and unique powerful capabilities that immigrants and first-gen Americans have.

Download the episode's key takeaways here.

This episode was produced by Global Thinking Foundation USA and Hangar Studios.

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View Transcript

Mary: (00:45)
Hi there, money people. This is Your World, Your Money. And this week you are back with me, Mary, hi there, and our co-host, Nolan DeFrancesco. We've missed all of you terribly. Me and Nolan, we don't really have a chance to miss each other. We're on zoom all day, every day. You know that new life that we live. But we are both so happy to be back with the whole lot of you. Today, we are ready to bring you a discussion very near and dear to my heart about how to navigate finances as an immigrant yourself or first gen American with immigrant parents.

Nolan: (01:20)
That's right, Mary. Money is hard for everyone and for immigrants and first gen Americans, there are even more factors affecting their financial success, especially in the family barriers and pressures that they are facing. We are so excited to be discussing this topic with one of our amazing guests from season one.

Mary: (01:41)
Yes, she is absolute magic sauce, and we are so lucky to have her back. Joining us today is one of our brightest stellar friends, Anna N'Jie Konte. Anna is a passionate believer in the empowerment of women and minorities in America. She is the founder of Dare to Dream Financial Planning, a fee only virtual financial planning firm that serves the needs of 30, 40 something women of color who want to live boldly and make a lasting impact on their family tree. She is also the host of the first gen realness podcast. There, she engages in conversations with her fellow first-generation Americans in order to reinforce their value and immense contributions to the fabric of America. Welcome back, Anna. We are so excited to have you with us.

Anna: (02:29)
Thanks so much. It's such a pleasure to be here again.

Nolan: (02:32)
Yeah, we are so thrilled you could join us. The discussion last season was amazing and I'm really excited to see where we go today and on what an important topic. And I'd love to start there, Anna if you're game, we'd love to hear your story first. You have a podcast called First-Gen Realness. We are a huge fan. Tell us a little bit about that and how is it like navigating finance as a first gen American for you?

Anna: (03:00)
This is something that is very near and dear to my heart. So I'm a first generation American. My father is from The Gambia in West Africa. My mom is from Puerto Rico, and I really struggled a lot with feeling as though some of the cultural, societal, financial challenges that I navigated as a younger person were somehow unique to me and my family. And once I got older and I went to college and I made more friends who were on a similar career life trajectory as me and had similar backgrounds as me, I was able to realize that so many of our challenges and struggles were really shared. And I wanted to create a space where we could discuss that in an open, honest, like non-judgemental way. I primarily work with, women of color. And a lot of them are first generation American. And there are a lot of challenges that I think are taken for granted by other communities, right.

Anna: (04:08)
That we have to navigate and address in order to achieve that level of financial stability and wealth and financial independence that I think so many of us are seeking. One of those is really just figuring out the system, right? So, you know, I navigated this personally from student loans to, um, figuring out how to invest in a 401k to taxes. All of these issues were things that I really had to navigate on my own because my parents didn't necessarily have the knowledge and the tools to equip me with that. And that's a no fault of their own, but it's just, it's just the reality. You know, they were figuring everything out on their own too. And I think they personally had a higher hurdle to jump than I did. So it's definitely a challenge and there are some unique opportunities there as well, but, but it's important to just be mindful of how the issue of personal finance is really, it has its own color. When we're talking about the first generation or immigrant experience,

Mary: (05:16)
Let's dive into it, like, how do your clients, how did you, how do people handle that sense of pressure or guilt or the idea of growing wealth that obviously is the goal, but having all of those other emotional aspects that were given by our parents mixed into the pot with it.

Anna: (05:36)
I relate to this on a personal level. My husband is also first generation American. So we deal with these things on both sides of the family. And then I think about it all day long too, with my clients. I really see it be, you can't pay everybody with a broad brush stroke, but I think there are a good portion of first-generation, newer American roots families, that there is a lot of pressure period on the children to achieve, to make sacrifices, you know, your parents and elders sacrifices worth it, right. Not to waste the opportunity. I always joke around with my dad. I mean, he was super strict. He's a big softie now, cause I guess I'm out of the house and he doesn't have as much responsibility. But when I was young, I remember I brought home like a B grade in school and he looked at my report card and he looked at me. I was probably 13 or so. And he said, did I come all the way to America for you to get B's? And I think that's just really, when I think about that pressure on first-generation Americans, that's always the first thing that comes to my mind. But from a financial perspective, I think there is the pressure for individuals. And particularly if they've done well professionally to financially support their parents, to also take things to an exponentially higher level, which fair or unfair, like there's no judgment on my end. I just think it's the reality of what I see. If you have immigrant parents, they probably want you to be a doctor and they want you to have a big house and they want you to be able to help them financially. And then maybe also help relatives, extended family, grandparents, whoever it may be in the country of origin and their parents' country of origin. And it's, it's just a lot of pressure. I find a lot of people will rise to it and they will say, okay, I need to, they'll come to me and say, I really need to plan and figure out how I can plan to balance these obligations and this responsibility I have with my family and my own personal goals.

Mary: (07:49)
I think something that you mentioned before also kind of works into this as well about when you grow up a little bit, finding community and finding people that kind of help build you up in that as well. I think about one of my best friends who - one of her goals is to essentially create wealth for her other family members. And it's a lot of pressure and she's told me many times if I didn't have people to talk to about that, that were my age that have these goals and want to fight for it with me. Like if I didn't have that, it'd be a lot. And I was like, I can only imagine. That's a lot of money to try and save and share with your family members.

Anna: (08:28)
Totally, totally. It, it really is. And I say this from my own perspective and you know, when you're talking about a first-generation, some people will come to America and they'll might be well off and they might have financial resources, but I would say that the majority do not. Right. And so your parents are essentially starting from scratch, right? You grow up seeing all of the sacrifices and the hardships that they might've gone through and probably the progress right. That they've made from when you were younger to when you reach adulthood. Right? And so you want to try and make up for what they were not able to achieve or the very least pick up the Baton and carry it from where they were. And also think about like, okay, I am one of the first people in my family to achieve a level of financial stability.

Anna: (09:22)
That's like never been seen before. Right. And so that oftentimes means that we feel as though we have to carry all of those people to our own detriment. Some people can take it too far. I certainly do see some people will take it to the extreme where they are actually sacrificing their own personal financial stability in order to support people. And, and it's, it needs to be a balancing act, going back to the community question, it's very lonely, right? And so, you know, people don't talk about money very much. And I think that when you come from a background of not having very much money, there's a lot of stigma and shame around, uh, discussing money. So if you were trying to come out of that and build wealth and really hit that next level for yourself and for your family, you have a lot of emotional things to overcome.

Anna: (10:17)
And on top of that, you have to gather all of this knowledge on your own, right? Because your parents probably are not that familiar in, can't talk to you, um, and really instruct you on how to invest in different types of accounts and those kinds of things. And on top of that, then you're doing it on your own because you know, people don't talk about money and it's a shameful, or you don't want to talk about how you're planning to support your parents in their retirement. Like you feel somehow that, that, that reflects poorly on them. There's a lot of emotions tied in there and it's, it's a lot to unpack. And I, you know, in terms of my own work, I deal with this quite a bit with my clients. And it's something that I really endeavor to tell them, like, not to feel negative about, or to feel ashamed about anything associated with any of this, because it really just is a circumstantial thing. And it's completely understandable as well.

Nolan: (11:12)
Yeah. Makes total sense. And I'm curious about how you think, what good practices you've seen in terms of people investing in themselves and being able to take those risks versus the constant balance in terms of family pressure and other types of expectations on them. How have you seen people successfully, or maybe not successfully navigate the decision around taking out student loans and being able to take that risk and investment in themselves. And similarly around the question of, you know, to what extent do we want to help out other family members build up wealth for the family as a whole, or maybe even send money back to family, back home and country of origin versus take the steps necessary to build up financial stability and security here. Like, those are tough decisions to make. How do you see people work through things like that?

Anna: (12:06)
I like to liken it to something akin to a ties, right? So not to say that it has to match up percentage wise with the whole concept of a tie is in Christianity. Some people believe that you should give 10% of your income to charity, to the church, right? So I think for a lot of people in this situation, baking in some level of financial support, behooves them, but also having boundaries around that. Right. So, and saying, okay, I'm willing to commit this amount, this percentage of my income towards helping my family. Right. And you can, there are a lot of different ways that I'll teach. I'll walk my clients through deciding what those boundaries are. Sometimes it's like, Hey, I will help my mom and dad, no matter what they ask for. Right. Maybe it's, I will always spend on these certain things. Like if there are medical issues, I will always help with medical bills or I'll always help with education expensive. Or sometimes it's just a dollar amount, right. That percentage, that concrete percentage, and having that framework before you start getting those requests is crucial, right? So then when you get the requests or you decide, you might even want to proactively assist a family member, you at the very least know what you can do. It's more about being proactive versus reactive, right? And then within that, whatever's remaining, you have, because you're not over dedicating your, your income or your assets to helping your family, you are able to build wealth and financial stability for yourself in a way that you wouldn't be, if you are giving everything to them. Because at the end of the day, it's just like the oxygen mask conversation that we have a lot on the airplane and put on your own oxygen mask. And then you put on somebody else's and you might feel like, I mean, as me as a mother, in some more respects, like whenever I hear those announcements intuitively you always want to save your kid first, but at the end of the day, if I'm weak and I'm not able to function appropriately, that I'm not actually able to be much used to my children. And that leaves them more vulnerable. The risk-taking question is interesting because I find that our parents, those of us who are first generation or our immigrant parents are often risk takers, but they instill in us not to take very much risk. They're like, I've lived enough risk for everybody in our family. Let's not have you take more risk. Right. And so what that also looks like is they will have us, for example, they'll emphasize education and education at all costs not necessarily worried about the cost of the education, right?

Anna: (15:02)
And so that inherently is a risk factor, but it's just not viewed in the same way they view having a good education as being secure, right? And that often times leads to staggering student loan debt, given that you might not be equipped with the knowledge on how to assess that and really understand what that's going to look like for you. This is a problem across the board. As we all know, student loans are a huge problem, but I think for the first generation Americans, a lot of these conversations apply to the first overall, right? The first thing your family to go to college, the first thing you're failing to maybe get a professional degree. I think a lot of these things apply across the board, but the lack of information for those first on these decisions can be really crippling and have a really detrimental long-term effect if that risk and that understanding is not there, especially because they oftentimes don't have the financial cushion, like I can call my dad and he will help me pay rent this month. Like if that's not an option, there's no plan B. Then that risk is that much riskier. Right?

Mary: (16:10)
What you're sharing here, I think is so important. And especially if we kind of extrapolate it to even younger adults. So a lot of us in this conversation and a lot of the people you work with, I imagine there are young adults and we would consider ourselves as young adults. I like to think that we all consider ourselves that no matter what the world tells us. For teens that are in first generation householder, immigrant households say, how can they work through that financial environment?

Anna: (16:43)
Yeah, I think it's a challenge. I mean, financial literacy and financial education in this country is pretty abysmal around the board, right? Across the board. Rather, it is just a problem. And so most people walking around don't have a great level of knowledge around finances. So the one thing that is beneficial now versus when I was 17 years old, is that the internet is much more robust and they're much more, more resources available to teach you about personal finances, right? There's YouTube, there's Instagram. There are books that are geared towards younger people, and we're starting to see more and more content geared towards younger people. I will shout out one of my colleagues, Tyrone Ross, who has just produced a Learn to Money series. He's first-generation American also. And he lives grew up in an un-banked household and recognizes how little financial knowledge he received as a young person. He ended up becoming a financial advisor, imagine and wants to bring that knowledge back to his community, right? There are people putting out really quality information now, and it's just up to the kids, unfortunately, because we, as a society, haven't made it a priority to include financial education and financial literacy and the coursework that kids are doing on high school, they're going to have to figure it out on their own. A lot of times we experience scarcity and anxiety as children, whether that be actual, or I won't say manufactured, I will say, learned or practiced behavior, right? So our parents oftentimes are really trying to strive for something better. So even if they do have enough money, they will often tell you there's no money for that. There's no money for that. We have, you know, you have food, you have clothes like stop asking for toys or whatever, and that, or it might just be that they really are economically struggling or they were economically struggling when we were young.

Anna: (18:50)
The thing is that if we don't shift some of that scarcity and anxiety around money, it can oftentimes be very detrimental to our longterm financial health, right? Because it will, it will prompt us to act in ways that are counterproductive towards achieving that financial stability that we want. So either, or even just achieving the quality of life that we want to. Right. So I will see clients sometimes over saving, right? They are frantically over saving and really feeling as though there's not enough. There's never going to be enough. I won't be able to achieve these things. And it's affecting their quality of life, right? It's affecting the way that they are able to enjoy and really take in the fruits of their own labor. Right? On the flip side, sometimes it causes people to just really not try with their finances because they feel as though like, Hey, I'm just going to be broke. Like my parents were broke, we were broke going up. There's not that much hope. And so that money mindset work in that perspective specifically around scarcity and anxiety with money from childhood young adulthood is super important for this community because I think we, we oftentimes have a skewed relationship to finances and money.

Nolan: (20:16)
There's one particular question I'd really love to get your perspective on, as we talk about this financial socialization process that occurs for young people and folks that need to balance the pressures from every angle and the pressures and expectations from their families. I'm curious what your thoughts are on the role gender plays. What do you think? Is there a gender component to the expectation or pressures that people face in immigrant or first gen families? And how does that play out as people try to stick out their own financial values?

Anna: (20:52)
I would say gender has a huge role to play in terms of these pressures, right? Because there is pressure from a financial standpoint in these first-generation immigrant intergenerational relationships, right? Women or the daughters are oftentimes expected to not only provide the financial support, but oftentimes the actual caregiving, right. Parents live with you, you are taking care of them. You're making sure they go to their doctor's appointments. You're making sure they have their prescriptions. Right? All of these things are disproportionately affecting women. And from my experience, you know, there are all kinds of studies done in the US on how, you know, people talk to their girls less about, uh, science and intellectual things than they do boys. And that goes with money too. And so it just perpetuates these gender norms of women don't deal with the money, the men deal with the money. And when you layer that just general US American culture with the home culture, which a lot of times is more patriarchal, right? The men make the financial decisions and you layer that on top of it. And the cultural, labor, non compensated labor components that often falls on the daughters, it's a lot, and it can be very overwhelming. And I think that they are oftentimes in a disadvantage, disproportionately disadvantaged position as a result of that, when it comes to getting started on a path to build wealth and build financial stability for themselves as individuals,

Mary: (22:41)
Something that you're speaking about, Anna here that I think is so important. And I want to kind of just highlight, I don't think any of us here, I mean, maybe you can offer some advice. I know I can't offer some advice, but there's something I just want to kind of put out into the world for anybody that's listening, that it's so incredibly normal and okay to have these ideas that you're influenced in the world and hold on to them. And maybe at home, they don't go so well. Maybe those conversations kind of clash. And I mean, the only advice I can offer there is it gets better over time when you learn to communicate better. So I'm not really offering any advice here and maybe Anna, you can jump in and you have some advice, but I just wanted to highlight that for anybody listening, we're talking about two different sets of influences and inside the home that might not always go well and that's normal. It's okay to have those two different clashing ideas because they actually can inform on each other, as people start to grow up.

Anna: (23:41)
Yeah, totally. I think that applies to all areas of life, right? Absolutely. For me, whether dad thinks your outfit to go to school is appropriate or not to whether you should be managing the money as a woman or whatever, whatever the discussion is. There is often that tension between the culture of origin. We are these type of people. And then what you end up landing in as a part of a larger community in the US. The one thing I will say is our parents were navigating that too. Right. And I've learned as I've gotten older. And I think also as a mother, now, our parents are, we view them as these like fully baked humans. Like they had us, and they were done growing and changing as individuals. And that's not the case. Right. They evolve, they grow their opinions change as they get older.

Anna: (24:36)
And they're also getting acclimated every year that passes by that they're continuing to be in America is another year that they get more comfortable with that. Right. And so they might start to see your perspective a little bit differently. They're going to understand why you are the way you are and why you're making the choices you are. If they happen to run opposite, what they would have had you do, having that perspective of the trajectory, the overall trajectory, if you even think about where your parents started to, where they ended up and then where you're picking up and where you're going to leave off is very important. Right? A lot of times, uh, we are very hard on ourselves, and we're very hard on our parents for not having a 529 or college savings account set up or not having a lot of money in retirement, or maybe not having paid off their mortgage by retirement.

Anna: (25:34)
All of these things are there they're challenges that we face. And a lot of times we blame it on our parents and their lack of information. But if you look at where they started and where they arrived at, I'm sure you would be astounded and very, you know, I'm super grateful. And I really feel like my parents are the most incredible people in the world, because like I said, I think about where they started and where they ended up and they weren't perfect and they didn't execute perfect. They just did the best that they could. And so now it's up to me to do better for my children, and it's going to be up to them to do better for their children. Right. I think that pertains to everything, but in terms of finances as well, cause we all know that finances and scarcity and anxiety around money can really affect every area of your life. And so it really can permeate things and just having that grace and giving them that grace is super important.

Nolan: (26:30)
Let's talk about the advantages. In your work with Dare to Dream Financial Planning. Do you ever have that conversation, like your background is a real resource for you and how to, into that, to achieve your financial goals?

Anna: (26:46)
Yes. So I definitely do. Most of my clients are business women and I'm a firm believer in the power of authenticity when it comes to growing and scaling your business. Right. And so I'm always encouraging my clients to lean into that. Right. And so their diverse identity weaving that into what they're doing to grow and scale their business, and therefore have more income and be able to achieve their goals as well. That's just assertive, slight anecdote. But beyond that, most of my clients, I will say, this is not a full sample size, but you know, my clients are some of those people that I think really rise to the pressure of being that first-generation Americans. Right. And they say, okay, my parents, like they did what they could, they have what they have. Imma need to change this. Right. And it's going to have to change with me. And so I really have to lean into making things happen for myself. Right. And making things happen for my family and like, just get things done. Right. And so I find that that's an extra bit of like gasoline fuel on the fire for them that really leads them to be very successful. And I think beyond that, they also are very firmly rooted in values. Right. And in identity, and that keeps them focused and focus is one of those things that people don't talk about enough in terms of personal finance. Right. They talk about willpower and they talk about debt and they talk about, you know, investing and all of those things are important, but at the end of the day, if you don't have focus, you're not going to set appropriate goals and you're not going to stick to them. And I think that is one thing that my clients have. I would argue that it has a lot to do with their background. Maybe, maybe not, but that's just my observation.

Nolan: (28:53)
To quickly close this out here. If somebody is listening to this podcast, and it's really the first time that they're coming to terms with their own experiences in an immigrant or first gen American. And they have never really thought about financial planning before, where do they start? What's your short bits of advice for somebody who's really thinking about this for the first time?

Anna: (29:17)
Yeah. I think there are so many incredible content creators out there now. And I think just beginning to dip your toes into those waters, to be honest, Instagram is one of those places that I feel like is, has very accessible, personal finance content. It's in bite-sized pieces, right? And you're able to find a lot of people that are also speaking from this lens of being a first-generation American and navigating finances. There are so many people out there. That would be really the first place. I would say, just educating yourself and also keeping it in the back of your mind that like, you're not behind, you're not off track. Like there's nothing wrong because you didn't learn this stuff. Like most of us don't learn this stuff. I find clients all the time. And as an aside for my background, I spent eight years working in wealth management with ultra wealthy people. And oftentimes they had no clue what was going on. So it's not, it's not just you. Thanks so much. This is awesome

Nolan: (30:22)
Listeners. Thank you so much for joining us today. Next week, we have an exciting episode coming up in a collaboration with Claire Wasserman, founder of Ladies Get Paid in celebration of women's history month. We are going to be talking women, history, worth, and what the future will look like for women and equality.

Mary: (30:42)
I'm very excited for that episode. And you're going to be listening with Ann, one of our other co-hosts on that episode as well. And I'm excited to hear all that they've got to chat about. We also have an open call for papers, opening up the space for listeners, friends, friends of friends, or just people in general. You know, if you meet somebody on the street, let them know to submit papers on gender, sexuality, identity and finances. Our top picks for these papers will be published and the winner will be on our podcast. You'll get to chat with us. So we hope that you, your friends and those strangers that you met out on the street are going to submit some papers and share your thoughts and voices with us. Thank you so much listeners. We'll talk to you next time.