My Relationship with Money

My relationship with money is linked to fear. A series of experiences with housing uncertainty, scarcity, and witnessing financial and psychological abuse taught me to live in fear of anything to do with money. 

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My mother, an immigrant woman with little resources, did her best “para sacar pa’ lante.” She worked hard to improve our family’s quality of life, but in the process, she bestowed upon me the responsibility of achieving the American Dream. This exchange of responsibility between immigrant parents and their children is formally known as the “immigrant bargain.” Parents give up their health, time, and dreams to facilitate opportunities for their children. These parents work to the bone, and they encourage their children to achieve the dream on their behalf. It is up to children to make the parents’ sacrifice worth it. This transaction, however, does not come with any financial literacy, resources, or instructions. Instead, the trade of responsibility leaves children with significant stress, fear, and with paralyzing anxiety.

A few years ago, the brutal winds of winter hovered over New York City until late spring, and my then twelve-year-old sister found herself in urgent need of a winter coat. I watched her pack on layers of long-sleeves and saw her wear ill-fitted hand-me-down coats. She never complained and made do with what she had. Our mother promised to get her a new jacket, but at the time, she was struggling to pay the bills.

In the aftermath of the “Great Recession,” I was holding to the fear of long-term unemployment, and I took the first job available post college graduation. My new employment didn’t pay a living wage. It didn’t even align with my studies or with my career goals. Nevertheless, the money I earned helped support my family, and for me, being able to protect my sister from a cruel winter was one of the most meaningful accomplishments of my life. My first paycheck didn’t only give my sister a warm winter jacket, but it also gave me peace of mind. 

I’d gained a sense of responsibility for my family, and yet, I didn’t feel prepared to take on the task of taking on the “immigrant bargain” or capable of reaching my personal goals. In response, I decided to take control of my future: I started to learn as much as possible about money and how to manage it. 

Much like with food, our relationship with money is often emotional, but we need it to survive.  I wanted my money to work for me, and for that to happen, I needed to stop fearing it. My career was beginning to move along. I needed to learn how to manage and earn more money.  I needed to become financially literate and to become comfortable money.
After doing my research, I realized that The Financial Gym seemed like the perfect place for me to start. Unlike other institutions, I didn’t need to make lots of money to join the Gym, and it offers everything I needed. 

Financial Literacy

The Financial Gym’s Wine and Learn events provide education on a variety of topics, from budgeting to investing, to real estate, to travel hacking, and much more. During these mini crash-courses, the Gym’s staff demystified credit cards and investing for me. 

I did not know anything about investing before joining the Financial Gym. I was convinced that it was a thing only done by people with loads of money, who often happened to be men. I also did not see a lot of people of color investing in the market. Today, my feelings about investing have changed. I feel more familiarized with the basics of investing, and although the language is still challenging, the knowledge I have gained makes me feel empowered. My Financial Trainer advised me to start an investment account with Betterment, which I opened with a $10 deposit. It was all I could afford. According to Betterment, if all I ever invest is $10, I could potentially end up with $980 in five years’ time. If true, that means that those $10 were put to good use. I have spent more on unnecessary purchases. 

In regards to credit, my mother had told me that credit cards were a necessary evil, and that’s all I knew about credit. My limited knowledge about credit led to unhealthy spending habits and credit card misuse. I fell into the trap of using my credit cards for “emergencies,” but I never considered the price of using credit cards to address those crises. As a result, I would end up with stress-inducing credit card balances. 

I am still working on kicking a few self-sabotaging credit card habits, but I have learned that using credit cards correctly can result in extra cash. If used responsibly, travel and cash-back credit cards could save tons of money for travel or other expenses. 

Rainy Days

As I said, my credit cards were my financial resource when it came to emergencies. My Financial Trainer, Crystal, advised me open a separate emergency savings account, which I opened. Crystal also advised me to go for a bank with the high-interest rate. “You should earn more than one cent on interest for your money,” she said, and I agreed. My new account is separate, it takes several days to make a withdrawal. As a result, the lengthy process of withdrawing money discourages me from taking money out for needless expenses. The money in my emergency account is exclusively for emergencies (not for travel, or for bills, or that cute shirt online).

A few months ago, while finishing up my master’s degree, my computer perished tragically and needed to be replaced. My four-year-old phone followed my laptop into electronic heaven, and I also found myself needing to pay a hefty amount of tuition money out of pocket. Moreover, I was working through a thyroid cancer scare that involved medical copays and retail therapy. As the saying goes, when it rains it pours. 

Thanks to my new emergency savings account, I was able to pay for many of these things without having to go into credit card debt. 

Budgeting

Budgeting is key! If like me, and you don’t have a lot of money to spend, budgeting is the key to achieving personal goals. I am learning to spend money on the things that can lead me towards achieving our dreams. A few sacrifices might need to take place, such as cutting on entertainment, opting for a less expensive electronics, meal prepping lunches, canceling the cable, or quitting Starbucks once and for all. 

It all depends on each person’s priorities and dreams. If you dream to drink Starbucks every day, then budget for it. Make it happen. My Financial Trainer, Crystal, has been able to point out the discrepancies between my dreams and my spending. I want to travel the world, continue to support my family, eventually buy a home, become financially independent, and make my family proud.

With Crystal, I feel more empowered and accountable to my dreams.
 

Stephany Hernandez