Money·3 min read

How First-Gen Americans Can Set Money Boundaries and Start Building Wealth

Giovanna Gonzalez free advice headshot
August 3, 2023

Many first-generation Americans often face unique money challenges. Like setting $$$ boundaries with family and navigating a financial literacy learning curve. To learn more about the first-gen money experience, financial literacy, setting boundaries, and setting yourself up for $$$ success, we spoke to Giovanna Gonzalez, aka Gigi the First Gen Mentor and author of “Cultura & Cash.” 

Why is it important for first-gen Americans to talk about money? 

A lot of the existing personal finance literature doesn't address unique issues that affect our community. I taught myself financial literacy by reading over 50 books, mostly by white male authors. They taught me all the basics — like how to budget and how to start investing — but didn't teach me about how my money mindset is affected by my culture and my family. It's important for us to connect with and talk openly about money with other people who share our money values.

What financial challenges do first-gen wealth builders face?

Many of us have a financial responsibility to our families and a lack of generational wealth. People who benefit from generational wealth are able to avoid student debt and get support with things like down payments. Often, that doesn’t exist for us, so we really have to be proactive with our financial journey sooner rather than later.

How can people overcome some of those challenges?

Self-education. They don't teach us this stuff in school, and often our immigrant parents don't teach us stuff because they're figuring these things out for themselves as well. So, find the kind of education that speaks to you. Whether that's taking a class at a community college to learn how money works or buying online courses.

How do you set financial boundaries with your family? 

I have a two-step process for deciding if I’m going to give money or set a boundary. First, I ask myself, "Do I want to give?" Because, for a long time, I gave money because I felt guilt, shame, or pressure to, which eventually led to resentment because I wasn’t doing it on my own terms. Then, if I want to, the next question is, “Can I actually afford it?” Because it's great that you are willing to help, but not if you're going to be behind on your rent.

How can first-gen people set themselves up with a solid financial base?

There's a lot of noise in the money space — crypto, life insurance, real estate investing, etc. — but what sets up our community for financial success is focusing on the basics: emergency funds, budgeting, and investing for retirement. 

Words of wisdom for first-gen Americans who feel like building wealth is beyond them?

1. Know it's a common feeling. Financial jargon can make you feel small or like it's not for you, but anybody can learn the language of money.

2. Gain knowledge. Find a medium that works for you and feels safe for you to learn. It can be books, a money coaching program, or financial literacy classes. 

3. Get comfortable unlearning. Understand that you're going to have to unlearn a lot of negative money mindsets. Like not saving for a rainy day.

Answers are edited and condensed for clarity.

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