Immigrants play an important role in American society. Regardless of the controversy surrounding immigration, many come to live in this wonderful country and don’t plan on leaving anytime soon. Migrationpolicy.org estimates that in 2015 43.3 million immigrants from all over the world lived in the U.S. That’s 13.5 percent of the American population, that number represents immigrants that are accounted for. An additional 11 million plus are undocumented immigrants, yet still part of the American economy and society.
As an immigrant myself, I think there are valuable lessons to learn from this group. My parents taught me valuable lessons about money, and even though we didn’t have much, here are five takeaways you can learn from immigrant families.
1.) Live within your means
Necessity leads you to evaluate how and when you spend your money. For many immigrant families, unnecessary spending is not only a mantra but a way of survival. The uncertainty of their current jobs leads many families to save and consider their future. Immigrant families are not afraid to admit that they cannot afford certain luxuries.
To enroll their kids in club soccer can be seen as a waste of money compared to school supplies, food, rent or other necessities. As immigrants, we learn how to stretch a dollar, where to find the cheaper rental rates, and how to save more at the grocery store. There is plenty of cooking at home, and the restaurant outings become celebrations only when it calls for them.
2.) Use cash
Many immigrant families are not familiar with the idea of credit or cannot apply for lines of credit for various reasons. Therefore, immigrants start their businesses with cash and with a communal effort with the help of their extended family. This is a very useful lesson that is tied to living within your means. It is even more applicable to a family of undocumented immigrants. Without a social security number, undocumented people can’t borrow money or open a line of credit.
Many see this as a disservice to the immigrant community, however, given the uncertainty of their legal status, I think it forces them to be more responsible individuals while protecting them from added financial burdens and debt. Of course, there are still ways to buy on credit even as an undocumented immigrant, which is why personal finance education is more important than ever.
The real disservice is not the inability to borrow on credit, but the high amount of immigrants that are not able to open a bank account. There are benefits to using cash, but it can also come at a higher cost to your net worth and transactional fees. The unbanked pay higher costs when transferring money to their loved ones and inflation affects them when their money is kept in a shoe box and not in a bank.
There are however ways for immigrants to build credit history. Here are 9 ways to do it if you decide to go that route.
3.) Don’t be afraid of side hustles
Whether it is tamales, a taco stand, or setting up a garage sale, immigrant families know how to hustle. Fear of work is not part of our mindset. Immigrants don't see work as degrading, it is seen as a blessing Click To Tweet. I remember seeing my parents do side hustle after side hustle. My dad repaired cars after he got off his construction job, my mom sold tamales or our unused shoes and clothes to family and friends after her day job as a waitress.
There is always something to do, don’t dwell on your money problems and actively seek new ways to make money. We don’t wait for the government to do something, or sell food stamps (as many might think). When we are broke, we go to work! That’s how we must live, there are plenty of people willing to exchange their cash for your service, you just have to find them.
4.) Be Thrifty
Buying brand new stuff is exciting and it is proven to release a dose of dopamine as you walk isle to isle. But you can have a great shopping day if you buy for cheap and save more! Being thrifty is a skill that you must practice. Your upbringing affects your lifestyle, the value we place on brands is a communal effort to decide whether that thing is worth what others are willing to pay for it.
Immigrant families experience a much different consumer economy. Household expenses take priority, purchasing power is also smaller in most immigrant families, therefore food and bills come first. Thrift shops and hand me downs were our new clothes. We were content to find the next best thing and not be bogged down by the name on the back of the jeans. After all, we were just happy to have something to wear.
5.) Work hard and don’t complain
A job is a job. My parent also knew that such job was not the end goal! It was a step towards the next opportunity. At the same time, they didn’t use that as an excuse to be a lousy worker. There is such pride among the immigrant community about the quality of your work. Often, my dad went into a house to repair the botched labor of previous workers at a construction site. He took pride in that he was the one fixing others mistakes.
There is value in such pride! Even if you know you won’t be at your current job for long, make good impressions and don’t burn any bridges. My parents taught me that every opportunity must be seen as a blessing. No one forced them to do anything they didn’t want to do, they were always grateful to their employers for allowing them to work and feed the family.
Contentment and gratefulness can be the cure for all negativity. These are the biggest lessons my parents taught me. Once you get to a better economic position in your life, there is only one thing to do, to give back to those that have been instrumental in your life and make them proud to be in this country.
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