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Money Moves: How to Achieve Financial Freedom as a First-Gen Student

Learning how to save money can be hard for first-generation children of immigrants. Here are some tips you can use to get you closer to financial stability.
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Irene Kang

Growing up, money was not always guaranteed in my household. My dad would wake up at 6 a.m. and work 50+ hours a week, but it still wasn’t enough to afford necessities. Money was tight. Finding ways to save money was what my mom became good at, even if that meant missing out on luxuries, like name-brand food items. I remember always doing something for money, either babysitting or running errands. I got my first official job at Knott’s Berry Farm and spent almost every day that summer cleaning toilets. This was the first leap towards my goal of financial stability, but little did I know that my first paycheck would be gone in four days. I spent the money to heal my inner child by splurging on funky socks, Gushers fruit snacks, and other “luxuries” that every kid back in my elementary school seemed to have. 

Money is what makes the world go round, but what happens when you don’t actually know what to do with it? Many immigrants don’t have a lot of knowledge of financial literacy because of language barriers or lack of awareness about financial resources. For children of immigrants, that first minimum-wage job feels like the ticket to freedom. However, learning to save money can seem like a daunting task. This was true for Lola Mendoza, a first-year Fullerton College student with family origins in Michoacán Hidalgo, Mexico. “I would save my money but then after a day I would just find things that I didn’t need and spend it on it just because I have money,” says Mendoza.

 

Learning financial literacy is not a simple task. But there are some easy ways to start your financial journey. These are a few tips that can put you closer to financial freedom.

1. Find a savings account that is right for you:

When setting up a bank account, look for a student’s high-yield savings account. These accounts grow at a faster rate because they earn 3% to 5% interest on your deposits. High-yield accounts will help much more than most certificate savings accounts, which don’t allow you to withdraw money for a certain stretch of time frame without paying a fee. The College Investor recommends HSBC. HSBC maintains one of the highest-yielding online savings accounts. They are always raising their interest rate to be competitive and at the top. Their platform is easy to use and you can sign up and have your savings account opened in just minutes. They offer 4.50% APY. American Express consistently has one of the top savings accounts available based on interest rate. This is especially great for students because they have a $0 minimum to open. They offer 4.30% APY.

2. Make a budget and stick to it (most of the time):

This can be easier said than done. Keep your receipts and evaluate your weekly spending. Based on your spending, determine a budget and find ways to cut unnecessary expenses, such as eating out and buying non-essential items. Simplifying our budget by splitting up the cost of monthly bills into a weekly expense.

Some helpful budgeting apps to check out are Wally, Mint, and PocketGuard. Mint is best for keeping track of student loans. PocketGuard is best for controlling spending. Wally is the best for managing your budget abroad. While it’s a good idea to lower your spending, it’s also important to allow yourself a little treat once in a while.

3. Start building your credit:

Getting a credit card doesn’t have to be a bad thing—this is a way to establish credit and build your credit score. There are lots of different student credit cards that are great for first-timers. The Discover It student card is great for beginners because regardless if you have zero to low credit you will be approved. It also gives great cash back on all purchases. The key is to make sure to pay your bills on time and don’t accumulate interest. Refrain from opening too many credit cards.

4. Hunt for student discounts:

Many people are unaware of just how many discounts you get for being a college student! Make sure to keep an eye out for discounts wherever you go. Try replacing your usual shopping locations with ones that will offer you a student discount.

Popular student discounts to try out are Spotify Premium for students and Sprouts. StudentUniverse is a great website to utilize when searching for discounted flights and hotels for students who want to travel. Spotify for students gives you access to Spotify Premium and Hulu for a low monthly cost. Sprouts gives students up to 15% off their entire purchase on specific days of the week.

5. Start a rainy day fund:

The future is unpredictable. Saving as little as $10 to $20 each paycheck will add up. Make sure you have a safety net if something comes up and you have to miss work, get injured, or have to take care of a family member. Storing this money in a separate savings account will help you earn interest and will be readily available in any emergency.

 

Taken from the Fall 2023 print issue of Inside Fullerton. Read it here.

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About the Contributors
Dulce Trejo-Lima, Staff Writer
Dulce, or Candy as her friends call her, is a history major working towards a paralegal studies associate degree. Reading, Pinterest, and photography are her favorite pastimes. She makes liking Taylor Swift and Mitski her whole personality. 
Irene Kang, Creative Director
Irene is a graphic design major. She is planning to transfer to an art school by the end of 2023, after earning her associate’s degree in the spring. In her free time, she enjoys listening to music, crocheting, and trying new restaurants with friends. Her goal is to work in advertising for a fashion company.

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