Financial Independence for minorities in USA: My Story

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It is possible!

This week I had the opportunity to collaborate with a counselor at the University of Oregon for their Planning your Financial Future course. The counselor was looking for Pell grant alumni to share their stories and how managing money and building a career has helped shaping their path towards a better financial situation.

Here is what I shared:

Maria Victoria Colon, Age 40, Finance Director, from Puerto Rico living in North Carolina
If you don’t have time to read all the below, here are my top recommendations:

  1. Embrace change!
  2. Learn from others!
  3. Live below your means and grow your investments!

My name is Maria Colon, I was born and raised in Puerto Rico and moved to the states at the beginning of 2006. Puerto Rico is a USA territory, but our main language is Spanish. While the move to the states was easy, I was not ready for the changes I was going to experience in the years to come; language barriers, homesick and economic impact.

As mentioned above, I spent 26 years of my life in the island. Growing up, my parents had their own businesses (clothing stores) and while that provided for the necessities in our household, my parents did not plan for bad times (money wise) or for their retirement years. When I was about 10-12 years old their businesses were not providing enough for us and eventually, they partially closed the doors. This and many other events made for a complicated money situation for many years: collection calls, cars breaking down every month, etc. but thankfully we had a house to live in and food on our table.

My parents always worked hard but by the time I reached my time to graduate high school we were living mostly on my dad’s social security (my parents were 60 and 35 when I was born). My mom sat me one day and told me that I needed to bring the first college diploma to the house, mind you I was the youngest of her 5 children. Going to college was not a priority to me, I wanted to make money fast. Eventually, after application and approval processes, I made the decision to go to the University of Puerto Rico – the cheapest and closest to home. My bachelor’s degree in business administration – Finance was fully funded by Pell grant as we were a low-income family. Additionally, I had to work a part time job while studying, so my usual schedule was finish classes at 4pm, and go to work until midnight to start again at 7am the following day. While I considered myself rich in many ways, money was not something that was freely flowing in our house.

I graduated college with no debt thanks to the super low fees at the university, $35 per credit, and the Pell grant. Throughout this time, I continued to live with my parents. My mom was very adamant that I did not get into debt for things that were not necessary. After few years, I pursue a master’s in accounting. This was partially paid by my employer at the time and approximately $7,000 from student loans. With this degree and more credits later, I was able to become a Certified Public Accountant. This was a growing step in my career.

Embrace change!

I was faced with the decision of moving from my job in PR to Miami, this included a $12K raise, which I though was a lot. Surprise! Living in Miami is expensive. This move felt as a money mistake for a long time, however, today that I am on the other side and earning 3 times what I earned at that time, moving was a great decision. This was not my only move; my family and I are now in NC. Moving cities and states to lower our cost of living and increase our earning potentials has been a great strategy for the past 10 years.

During the first years in Miami, I wanted to keep up with the lifestyle and that put me in a lot of credit card debt. While this did not affect my credit – thank goodness – it was a money drain. Eventually, I used some of my 401k money to pay for the debt. Looking back that was not smart but the best I could do at the time. Forgive yourself and move forward.

I met my husband at that first part time job, and we have had to embrace changes to the max. Thanks to our flexibility to move and change jobs we have been able to increase our income, investments and have access to many other opportunities.

Learn from others – listen to their “recommendations” but decide when to follow their steps!

Growing up Latina, everyone wants to give advice. I am sure we all receive unwanted advice, but be wise who do you listen to. I was able to learn from my parents and siblings wins and mistakes. I also listened to advise from people that I though had more experience than me. Making mistakes is normal and part of life but learning from others can be a great strategy to avoid certain situations in life.

Live below your means and grow your investments.

In the past, I have made lots of bad money decisions but have taken a different approach to make sure my family does not have to go through the same situations that I did growing up. Now, my husband and I have 6 figures job and being on the other side of living paycheck to paycheck we have built a system to help reach our financial goals. We follow a monthly budget and try to spend only half of our take home pay. It does not matter how much money you make, if you do not have a budget, you will spend it all. We have also committed to maximize our retirement accounts – we both wished we had started doing this sooner. Lastly, we have been diversifying our investments with a short-term rental property off the coast of North Carolina.

Now, I am very vocal about our financial approach to life, our desire and plan to retire in 10 years – by age 50 – and share my knowledge to everyone willing to listen.

Interested on improving your financial situation?

  • Work on increasing your income,
  • Make a budget,
  • Save and invest, and
  • Keep your fixed and variable costs low.

All this to say, that were you come from matters but what matters the most is your approach to life and situations. You can make changes to your life now and be in a different place within the next 5, 10, 15 years and beyond.

If you want to talk, feel free to email me at partyof4pr@gmail.com.

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