Growing up in an immigrant household, money was treated as a tool for survival. My parents worked long hours to provide for me and my siblings, and each dollar was used for necessities like bills and food. There wasn’t much room for wants or going on family vacations.
I wasn’t taught how to grow my wealth or that it was even possible for someone like me, a first-generation woman of color.
We almost lost our childhood home when I was 16 years old. At the time, I was responsible for translating what the bank representatives were saying to my parents. It was a deeply traumatic experience, but it taught me a lot.
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I vowed then that a lack of money would never limit my choices or opportunities. I made a goal to become financially independent and would do everything I could to not allow outside circumstances to affect how safe, or in control or powerful I felt again.
After I graduated from university and got my first job, I saved my first $100,000 in 4 years by the age of 26. It only took another year to save the next $50,000.
Here is how I did it without feeling like I was depriving myself, and my best advice.
I advocated for salary increases at my 9-to-5
Out of university, I got a job working in the financial technology sector. I was at my company for over four and a half years. During my time there, my salary increased by 50%. From the start, I knew that as a young woman of color I had to advocate for myself at work, even if it felt uncomfortable.
Luckily, I had a manager who was very supportive. I made sure to keep track of any additional tasks that were outside of my designated role and monitor my progress on my quarterly goals. I would bring that information with me and share how I went above and beyond in my role when the time came to negotiate in my employee reviews.
I kept my managers informed of any new skills or certifications. For example, when I became an Accredited Financial Counselor and took on a financial coaching role at my company in addition to my regular tasks, I made sure to advocate for a raise again.
I created tangible saving goals
Three and a half years ago, I started working towards my first major saving goal: an emergency fund. It took me four months to save up enough to cover three months worth of necessities.
I did this by taking a look at my monthly income, fixed expenses and figured out an average of how much I was spending on discretionary spending per month for things like take out and shopping. Through this process, I found a realistic amount to set aside each month towards my savings, automatically. If I overspent that month on my discretionary spending, I would adjust my following month’s budget to make up for the shortage.
Video by Courtney Stith
Once I completed my emergency fund, I started to prioritize saving for a down payment on a house and a wedding as my next larger goals. I set the goal to save $100,000 in four years, which roughly meant saving $2,000 a month.
Through increasing my income, I was able to achieve this goal without feeling deprived of spending in other areas of my life.
I changed my money mindset
Growing up in an environment where money was scarce, my mindset was that more money meant more safety and certainty. So even as I was consistently earning and saving more, I always felt like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.
For a long time, I felt anxious about parting with money, especially spending on myself, even fun purchases like brunch out with friends, or better quality makeup. Depriving myself would eventually lead to a binge spending on random stuff I didn’t even like, followed by guilt that I wasn’t being responsible. Then the vicious cycle would start again.
I knew it wasn’t sustainable.
Video by Helen Zhao
The turning point came when I had enough saved to go on a trip in 2019 but I chose not to because I felt like I still couldn’t afford it. I missed out on some memories. I knew I didn’t want to live my life this way anymore.
Doing my best to make sure to avoid lifestyle creep, I revised my budget and decided that every month once I had covered my monthly expenses and contributed to my savings goals, I would set aside $1,000 for myself to spend on lifestyle expenses like groceries, take out, shopping, and treating others, like my parents.
Now I’m all about balance. With every paycheck, after my expenses are paid, I automatically contribute money to my savings goals and investments, but I allow myself the space to use any discretionary spending money left over on things that give me joy.
I started a side hustle
In my late teens and early twenties, as I tried to learn more about personal finance, I struggled to find money mentors and experts who looked like me. I didn’t feel comfortable walking into a bank and talking to an advisor because because it didn’t feel like a safe space to ask my “dumb” money questions and it seemed that many couldn’t relate to my experience of being first generation.
Inspired by my personal experience, in April of 2020, I founded The Wealthy Wolfe, a financial coaching and education platform for women of color from immigrant backgrounds to fill that gap and be a resource for anyone going through the same thing.
Over the last two years, thanks to an online course I made, content creation, building a community on Instagram and Tik Tok, affiliate marketing, media features and podcast interviews, I have grown my business to the point that my one-on-one coaching service sells out every month.
I was able to save the majority of my side hustle income as I relied on my 9-to-5 income to support me day to day. I extended my three-month emergency fund into a six-month fund to help me prepare for leaving my 9-to-5 to run the Wealthy Wolfe full-time.
Video by Courtney Stith
Thankfully, planning ahead paid off, and I had my emergency fund ready to go when I was unexpectedly laid off from my job in September 2021, when I still wasn’t quite ready to be completely self-employed.
When I started to earn consistent four figures from my side hustle in February of 2021, I set up automatic savings contributions from my side hustle income towards the wedding and down payments funds. Both of those funds live in dedicated high-interest, no-fee savings accounts.
I earned $32,000 in profits in 2021, which was a major reason why I was able to save my next $50,000 so comparatively quickly. The Wealthy Wolfe became my full-time job in October of 2021.
I grew my wealth with a diverse portfolio
As a child of immigrant parents, the idea of trading time for money, like working a 9-to-5 job, was the only way I knew how to earn income. Investing was a foreign concept to me, and a scary one. I feared that investing my money meant I might lose it all so for a time, I just avoided it.
I taught myself more about the stock market when I was 21 years old. I knew investing was something I should be doing, so I wanted to take the steps to learn how, through reading investing blogs and books like “The Wealthy Barber” and watching various YouTube channels.
I learned the importance of not panic-selling, navigating dips in the market, and of investing in a diverse portfolio over time. That is why I’m a fan of ETFs, because one fund can cover hundreds of companies.
Three years ago, I began consistently investing with the help of a robo-advisor. And while my portfolio has fluctuated, this knowledge and experience has helped me become even more confident about my money.
I currently have about 25% of my net worth invested, and the remainder is in those dedicated savings funds. Right now I’m focused on covering my wedding and a house down payment, both of which are coming up soon. Once these goals are met, I will focus more on investing and growing my wealth passively, and continuing to prioritize my valuable time.
Parween Mander is a Millennial Money Coach, a Trauma of Money Facilitator, and the founder of the Wealthy Wolfe, a digital financial coaching and education platform for women of color from immigrant upbringings specifically.
The article “I Saved $150,000 in 5 Years: Here are my Top Tips for Growing Wealth Without Feeling Deprived″ was originally published on Grow (CNBC + Acorns).