October is Filipino/a/x American History Month and what better way to celebrate than to share my own personal money history growing up. Like many immigrant stories, my parents left the Philippines to pursue their "American Dream". Because they had very little money to their names, they were determined to work hard to provide for my sister and me and create a lifelong legacy for future generations. I was fortunate to learn important money lessons from my parents, but I realized over time that their "traditional way" of building wealth did not always work with my own experiences as a millennial mom and business owner.
Here are 2 half-truth lessons about money that I learned growing up in my Filipino household.
Half-truth #1: All debt is bad.
One of the main money goals my parents had throughout their lives was to not have any debt. I grew up thinking that all debt was "bad". I learned from my parents that having too much debt or not being able to pay debt right away in certain situations (i.e. outstanding credit card balances) are not smart money habits. This is something that I 100% agree with. However, the idea of leveraging debt to help build wealth was not a concept that they believed in.
It sounds counterintuitive to use debt to build wealth, right? Let me explain.
In certain situations where it makes sense for a person's financial goals and resources, an individual can use debt to build their assets. For example, using equity in your home through a HELOC to purchase another property is one way to leverage debt. The additional property is now an asset that can help generate rental income and be part of building generational wealth. My parents stood by the thought that their mortgage MUST be paid off before they retired and that using the equity WAS NOT a good thing to do.
I learned in my personal and professional experience over the years is that not all debt is "bad". Using debt requires a discipline; when the right strategies are put in place, debt can help provide the resources needed to buy property, start a business, fund higher education and reach other financial goals that otherwise may not be as achievable if you don't have the initial capital to begin with.
Half-truth #2: Go to college and focus only on a career that pays well.
For many first generation, American-born Filipinas like myself, pursuing a career as a doctor or a pharmacist was part of my parents' "American Dream" for my sister and me. Not only were they considered prestigious titles, but they were high-paying jobs. There was a high expectation from my parents to do well in school, go to college and to work towards one of these professions. I hated the pressure growing up; as an adult I eventually understood that the push from my parents was their way of not wanting me to "suffer" without money or financial stability the way that they did.
I appreciate the value of determination my parents instilled in me; a lot of that is what led me to where I am today. What my parents overlooked, however, was that I wasn't passionate about the career paths that they wanted for me. I knew that I could still create financial stability outside of medicine, but it was equally important for me to find something that I was passionate about and found joy in doing for a long time.
Nowadays, there are so many different and creative avenues that people can use to create income and financial freedom without having to fit into a mold of expectations. Not everyone takes the "traditional route" of going to college and landing a high-paying career. I've learned is that no matter what the money journey looks like, it still requires work and determination to reach those financial goals.
My parents' story and the money lessons I learned from them are a large part of why I'm passionate about what I do. In helping other women of color better understand how their experiences and history impact their money decisions, together we are able to build a healthier, stronger relationship with money for their present and future.
Salamat ("Thank You" in Tagalog) for reading!