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First-generation American shares financial challenges
LOS ANGELES (7/8/14)--Jennifer Calonia, editorial manager for , recently shared the financial challenges she faced as a first-generation American--information credit unions can use to meet the financial needs of their memberships, especially financial education.
  • Finding cash for college. "My parents and family insisted on me getting an good education," Calonia wrote. "Throughout my childhood, I was told that a college degree--specifically one that would lead me to a career in medicine or law--would be my gateway to a successful life. As a kid, I bought into that notion, and had aspirations to become a pediatrician, but at 10 years old, I didn't fully understand the financial implications of that educational path."

Calonia did not have a 529 savings plan to fund her tuition. Her parents worked hard and provided a safe, loving environment, but they didn't have the resources their daughter's college education. Nor did they know the ins-and-outs of where to find financial aid.

  • Navigating the contradictions of the American dream. "Growing up, I heard stories from my grandparents, aunts and uncles about how hard life was back in their native country, and how some people there assumed that anyone in the U.S. had the means to buy luxury cars and lavish homes," Calonia wrote. "My first experience visiting the Philippines confirmed the prevalence of this idealized notion of the American lifestyle."

At the same time, Calonia's budget for the trip to the Philippines was so tight that she could only afford to bring $50 in spending money for the entire trip. She was $25,000 deep in student loan debt, had $2,000 in credit card debt and couldn't even afford a car. "It was at that moment that I learned how disconnected the foreign perception of the American dream can be to the cost-of-living realities Americans face daily," she wrote.

  • Learning by trial and error. "Unfortunately, in my house, discussions about money were very polarized--either I should behave one way, or shouldn't--but there was no conversation about how to improve upon my parents' experiences," Calonia wrote. "So there were no talks about the pros and cons of credit card use, or how to be responsible with debt, or even what it meant to have a line of credit. All of those lessons, I had to pick up along the way, without my family's help."


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