First-gen finances, from “Financially Inclined”
Feb 13, 2024
Season 9

First-gen finances, from “Financially Inclined”

Recommended listening for "This Is Uncomfortable" fans: How do you navigate money challenges as the first in your family to attend college?

We want tip you off to Marketplace’s newest podcast, “Financially Inclined,” hosted by Yanely Espinal. It’s a financial literacy show geared towards younger audiences, and this episode about the financial struggles of being a first-generation student will be of particular interested to “This Is Uncomfortable” listeners.

Financially Inclined’s video podcast

Being on your own financially for the first time is hard for anyone, but it can be especially challenging when you’re the first in your family to navigate money in the United States. In this episode of “Financially Inclined,” host Yanely Espinal talks to Gigi Gonzalez, a.k.a. the First Gen Mentor, about how to deal with the financial pressures that come with having immigrant parents — whether it’s a lack of generational knowledge or pressure to provide for your family from a young age. And a lot of these tips are just as applicable to other “firsts,” like being the first in your family to go to college or work as an entrepreneur.

Think you’re financially inclined? Check out these resources:

Are you in an educational setting? Here’s a handy listening guide.

This podcast is presented in partnership with Greenlight: the money app for teens — with investing. For a limited time, our listeners can earn $10 when they sign up for a Greenlight account.

This Is Uncomfortable February 13, 2024 Transcript

Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it.


Reema Khrais: Hey everyone, it’s Reema! So we have another new episode of This Is Uncomfortable dropping later this week, it’s about a guy with a big dream, about what it’s like to chase your career ambitions no matter the cost. 

But before we share that story, I want to tip you off to Marketplace’s newest podcast, Financially Inclined… hosted by my colleague and friend Yanely Espinal. It’s a financial literacy show that’s geared towards younger audiences…. And in each episode, she tackles important money lessons that I wish we’d all been taught in school. 

I especially loved this one episode you’re about to hear, it’s about the financial struggles of being a first generation student. I hope you like it and again we’ll be back with a new of This is Uncomfortable on Thursday. I’ll catch y’all then. 


Yanely Espinal: What’s up, everybody! I’m Yanely Espinal, and welcome to Financially Inclined from Marketplace. We’re sharing money lessons for living life your own way.

There’s a reason why I’m so passionate when it comes to teaching teens about money. I’m a first-generation American and first-generation college grad. Now, when I went off to college, there was a lot that I didn’t know about money. And I didn’t even know which questions to ask. Today’s guest, Gigi Gonzalez, has a pretty similar experience. She earned her degree in economics with a certificate in investment performance measurement. Then she worked in the financial sector for 10 years. But as the first in her family to navigate these things, she second-guessed a lot of her financial choices. Now her TikTok account, the First Gen Money Mentor, is a viral source of information for First Gen communities. I’m so excited to talk to Gigi about what it’s like to face financial pressures when you’re the first in your family, especially without the kinds of resources some of your peers might have. So let’s get into it.


Yanely Espinal: I think back to when I was in high school and I had to start filling out my FAFSA for college applications, and everybody was like, “Oh yeah, I mean, my mom helped me with that.” And I was like, “What? Like, I wish my mom knew how to fill these papers out. She never did that.” And having parents who never experienced the systems in this country is such a tricky thing. And that’s such a staple, I think, of the first gen experience. But a lot of people may be unfamiliar with the term, and we’re going to be using it a lot in this conversation, so tell us what your definition or description of the term “first gen” would be.


Gigi Gonzalez: I am so happy that the term has been coined now, because basically you and I, I feel like we were first gen and we were having these challenges, but there wasn’t a word for it! What I would say I’m a first-generation American because I’m the first to be born in the States. You don’t necessarily have to be born in the States: if you were somebody that you were a child when your parents immigrated here and all you know is life in the U.S., like I would consider you first gen. But that’s for you to decide. You can also consider yourself first-gen if you’re the first in your family to graduate from college. There’s also the term first-generation professional. So basically being the first to do something and not really having that support. You know, our starting line is not the same. Some people had parents that taught them how money worked at a young age. They taught them how to work a budget with their little allowance that they were getting paid. Like me? Like, what allowance? Like it was like, “No, you do your chores because that’s what you’re supposed to do as a member of this family!”


Yanely: My dad’s like, “You’re allowed to live in this house!”


Gigi: That’s your allowance! Yeah!


Yanely: You know, we’ve seen our parents a lot of times, if you’re a first-gen kid, your parent is stuck in a situation, and they just have no choice but to keep in that, stay in that situation. Because they don’t have the funds. They don’t have social capital. So I think it’s so important to recognize that we have to move different from how our parents move. And it’s hard because when you see your, what you see your parents do is usually what you do. Tell us a little bit about that, like your journey and your backstory of figuring this all out.


Gigi: I think one of the mistakes that I made as a young adult was I thought that having that college degree was gonna solve all my money problems. I just thought I was gonna graduate, get a great job, earn a great salary, and any sort of debt that I had would just take care of itself. I didn’t realize that I had to have a plan for my money. Basically, what I saw modeled at home was just my parents paying the bills on time. That was very much a marker of success for them, that they were immigrants in a new country, and they were able to keep the lights on and keep food on the table. We didn’t have conversations about building your net worth, building savings, investing, right? So again, having goals for that money. You know, I had the toxic boyfriends, you know, bad workplaces, crazy roommates from Craigslist. Like I just had a lot that I went through as a young adult, and I couldn’t escape those situations because I didn’t have money. And I’m just like, “Why don’t I have money? I went to college. I got the good job Like I’m getting a steady paycheck. How do I not have money?” But as first gen because we have that privilege of having access to higher ed, we have the ability to thrive with our finances, but to do that we have to learn how money works. We have to learn the language of money. There’s a lot of financial jargon, right? Like “interest rates,” “investment horizon” – all these words that you have to learn to feel confident managing your money. And then you have to set goals. So know that like by the end of this year I want to have $3,000 in my savings account to cover me should a financial emergency come up, because once you have those goals and are working towards those goals you’ll feel a lot more financially confident. And when those hardships happen you’ll have an easier time managing them than if you were just broke, like how I was for most of my 20s.


Yanely: We always talk about generational wealth, the money part, but what about this generational wealth of knowledge? Like generational knowledge. You know, like I remember some of my friends, they went to the bookstore and just went straight to used book section and bought used books for like a fraction of the cost of the new books. My parents didn’t go to college, so like they didn’t know to tell me that. So I went to the bookstore and bought brand new textbooks for all my classes my first semester, thinking I was cute, walking out with like $1,200 stack of books in my hands.


Gigi: You’re like, “Y ‘all broke.”


Yanely: Right. I’m like, “Y ‘all buying used books? Ooh, you buying used books? I’m buying the fresh new ones.” And I’m thinking I’m smart, and really it’s that they had the knowledge their parents told them: don’t buy new. I just didn’t know these things, and there’s knowledge that just keeps getting passed down. The more you’re in a place and the more you’re rooted in that place, the more you learn about it and the more you pass it to the next generation. So, when your parents have to be uprooted and come to a new place with no knowledge of that place, they have no generational knowledge to pass to you.


Gigi: I know enough people like anecdotally that their parents at least taught them, this is what a checking account is. This is what a savings account. Maybe they didn’t teach them the ins and outs of investing because they maybe didn’t know much about the stock market themselves, but at least they were able to give them that very important tip of: if you have a 401k at work sign up for it. You know, where we didn’t get that. We get offered these benefits at work and we’re like, “What is this? Oh, it’s for retirement. Oh, that’s for old people. I’m 21 years old. I don’t need to be worried about that!” You know, so yeah, that’s a huge advantage to have that generational knowledge.


Yanely: All right, so what do you think would be like the number one lesson that you learned about money before you graduate of college, especially if you’re first-gen? What would you say your top lesson was?


Gigi: Probably that I should have managed my loans better. I knew when I was about to graduate, I’m like crap I got a lot of student loans because I needed them, not just to pay for tuition and you know board and all that, but just from like living expenses, like groceries. At the end, I’m like I took out more than I needed but again I didn’t know like how much I was gonna need. I didn’t I didn’t know how to budget. I didn’t know how much I was gonna need to get me through the year. And that costs a lot of money, you know? And that’s a lot of added pressure to like a young adult just embarking into the world – probably at like the lowest salary that you’re gonna have ’cause when you first start your career, it’s like an entry level salary and then you work your way up. So that was a lot of pressure when I first was graduating from college for sure.


Yanely: So how would you say some of these young people can put these like? lessons into practice now?


Gigi: Take advantage of any sort of educational opportunities like at your financial aid office or your transfer resource center. ‘Cause now that I’m in this space, in the financial education space, I know those workshops exist. I personally would say that the places I went to school, they didn’t do a good job of getting the word out. So I didn’t really know I should attend or what the benefit was. Now I would say seek that out and speak to a counselor and say, “Hey, I’m a little apprehensive about taking on all this debt. Can I get some resources on how to manage it?” And when those counselors see that you’re invested and you’re asking for help, they’re going to help you. That’s literally their job.


Yanely: I definitely agree with that. And I just remember feeling a lot of shame. But when I went to a part of college, each college application had an application fee. So if you wanna apply to 10 colleges and each college application had an application fee, you can apply to 10 colleges and each college application was $80, that’s $800! Like, where’s that money coming from? And there were voucher programs available for students, I just didn’t really know. And then when I did find out about them, I was like ashamed. I was like, “Oh this is embarrassing I’m gonna have to go in there and tell them that I can’t afford $80 for my application and like pretty much beg them for money.” And I needed to stop, like I need to just like reframe that: I’m not begging for money. I’m getting getting the resources that I need to actually be able to be on the same playing field with everybody else who’s submitting their college applications with no problems. I wonder if you ever felt like there were shame, or moments of shame or guilt or maybe just financial pressures that you were experiencing that maybe other students around you were not and it was because of your unique experience being first gen?


Gigi: I definitely dealt with having expectations of me providing financially during college. And it wasn’t just me, I had other friends that I saw doing the same: so either, you know, they’re in college, they’re going to school full-time, they have a part-time job to pay the bills while they’re in college, and then on top of that, they’re sending money back home for rent, you know, ’cause parents need the support. I didn’t send a whole ton, but I did pay for my mom’s insurance at the time, her car insurance, and I paid for her phone bill, which isn’t a whole ton of money if you think about it, but at the time when I’m living off student loans, I had no business paying for that. But the expectation was very much like, “Well, like you’re doing better in life. Help out if you can.” So these are all things that now I tell young people, like I know in our culture, we’re very much ingrained to do that for a family, but I am a strong believer of: you do it when you can, not because somebody’s telling you to. You know, ’cause it’s just adds added pressure, you get yourself into more debt. And once you kind of like are in a solid financial footing, then you can provide that support, but that time is not during college, when you’re living off student loans and just trying to figure things out.


Yanely: Yeah, but that in and of itself, I think it’s so hard to understand. If your parent never had a college education or higher education experience yourself, you have no concept of what your child is doing day by day and what their life is like on this college campus, without a real frank honest open and raw and real conversation with your parents about like, you know, “This is what college is like, Mommy. I don’t know if you understand. I know that you didn’t go but I want you to understand. Like this is what my day looks like. This is how much money I’m making, which is barely anything. This is how much my textbooks cost and my laptop costs and my lab fees and my supplies for class.” I’m wondering what you have like discovered about setting financial boundaries. How have you done that?


Gigi: My method, I coined it the “quiero y puedo” approach. So first I want people to think like, do you want to get us? Quieres. Do you want to provide this sort of support? Like, why are you going to provide the support? Is it because you’re being pressured into it? You’re being guilted into it? Because if you’re doing it out of those feelings, it’s not going to feel good. Eventually, it’ll lead to resentment because you’re not doing it on your terms. I empower my community that if you are going to provide any sort of financial support to family, do it because you want to, because you want to show up for family, because te nace, you know. And yeah, not just because somebody’s like pushing you against the wall, making you do it. Because it just feels so much more better when you give something out of your own free will. So then that would be step one: like, do you want to? And then step two, the puedo part: like, can you? If you’re buried in debt, if you have a bunch of credit card, student loans, if you have a very low salary, if you don’t have any savings for an emergency emergency fund, you’re probably not in the best position to provide that support. You know, so I tell people, there’s different levels of support. You know if somebody asks you for $500 to cover like an unexpected cost, and you don’t have the means, like it’s more than fair to say: “Hey I can’t provide $500 but I can help with $100.” Take care of you and then you can show it for families stronger once you’re again on that solid financial foundation.


Yanely: Yeah I love that. that. Any tips about like the moment, the actual moment? You know, “Mami, papi…” They’re standing in front of you. It’s the moment of truth. You have to kind of tell them that you can’t give them $500 every month. Do you have any tips or language for that interaction?


Gigi: Yeah, I would definitely say, like, prep them that you want to have this discussion. Like don’t just bring it up out of nowhere because you know, money is very taboo in our culture. It’s not something that we talk about regularly. So you want to prime them for, like, “hey, I want to talk about this,” so that they’re mentally prepared. Number one: don’t just spring it on them. And then, number two: when you do start the conversation, just say, “Hey, I want to have a loving conversation about money. I just want to be really open and honest about my finances.” And then, if it’s important for you, and you want to support but you can’t, say that. Say like: “I would love nothing more than to have all the money in the world to give you for this this and that, but the reality is this is my income, this is how much I pay in rent, this is how much my car note is. Right, because when you kind of outline it like that, and you know any loving parent that sees, “Oh they really can’t help, it’s not because they don’t want to or they don’t care about us. They don’t have the ability to help…”


Yanely: That part.


Gigi: Any loving parent will be understanding. You know, and there’s those other parents, I know those parents too, that they’re like: “Well figure it out because I need the money.” And then that’s just additional conflict and again that’s when you got to set those boundaries. But most parents, I would say, would understand, once you take the moment to have that uncomfortable conversation. It is uncomfortable, but the more regularly that you have these money conversations the easier it’ll get.


Yanely: I think that’s a great point. The less you do it like obviously the more of a problem it’s gonna be. It’s just like lingering and then it’s festering and you’re not addressing it.


Gigi:  It’s uncomfortable to hold your boundaries but it’s very, very necessary to take care of yourself.


Yanely: I think we’ve covered a lot but would just love for you to put together like a little bulleted list of the main key takeaway points that you want everybody listening to walk away with about what it’s like navigating financial situations and pressures as a first gen kid.


Gigi : For anybody listening, I would say focus on the three things that we discussed, and that would be, to ask support. Again, if you’re first-gen, you’re gonna need additional support. There’s no shame in that. It can be a little scary, but please raise your hand. There are people there to help. So either at school or at work, get the support that you need. Number two, get comfortable setting financial boundaries. I wish I would have done this way earlier in life. I didn’t get comfortable doing this until my late 20s, maybe even early 30s. But if you have these regular money discussions with family, it’ll get much easier to set financial boundaries when needed. And the last point, share your knowledge with others. Share it with friends, family, primos, your little sister, your cousin. Remember, as first gen, our starting line is different. So we wanna elevate others as we go through our financial journey.


Yanley: It’s important, the more you learn that you don’t just keep it to yourself. As a first-gen person in any area – first-gen investor, first-gen college grad, first-gen American, any type of identity that you’re the first in your family – you can’t just keep it to yourself. You really want to bring it back and share it with more people in your family and in your community. Because ultimately that’s how you create, like, this ripple effect that makes it really worth it. That you’ve made it but now you’re also gonna help other people get what you wish you had. Thank you so much, Gigi. This was incredible.


Yanely: Okay, you heard Gigi. It can be tough to be the first one in your family to have experiences like growing up in the U.S., going to college, working in the corporate world, starting your own business and more. But these experiences create resilience, and they can ultimately be a source of of pride. When it comes to money, it’s really important to communicate, so that way you don’t end up feeling lost. And that could mean asking for help or setting clear financial boundaries with your family or friends. Gigi gave us some amazing tips for how to do this.

So this week, I want you to put some of those into practice in two ways. First, write down at least one financial question that you have and think of a few adults you trust who you wanna ask. Then take notes on their answers so you can review those later. Finally, create a plan for what you’re gonna say the next time you’re in an uncomfortable financial situation with friends or family. This might be feeling pressured to spend money or dealing with somebody else’s expectations of you. It is really important that we feel prepared and not be caught off guard in these moments. So setting aside time to reflect and plan ahead can make all the difference. You got this.


Yanely: Financially Inclined is brought to you by Marketplace from American Public Media, in collaboration with Next Gen Personal Finance. I’m your host, Yanely Espinal. Our Senior Producers are Hayley Hershman and Zoë Saunders. Our Video Editor is Francesca Manto, and our Graphics Artist is Mallory Brangan. Our Producers are Hannah Harris Green and Hayley Hershman. Gary O’Keefe is our Sound engineer. Our intern is H Conley. Bridget Bodnar is the Director of Podcasts. Francesca Levy is the Executive Director. Neal Scarbrough is the VP & General Manager of Marketplace. Our theme music is by Wonderly. Catch you next time!


Hannah Harris Green: Financially Inclined is funded in part by the Sy Syms Foundation, partnering with organizations and people working for a better and more just future since 1985. And special thanks to the Ranzetta Family Charitable Fund and Next Gen Personal Finance for continuing to support Marketplace in its work to make younger audiences smarter about the economy.

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