The Immigrant’s Edge in Wealth Building

If you immigrated to the United States as a teenager or as an adult, you have an advantage when it comes to the business of building your wealth. This is pre-supposing that you have not lost all the drive that propelled you to leave your home country to migrate to the US. This is especially all the more important if you migrated from a developing country where there were a lot of struggles.

I have a personal story rich with anecdotes of the struggles of survival, while back home. Mind you, my life back home would have been considered middle class by my country’s standards. However by US standards, we were below the poverty level. Living, for very many, is often seen as the survival of the fittest: you have to hustle to make ends meet, otherwise you literally would just die. It’s that simple. We did not have the so-called safety net programs to catch those under the poverty line. Now when you take that backdrop and come to the US and get all your ducks in a row, the sky is your limit. Below are the 5 ways an immigrant has an edge in wealth building, compared to the American who was born and bred here in the US.

1. Hunger For Success

Don’t get me wrong, most people in America are hungry for success. But the immigrant has more of that hunger. Why? Because he knows where he is coming from. He has that fire in the belly to succeed. Sometimes, the lives of his family back home may literally depend on it. You are not just trying to succeed for yourself. When an immigrant arrives in the US, goes through the processes to establish a permanent residency and even get to the status of citizenship, while working through the system, you have a large army of people cheering you on from back home. They want you to succeed because you will help improve your family’s financial situation back home. You have that fire in your belly. You have a bigger WHY. This hunger and passion will drive you faster to success

2. Not Used to Consumerist Lifestyle

The typical immigrant that came to America was not likely living it up in their home country. Chances are, you came to America for greener pastures. You can then likely make the assumption that as an immigrant to America, you were not used to the consumerist lifestyle that is so prevalent in America. If this is true for you, then, why not use it to your advantage? Don’t get used to that lifestyle. The less you consume, the more you can save and invest for yourself to become wealthy. It’s that simple. If you don’t get trapped in the hedonic treadmill of consumption and more consumption, you may actually get ahead faster. Americans just love stuff. Big cars. Big houses. Big storage. People buy big houses and become compelled to buy stuff to fill all up all the space including the attic, and then pay for commercial storage units to keep more of their stuff as their big houses can no longer hold more. Here is a funny example: I live in a street with 8 homes. All the homes here have 2 or 3 car garages. In 5 of these homes, the families can no longer park all their cars inside the garages as they have been filled with stuff. So through summer’s hot sun and winter’s cold weather, their cars stay outside while ‘stuff’ take refuge in their car garages. Isn’t that a shame? I’ve made a mental note of checking out garages in any new neighborhood I visit and my street is by no means an outlier. Americans are being consumed by “stuffitis”.

3. Debt-averse

Several studies of wealthy people have shown that they mostly abhor debt. Many on the path to wealth, strive to be debt free and stay that way. Debt is one of the foremost things sold in America. When you go to a major store, you are likely going to be solicited to sign up for their store credit card. Every major business in America have their own credit card. In fact, some businesses even make more money from their credit cards than from their actual business. They’re not stupid. They know that the vast majority of Americans never pay off their credit cards every month, so end up paying interests on their purchases. Visit a car lot. Some people who come to buy a car do not ask how much the car is, but rather, “How much down and how much monthly payment?” Dealers often do not make much margin from cash sales at car lots. They’d rather prefer that you take a car loan. These days some car notes run longer than 84 months. I know of a young coworker who makes about $38,000 annually but recently bought a truck with a monthly payment of $700. Pure bondage. I told her to promptly sell the truck if she wants to get ahead. She simply cannot afford it.

As an immigrant, you are typically not used to a lifestyle of debt. At least if you’re an immigrant like me. From where I come from, it’s either you have the money to make a purchase or you just forget about it. It’s cash and carry. As a fresh immigrant with this mindset in America, if you avoid the shackles of debt to reign you in, you will get ahead faster. No question about this.

4. Minimalist Lifestyle is Easier to Achieve

Life is all about perspectives. What is considered basic in America can be seen as luxury in some developing countries. Likewise lifestyles. A person living below the poverty line in America may have a car, a cell phone, a flat-screen TV at home and can even eat out in a restaurant. When push comes to shove, or when faced with some financial challenges, cutting back may help. Sometimes, you may have to cut down your lifestyle to the bare bones. This should be a lot easier for a new immigrant than for a typical American. Why? Because, your life back home was probably much harder. Do a spending fast for a month? That should be easy. Try not eating out for a few months? You’ve got it right up your alley. Whatever trick you can employ to tighten your budget temporarily should naturally come easier to the immigrant. This can be used an advantage to save up an emergency fund, pay off debt or save up for down payment on a home. Any of this will point you in the right direction in wealth building.

5. Not Afraid of Hard work

Hard work. Grit. The typical immigrant has got this in his/her blood. You almost have no choice. It’s second nature. I remember growing up back home. In high school, I had to trek 30 minutes to get to school and 30 minutes back home. My father had a large farm about 60 miles from our home. On the weekends, we will go to the farm as early as 6:00 AM and work on the farm. By the time we were done, it will be around 4 PM. After harvesting the crops, we will then package them and go to the market to sell them. It was a week-long process. Yet, we were not full time farmers. My parents had day jobs and we the kids still had to go to school. And my father still required us to make good grades. I remember developing River Blindness (Onchocerciasis) from the bite of blackflies from the river near our farm. This was partial blindness from parasitic worms that were crawling in my eyes, often at night, causing a lot of itching. I would still use this partial vision, to study for my high school exams, often with candles or lanterns, as we had spotty electricity. I had no excuse, or rather, no excuses were accepted for doing badly in school, despite any challenges. I suffered from this for almost a year. Thankfully, my mother was able to get a medication from a WHO research team at the time (Ivermectin) and just one pill of this medication cured my one year of partial blindness. In all this, I never saw this as difficult circumstances and did not make any excuses and was still able to study hard and get into Medical school.

Every immigrant in every profession in America has no choice but to really work extra hard, that is, if you want to succeed. In fact, in certain professions, you have to be better than your natural-born American colleagues for you to have any chance of success. It’s only natural. You have to show an employer why he should hire you instead of a natural born American. In fact, some immigrants will do some odd jobs or tasks that some Americans refuse to do. So work hard, you must. Some people might see this as being unfair, but I see it as an advantage for one to get ahead faster. If the hard work becomes a part of you, then use it to your advantage. For the harder one works, the luckier you will get. Money comes from work. Engineer your life so that the harder you work, the more money you make. Then go bust a sweat and make that money. Then employ all the other principles to manage that money and get ahead faster.

Concluding Thoughts

So despite the disadvantages one may feel being an immigrant in America, you actually do have an edge and can use these to hoist yourself up and climb the ladder of success. No need to keep making excuses. Like Chris Hogan said, “you can make progress, or you can make excuses, but you can’t make both”. You just need to do it. So, let’s get on with it.

What do you think? Agree or disagree? Comment below

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8 thoughts on “The Immigrant’s Edge in Wealth Building

  1. I agree.
    Although much of this applies to poor people in our country too.
    I am from the US but felt like an immigrant. I certainly was when with other middle or upper-middle class Americans. That poverty helped to drive my ambition.
    Chris Hogan felt that too. And Damon John who wrote a book about it, “The Power of Broke.”

  2. Interesting post. I’m an immigrant to the US and I can relate to lots of the things you mentioned; however, I’ve seen too many situations were the alternative is true. That is, I’ve seen immigrants trying to live a lifestyle they couldn’t afford where they’re front. It feels like since their country didn’t offer them with access to stuff … well they have to go for it here in the US because they feel they deserve it. Well that is complete insanity. Anyways, don’t mean to sound too negative, just trying to share additional perspective from a fellow immigrant.

  3. Thanks for stopping by “A Journey to FI”. I agree with the alternatives you painted. Sadly, some immigrants waste all the edges they have in this country. My hope is that many do not.

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