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Investing

I want to be the first millionaire in my family — here are 3 things I'm doing to build wealth as a first-generation American

Once I learned the importance of building wealth, now I want to make every dollar count.

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Money is a tool that can help you afford to make life decisions that best suit both your needs and wants. It can buy you a much-needed vacation so you can recharge from a stressful period. It can give you the security to leave a job for a while to focus on raising your children.

Money can also help you afford things like a car or a personal trainer that can make your life easier and give you more time to focus on the things you love.

UPGRADE YOUR investing appscredit cards and net worth, as well as your at-home fitness equipmentwork-from-home setupsleeping aids and bedding and home cooking

I hadn't previously thought of money this way, but once this clicked in my head, I knew that I needed to start building my wealth more intentionally. I also knew that it might be a bit harder for me to do so as the oldest child of immigrants.

When my parents came to America, they didn't receive some instruction manual for building wealth and properly managing their money in this country where a credit score can practically make or break your financial life – not even long after they became American citizens.

I didn't know anything beyond the basics of paying down debt and saving money, which is what my parents emphasized whenever we talked about money.

We didn't know the importance of investing — let alone how to invest or save for retirement or what types of money management tools existed to help us with these goals. This is very common among immigrant families.

But during the pandemic, I became more interested in building wealth. I started learning everything I could about money on my own by doing research, reading books, listening to podcasts and even transitioning into a career as a financial journalist.

Now, I'm teaching my family what I've learned. While I'm only a year and a half into my wealth-building journey, the strategies I've been following have already helped me increase my net worth on the road to becoming my family's first millionaire. Here are the strategies that have been making a difference for my finances.

1. I followed a zero-based budget to maximize my savings

I had tried budgeting methods where I made detailed spreadsheets and even paid for software that could help me create a comprehensive financial plan. But writing in a spreadsheet each month was time-consuming, and the software wasn't as easy to use as I thought it would be.

I like having an idea of where my money will go each month, but I decided I don't need to fit my numbers into a fastidiously designed Excel sheet, as cool and organized as it looks. Plus, I sometimes had a little extra leftover that I didn't know how to prioritize, so I would wind up spending it on clothes or something else I didn't actually need.

I decided to start making sure that every dollar was allocated for something, whether that be savings, bills, food or even fun money. This way, I'd end up using every last dollar in my paycheck for specific goals with nothing leftover. I hadn't realized that this method had a name: the zero-based budget.

The biggest rule of zero-based budgeting is that your income minus your expenses should equal zero. Because of this, you're pretty much forced to give every single dollar a job, which reduces mindless spending.

This method helped me maximize my savings. And it was flexible enough that I could add or remove expenses at any time and adjust my desired savings goal accordingly. My zero-based budget doesn't require a spreadsheet. I found it easiest to just use the blank spaces in my planner to quickly jot down how I would use each paycheck.

2. I built up a six-month emergency fund

An emergency fund is a sum of money — separate from the rest of your savings — that you can use explicitly for covering major unexpected expenses (ideally) without taking on additional debt.

Personally, I think those last few words — without taking on additional debt — is the most important reason why everyone, especially immigrant families, should have an emergency fund. In fact, one money expert says that adult children of immigrants should consider having two emergency funds, one for themselves and one for their family members.

Most people find themselves in a situation where they have no choice but to take on additional debt to cover an emergency, and they're unable to completely pay off their credit card balance quickly. So they accrue more and more interest over time, and they get stuck paying for that one emergency many months (and sometimes even years) later.

Taking on additional debt to cover emergencies can be a big road block when you're trying to build wealth, but many families often don't have a better option for covering costs.

Over the course of the year, I built up my emergency fund and moved it from the traditional savings account I've had since college to a high-yield savings account. I realized that by keeping all my cash in a regular bank account, I was missing out on the opportunity to grow my money a little quicker thanks to the higher interest rates on a high-yield savings account.

I opened a Marcus by Goldman Sachs high-yield savings account, which offers an APY that's higher than the national average, but some other popular high-yield savings accounts include Ally Bank and Synchrony Bank.

Marcus by Goldman Sachs High Yield Online Savings

Goldman Sachs Bank USA is a Member FDIC.
  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

    2.15%

  • Minimum balance

    None to open; $1 to earn interest

  • Monthly fee

    None

  • Maximum transactions

    Up to 6 free withdrawals or transfers per statement cycle *The 6/statement cycle withdrawal limit is waived during the coronavirus outbreak under Regulation D

  • Excessive transactions fee

    None

  • Overdraft fees

    N/A

  • Offer checking account?

    No

  • Offer ATM card?

    No

Terms apply.

Ally Bank Online Savings Account

Ally Bank is a Member FDIC.
  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

    2.10%

  • Minimum balance

    None

  • Monthly fee

    No monthly maintenance fee

  • Maximum transactions

    Up to 6 free withdrawals or transfers per statement cycle *The 6/statement cycle withdrawal limit is waived during the coronavirus outbreak under Regulation D

  • Excessive transactions fee

    $10 per transaction

  • Overdraft fees

    $25

  • Offer checking account?

    Yes

  • Offer ATM card?

    Yes, if have an Ally checking account

Terms apply.

3. I began investing in index funds

I love investing, and I love learning about new assets that I can invest in. But my one small regret is that I didn't start investing in index funds five years ago.

Previously, I had only been saving money in a regular bank account. And while that was a great first step for any young adult trying to build a financial cushion, I hadn't realized that my money was 1) losing value due to inflation, and 2) not growing as fast as it could have been. That's where index funds come in.

Index funds are a collection of stocks or bonds that are designed to mirror the performance of a market index like the S&P 500, for example. Because they mimic a market index, they are known as passively managed funds (unlike mutual funds, which are actively managed by a fund manager who makes decisions about how the money should be invested). The S&P 500 has a history of returning around 10% each year, so a fund tracking this index may have similar returns, though this isn't guaranteed.

New investors often think that the best way to grow their money is by timing the market to figure out when to buy and sell a stock, but research from Dalbar Inc., a financial market research firm, shows that the average investor has a tendency to sell at the wrong times.

Investing in index funds allows me to diversify the types of assets I own. There is still some risk involved with index fund investing. If you follow the performance of index funds on a daily basis, you'll notice days where there are gains and days where there are losses. Most financial experts will tell you not to watch it too closely since investing is ideally a long-term goal.

There are some costs associated with investing in index funds, however, Fidelity offers zero-cost index funds (called Fidelity ZERO funds) if you want some skin in the game and you don't want to pay management fees. Fidelity also doesn't have a minimum amount needed in order to open an account and start investing.

If you want a more hands-off approach to investing in different funds, Wealthfront and Betterment use robo-advisors to pick a diversified portfolio for you and automatically rebalance your money over time. Everything is adjusted based on your risk tolerance, and neither brokerage requires much money to get started.

Wealthfront

On Wealthfront's secure site
  • Minimum deposit and balance

    Minimum deposit and balance requirements may vary depending on the investment vehicle selected. $500 minimum deposit for investment accounts

  • Fees

    Fees may vary depending on the investment vehicle selected. Zero account, transfer, trading or commission fees (fund ratios may apply). Wealthfront annual management advisory fee is 0.25% of your account balance

  • Bonus

    None

  • Investment vehicles

  • Investment options

    Stocks, bonds, ETFs and cash. Additional asset classes to your portfolio include real estate, natural resources and dividend stocks

  • Educational resources

    Offers free financial planning for college planning, retirement and homebuying

Terms apply.

Betterment

On Betterment's secure site
  • Minimum deposit and balance

    Minimum deposit and balance requirements may vary depending on the investment vehicle selected. For Betterment Digital Investing, $0 minimum balance; Premium Investing requires a $100,000 minimum balance

  • Fees

    Fees may vary depending on the investment vehicle selected. For Betterment Digital Investing, 0.25% of your fund balance as an annual account fee; Premium Investing has a 0.40% annual fee

  • Bonus

    Up to one year of free management service with a qualifying deposit within 45 days of signup. Valid only for new individual investment accounts with Betterment LLC

  • Investment vehicles

  • Investment options

    Stocks, bonds, ETFs and cash

  • Educational resources

    Betterment RetireGuide™ helps users plan for retirement

Terms apply.

Bottom line

My perspective on money has changed since the pandemic, and once I started viewing cash as a tool, I decided that I wanted to intentionally build wealth and become my family's first millionaire.

Time is one of the most important aspects of anyone's financial journey. This isn't a sprint, but more like a marathon. Start by having a plan to pay off your debt and then slowly increase how much you save and invest. Ultimately, you want to establish good financial habits that work best for you and your needs.

Of course, building wealth is easier said than done, but I've already gotten off to a strong start by creating an emergency fund, maximizing what I'm able to save each month through using a zero-based budget and investing in index funds to grow my money.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
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