Immigrant’s Guide to the American Dream

As proud immigrants to America in the early 20th century, my parents worked hard and saved to secure a piece of the American Dream.


My parents raised their three American-born children on sound money management principles, the same ones that helped us secure a piece of the American Dream.

His teachings required discipline and included keeping track of where every penny went. In difficult times, we were able to cut back and have enough for necessities. They even managed to get over my father’s firing as a machinist at General Electric and still keep the food on the table and the bills paid.

My parents were too proud to accept help. After surviving the Armenian Genocide, they met and married in the United States. They had children later in life. I was born when my father was forty-nine years old and my mother thirty-nine.

To survive we cut… a lot! The frugal steps they took were tough on us kids (and would be engaging material), but we came out with the tools to survive these challenges.


While my parents served as conservative role models, my husband’s parents forgot to sew the holes in his pockets. Money flowed through his fingers like a stream and when they ran out before the next paycheck, they called us and his two other children. As my husband and his two brothers grew older, they adopted more conservative practices. I often attribute their success to the influence we wives have had on them.


Give me a good reason

As the third (and rebellious) child of parents nearing retirement, my parents needed me to give them a good reason before they gave me your money. Clothes were not an option and I wore clothes that were used or bought from thrift stores. School supplies were standard items bought on sale.

Matching contributions

However, my mother encouraged me to save as a child: “Brenda, if you put what you’ve earned into your savings account, I’ll round it up to the next dollar.” She would also do this if I saved up, say, $8.50. She would add enough to make it $10. With a part-time job, when I left home, I saved several thousand dollars for college expenses, food, and rent.

Pay for college at age 16

When I was fifteen years old and a sophomore in high school, my father pulled me aside and said, “I’m about to retire. You’re still young and you’ll have to go to college. I don’t care what you major in. but you have to go to school. Since I will have a limited income, you will have to pay for it.”

Since I didn’t like the social pressures of high school, I worked harder and graduated at the end of my junior year. Enrolling in state college at sixteen, I was the first kid to move out of my parents’ house at eighteen. As the youngest of three siblings, I not only paid for my entire college education, but also earned a graduate degree.

Surviving double-digit inflation

When the economy dealt a more severe blow to the Midwest in the early 1980s than it does today, it took a lot of effort to succeed amid inflation and interest rates above 15%. Creativity and strength were essential ingredients to survive as they are today.

What did I learn from my parents?


Here are the three key money management tips I learned from my parents and still practice today.

1. Ask yourself, “Do I really NEED this?”

  • A $4 daily coffee habit for every work day adds up to $1,000 a year.
  • An afternoon soda habit costs about $200 a year.
  • A habit of eating out three days a week will approach $2,000 a year.

Imagine the memorable vacation you could take after bringing a thermos of coffee or your own soda, a homemade lunch, and a (healthier) dinner at home. I would save about $2,000 a year!

If you don’t spend your money on the little things every day, you’ll be amazed at how much you’ve saved at the end of the year.

2. Record your expenses – Yes, every penny.

This will give you an idea of ​​how much you are spending and on what.

Tracking what you spend has an added benefit. The hassle of writing everything down will make you think before you mindlessly cover the vending machine or walk into a drive-thru.

Life was not easy when my husband and I started living together in the late 1970s. We spend $5 on food a week for a year. What do we buy with $5 a week? Five $1 cans of corn (on sale), two gallons of milk, and a twenty-pound bag of chips. This diet sustained us for a year! We could have eaten healthier with wellness!

Over thirty-four years, when times were tough, we reviewed our spending and figured out where we could cut back, like dining out (including fast food). Now we eat healthier at home while saving enough for FUN times!

3. Pay in cash

Try to pay in cash. Credit is tricky and an emergency can prevent you from paying what you owe. Save first, pay cash later. If you must use a credit card, pay at the end of the month.

I still practice my parents’ savings lessons, keep track of what I spend, and keep debt low with just a mortgage and 0% car loan.

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