Personal Finance 101


Finance 101


How immigrants and communities of colour can grow their relationship with money

Stephanie Bai

Stephanie Bai

Graduate of the University of Toronto who writes about cultural and social intersections. Spare time is mostly spent eating, folding or thinking about dumplings.

June 23, 2022

It's no secret that money makes the world go round. But it's easy to overlook that across that same world, different cultures have different attitudes towards their finances.

Depending on your background and cultural upbringing, you may have learned different norms when it comes to spending and saving, financial risk, and navigating relationships with employers.

The following guide compiles best practices from coaches, educators and creators to help you — regardless of your background — build the wealth necessary to thrive in our ever-changing city.

Different Cultures,
Different approaches

Zandile Chiwanza, 30, immigrated from Zimbabwe to Canada in 2010 and now works as a personal finance journalist and financial wellness educator.

When she thinks about money, she also thinks about culture. She says young immigrants and people of colour may not realize how their backgrounds impact their finances until they start managing their money.

"We know that when it comes to the workplace — we're talking about communities of colour — the office is not always a very friendly place.... You want to be able to advocate for yourself."


According to Chiwanza, some young immigrants may feel like they never have enough money. She calls this a scarcity mindset. Beyond this, in some cultures — including her own — talking about money is considered taboo.

Certain culturally influenced practices (i.e. not negotiating for higher salaries) can impede generational wealth.

Understanding this and other ways young immigrants and people of colour relate with money, Chiwanza says, is key to changing habits to better build wealth.

"If you're not negotiating pay, how will you teach your community and your children to do the same?" says Chiwanza.

Some communities have a tendency to pass on the attitude of accepting what you have and being grateful. But Chiwanza says you can be both grateful and still have a chance to learn how to negotiate.

"We know that when it comes to the workplace — we're talking about communities of colour — the office is not always a very friendly place," says Chiwanza. "You want to be able to advocate for yourself."

Chiwanza concluded by emphasizing how much culture impacts our decisions — including and especially our financial ones.

ilana-gotz-lqHhxCrG_JI-unsplash (1)

Learning how certain culturally influenced practices can impede generational wealth is key to creating new habits that can help new immigrants and communities of colour build financial success.
(llana gotz/unsplash)


Danica S. Nelson grew up in community housing in Brampton, where she was raised by a single mother who immigrated from Jamaica. Now 31, she works as a senior product marketing manager and online creator.

Growing up, Nelson's mother always taught her to be grateful and not ask too much from her employers. She later realized she inherited her mother's scarcity mindset and cultural habits that stemmed from their experience as immigrants.

After hearing another Jamaican woman speak, Nelson was inspired to change to an abundance mindset about her evolving relationship with money.

An abundance mindset trusts that there are a wealth of opportunities out there. It's taught Nelson to assert her worth when negotiating pay, and — most importantly — to walk away when she doesn't get what she deserves.

"Find people who looked like you or identify with different aspects of your being that like you do," recommends Nelson. "Just follow their journeys."

Nelson says that following mentors you identify with on social media channels can help you, even if you don't interact with them directly. She says that watching how other people expand their skill sets and create additional income streams has made a "world of difference" in her life.

"There's a quote by Kanye West in a song that I'll never forget," says Nelson. "He's like, 'The things that we see on the screen are not ours, but these people are from the hoods so these dreams are not far.'"

Seeing people who come from the same situations getting the things that you aspire to is key.

"It's all about representation," says Nelson.

Take the
first step

Before Janey Buzugbe, 28, moved to Toronto in 2015, she grew up in Nigeria as the eldest daughter in her family. Although her parents amassed more income as she grew older, she learned from a young age to be "scrappy" with money. In Buzugbe's culture, money is a very personal topic.

She didn't see her parents talk openly about their finances. But she learned that money can help pay for necessities and help take care of others, like her siblings.

Now an immigrant career coach, tech advocate and YouTube creator, Buzugbe realized that staying safe never actually made her feel safe about money.

Buzugbe's curiosity pushed her to take more financial risks, and talk with her friends about their money habits.

She realized that without these conversations, some immigrants and people of colour are more likely to be underpaid because they're reluctant to discuss money.

"This thing doesn't happen in a day," she says. "Don't beat yourself if you're not [starting right away.]"

Buzugbe says it took her two years to actually get started and invest her first $50.

"My first step really was getting comfortable with the notion that you may lose some, but it's a long game," says Buzugbe.

"You can open an investment account and let it sit well while you are learning," she continues. "But that shows action; then that'll push you towards the next thing."


Learning to save and invest doesn't happen overnight, but Buzugbe says it's important to recognize that it's about the long game.
(Josh Appel/unsplash)


If you're wondering where to go from here, try keeping in mind these four concrete ways to grow your relationship with money:

1. Become aware of your relationship with money. Journal your thoughts, or talk to friends and family about their financial habits and influences

2. Educate yourself. There are many YouTube videos, Reddit threads and other free resources. Find communities and mentors whose money journeys you identify with and admire, and ask them about their process.

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3. Create a budget. This forces you to confront your spending habits. Prioritize necessities, such as paying off debt and setting up an emergency fund; but Chiwanza adds, "You always have to make room for fun."

4. Start investing with $20. See how it grows and get comfortable. First tip: Don't invest from your chequing or savings account. Second tip: Give yourself grace if you make mistakes. Even personal finance experts make them.

Regardless of how and when you start taking charge of your personal finances, there are ways to stretch your buck and develop your financial literacy while staying true to yourself and the culture you come from. It's important to empathetically recognize what attitudes towards money you grew up with and using that as a springboard to improve your own financial habits.



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