Introduction: A First-Gen Professional’s Journey of Financial Learning and Setting Boundaries

In August 2017, I started my first “professional” job as a high school teacher. I was the first person in my family to go to college and have a salary. A steady salary meant it would help me help my family. As the eldest of four siblings, I had no one to turn to with experience handling a steady paycheck. In my mind, I had to be the oldest sister providing financially for her family.

I believed helping my family financially meant spending most of my money on them. My concept of personal finance was limited. Eventually, in mid-2018, after a family medical emergency that led me to delve into the world of “personal finances,” I understood that supporting my family had to take a different approach. Spending most of my paycheck on my family would not set us up for financial stability or wealth.

My Reasons to Provide Financially as the Oldest Sister

The truth is, during college, I would earn $400 on a good month. As a college student, that was enough to cover my phone and personal expenses. As a teacher, my starting salary was $3,500 a month, which was a significant increase for someone living at home, single, and without kids – 7 times more than what I was used to. I never had that money, so I wanted to spend it in a way I never could before. As my mom used to say, “Tienes dinero y te da comezon las manos,” meaning “you have money, and your hands get itchy,” referring to the eagerness to spend money.

Filled with excitement, I took my siblings out to eat, wanting them to experience things I couldn’t at their age. Dining out became our main activity, and we enjoyed Orochon Ramen in Little Tokyo and Himalayan House in the USC area – two places I highly recommend checking out! As we ate, we would fondly remember the days when we had to split a small burger and a Hershey’s pie from Burger King after a day’s work during our childhood. Seeing their faces light up when they had their own plate brought me great joy. As I swiped my card, the saying, “El dinero se hizo para gastar” (Money was made to be spent) echoed in my mind.

Receipt of dining out bill for sister's birthday.
Receipt from Cheesecake Factory. (2017)

The Struggle with Financial Knowledge

As mentioned earlier, I had virtually ZERO knowledge of personal finance. While I knew I had to budget and save, I would not fully commit. Month after month, I would tell myself, “Next month, I will do things differently.” I lacked discipline, motivation, and accountability. Slowly, I noticed that my credit card balance wasn’t decreasing, and the stress kept piling up. I had to do something.

The Turning Point: Oldest sister is not paying anymore.

In August of 2018, witnessing the emotional and financial toll my dad had to endure during my grandfather’s sudden health deterioration and death made me realize that I desperately NEEDED a financial plan. That was the moment everything clicked! I had to take control of my finances and take ACTION. Merely thinking about budgeting, saving, and investing wasn’t cutting it. I started tracking my budget, saving in an HYSA with my credit union – Schools First, and launched my first business – a party rental business. My motivation to get out of debt and build an emergency fund made the transition from overspending to saving easier.

The Difficult Conversation with Siblings

Though I can’t recall the exact conversation, I remember telling my siblings about what I was doing with my money. I wanted them to become familiar with personal finance language. I would say things like, “This month, I budgeted this amount for eating out.” I also began discussing saving and investing with them. Even though they were just teenagers, I hoped they would get excited about what I was doing.

Just as I once wanted them to experience different cuisines, I now wanted them to learn about personal finances so that they would make better financial decisions when they had their first jobs. I shared information about the books I was reading, aiming to plant a financial seed in their minds. Slowly, I started to accept that I did not have to be the eldest sister providing financially for her family. It was more than ok to take care of myself first. I couldn’t pour from an empty cup. I wanted to build generational wealth and that meant taking care of myself first.

Me reading "Everyday Millionaires" by Chris Hogan Oldest. As the oldest sister who was providing financially for her family, I used this book to discuss money with siblings.
Reading “Everyday Millionaires” (2019)

Balancing Financial Support and Financial Boundaries

Having a budget didn’t mean I would no longer take my siblings out. However, it meant we now had a set monthly amount for dining out. I was transparent with them, letting them know that if they urgently needed something, I would consider helping them out. I also made a point of saving to buy them something they genuinely needed or wanted for their birthday, allowing me enough time to save up.

Reflection

Being the eldest sister comes with its challenges because there’s no blueprint to follow. We learn as we go along. I had to figure out how to budget my first paycheck, sign up for my pension, understand the importance of a HYSA, and more. While there’s always pressure to support our families once we receive our first paycheck, it’s essential for us to do a financial wellness check and communicate to our loved ones what assistance we can provide (if we can).

Let me know in the comments what you think about the oldest sister providing financially for her family.

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