Saving Money

by April Borbon


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After working for many years with refugees and new immigrants to our country, I have found that there are numerous interesting and creative ways to save, stretch and carefully spend money.

  • Repair things that break instead of throwing them out. One young woman brought me two pieces of vacuum cleaner belt that had broke and asked how she could sew them back together. Needless to say, I was speechless, but that did reinforce the idea that people from poor countries rarely throw something away if there is any possibility of life left in it. Take a second look at the things you throw away to see if there are any ways you can repair them.

  • Shop often for food. In countries where electricity, refrigeration and bulk shopping are unavailable or unknown, people shop daily for their food and buy just the amount they need. We've all found mystery meat tucked away in the back of the refrigerator or had a bin of forgotten vegetables turn green and fuzzy on us; that's a waste of money. Shopping frequently and eating everything while it is fresh is not only good for your health, but it is also good for your wallet.

  • Mom stays home with the kids. That idea may fly in the face of women's lib, but it makes a whole lot of sense. Not only do families save an arm and a leg on babysitting fees, but mom also acts as cook, maid, gardener, laundry, nurse, driver and teacher. All of which are things the average American family pays for because no one is at home to perform these services.

  • Families work together. If mom must work, grandma baby sits. If Uncle's car breaks down, everyone in the neighborhood pitches in to get it working again. If the prom is coming up, all of the young women in the extended family pitch in to find, alter or make a dress for the attendee.

  • Share information. The (name your country) grapevine works better than ATT. Any time someone learns of a great deal, whether it be a farmer selling cows for a really great price or a government program that will pay your phone bill if your income is low enough, the news spreads like wildfire through the community. Everyone passes the word along and everyone is able to benefit.

  • Education is a top priority. Most refugees and immigrants head for school as soon as they hit our shores. Whether it is a class to learn our language, college, or trade school, people from poor countries know that education is the difference between poverty and a lifetime of earning success.

  • Start a side business. Capitalism is alive and well in the refugee and immigrant populations of our country. An elderly lady I know makes traditional desserts from her country and sells them to members of her community. Everyone loves the desserts, and the lady gets to earn some extra money. Two sisters went to nail school, started doing manicures out of their house, and now own seven nail spas. A man I know sells phone cards in addition to his regular job; he found a need (people always need to call "back home") and filled it.

  • Save money. Often called "mattress money" because people from many third world countries don't trust banks. Saving money for a rainy day is not an option, it's a rule. I am always amazed that people who have been in this country only a short time can come up with cash (often large sums) if needed. One family, after living in this country for seven years and working minimum wage jobs, was able to open a restaurant with $90,000 cash!

  • You can live rich with very little money. Many immigrants and refugees may have little money, but you would never know it to look at them. Simple things, such as carefully washing and ironing your clothes, even if you only have one "good" outfit, can make you look rich. Your house may be small or in a less than ideal neighborhood, but having a well-tended yard and a clean, creatively decorated house produces the feeling of richness.

  • Enjoy what you have. You don't have to be rich to be happy. Especially visible at traditional fiestas or parties, people enjoy not what you have but who you are. Sharing "tsismis" or gossip, watching the children make up games, eating, singing and dancing don't cost anything but build joy and camaraderie that money can't buy.

Volunteering to work with refugees can be an eye-opening experience. When one young man quite seriously pointed to a picture of a large, ugly lizard and remarked that it tastes good when fried with eggs, my first reaction was "eeuuwww," but then I thought about it from his perspective and realized that it's free and it's protein, so why not? The moral of the story is to look at ideas from a new perspective. There are always new and creative ways to both save, and spend, your hard-earned money.

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