This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
ZO: When did you start thinking seriously about your personal finances and all things money?
MM: I started actively thinking about money a couple of months after graduating from college when I started getting my first paycheck from the Legal Aid Society. In December of 2018 I took out this book from the library called “Get a Financial Life” by Beth Kobliner and as I started reading it, I just took notes on that whole book and used it like a workbook.
That book helped me start going through my own learning journey. And now that I’m three years out from that, I feel very comfortable with my finances and with financial literacy in general. And I want to be a resource to others who may find themselves in this spot but who may not think to, for example, pick up a book.
ZO: Something that I’ve found is that people are really hesitant to talk about money. It’s like a social taboo. What drives you to want to have more open conversations about it?
MM: I encourage people to talk about money because I remember when I bought my first post-grad paycheck — my first big, adult paycheck — having questions about what I should be doing with that money but for months I was feeling embarrassed about asking people for help, or even bringing up the topic of money. As a first-generation immigrant and first-generation college student, I felt guilty about making the money that I did, even though it wasn’t a lot. It was about $45,000, per year.
I remember getting that $1200 check every two weeks and feeling guilty, like, “Oh, this is a lot of money!” And after paying my rent and my food, I still have money left over. Having gone through my parents’ money paperwork in high school to apply for financial aid in college and seeing that they were making way less than I was making in my first post-grad job, that made me feel guilty.
I think even just seeing somebody who shares your identity in some way talk about money is helpful because then you feel like, actually it’s okay, I’m not alone. If this person is doing this then I can do this too. Eventually, I got comfortable talking about money with friends and with my partner, but I imagine that there may be people who don’t have people to talk to at all or don’t build up that comfort as quickly as I did and online resources are the only option.
ZO: How did you decide to take that next step and turn your personal finance journey into this Instagram community and your money coaching business?
After reading the book, I had taken my notes and made my first ever budget on a piece of paper and I was taking steps, but then I found a personal finance Instagram account called Zero Based Budget
that is run by a woman named Cindy Zuniga-Sanchez and seeing her share how she was managing finances was very motivating. When you’re starting to learn something new seeing somebody who is farther along the journey than you who you can look to for guidance or for advice is helpful. I got to a point where I wanted to be a resource.
I don’t want to push financial literacy on anyone. I think financial literacy as an industry can be very intimidating. So I wanted to be a resource to people who were looking for one and I didn’t want to, for example, approach people directly like, “Hey, tell me what your money situation is like” or “do you know what a Roth IRA is?” I wanted to be out somewhere where I could share my experience and knowledge but then people could choose to opt-in if they wanted to learn from me or with me. I felt like Instagram, given that I had had a good experience following people like Cindy, was an option for me to keep talking about money.
ZO: I’ve sometimes felt like conversations about financial literacy shame people who don’t already understand money which is the case for a lot of first-gen students. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how being a first-gen immigrant and first-gen college graduate shapes the way you think about financial literacy?
MM: Another reason that I eventually decided to start my Instagram and my coaching business is because I had reservations about the personal finance community and I wanted to bring in my own experience to create something more inclusive and more accessible. I realized from my own interactions with financial literacy resources that there were things about them that I didn’t like and that didn’t feel right for me as a first-generation college student and immigrant and I didn’t want to focus on feeling bad about that. Instead, I went ahead and added my own voice and trusted that people who otherwise felt excluded would feel like they have access to information.