Welcome to our Personal Finance Bloggers of Color interview series!
Our goal with this series is to highlight the experiences and perspectives of people of color in terms of money and personal finance topics, as these voices are often underrepresented.
This interview features Catherine from Sisters for Financial Independence.
1. Please introduce yourself by telling us about your background.
My name is Catherine Agopcan. I am a former adtech PM turned Financial Educator and Sustainability Advocate.
My family and I immigrated to New Jersey from the Philippines when I was just nine years old. I’ve been a Jersey girl ever since. I studied Economics and Information Tech in undergrad and completed a Master’s in Information Systems. I loved working in the advertising technology space (adtech), but decided I needed a new path. After a lay-off, I took some time off, thankful that I had a good amount of savings as a cushion and ventured into sustainability. I started my first site called The Do Something Project which provides tips and guidance on sustainable, minimal and healthy living. As I ventured deeper into the space, I couldn’t help keep thinking about finances in the back of my mind. How every aspect of our lives are so interrelated.
For a period of time, I was the ultimate consumer, in hindsight, wasting my time, money and the Earth’s resources on things I didn’t need. I had lost touch of my roots and got caught up in the consumption culture. With my second site, Sisters for Financial Independence, I wanted to share my money lessons and open the conversation for women to start talking about money.
2. When and from whom did you acquire knowledge about personal finance?
My first introduction to personal finance came from my mother. She had a hefty collection of personal finance books that I would peruse now and again. She always had a subscription to Money magazine which is partially why I decided to pursue Economics as a major. She retired as an ICU nurse just last year, but she told me that if she had a new path, she probably would have been in the personal finance field.
My personal finance knowledge has evolved over time and now with the FI movement, it has advanced even further. Whereas before I was saving for the faraway concept of retirement, today I am more focused on saving for financial independence.
3. Do you feel that your race/cultural background has impacted your life in terms of personal finance? How so?
I definitely think my race and cultural background impacted how I view and manage my finances. In the Filipino culture, it’s rare that people talk about money. It’s probably more taboo to speak about money in the Filipino culture than the American culture. Filipino culture is tied heavily too to religion with over 86% identifying as Roman Catholic. This, in my eyes and perspective, makes talking about money so much more difficult because it’s not seen as pious or humbling. Our family was similar in that we also didn’t talk about money. I would hear whispers of money talk but like most parents, they didn’t want to burden the children with such issues. So while money conversations weren’t common, books about money were readily available for me to access which gave me a doorway to learn.
As immigrants too, I saw my parents struggle to learn a new system. We didn’t have much family in here so we had to heavily rely on each other for help. We didn’t drive the latest car or buy the latest fashion. Our vacations were limited to visiting close family and friends or saving up for that 2 week trip to the Philippines every few years. My parents were also very weary of debt because it wasn’t something they had growing up so saving enough to pay for something was important to them.
Growing up, we lived frugally, then I started making my own money, lived outside of my parents home and lifestyle inflation kicked in. This was a hard lesson to accept, but a lesson that was needed.
4. How did you become interested in personal finance? What made you want to start a blog?
I started my second site, Sisters for Financial Independence, as a way to encourage my younger sister to start thinking about her own finances early on. She is currently in her early 20’s and about to finish grad school and there’s a good age gap between us. In the millenial spectrum, I see myself as the elder millennial and I felt that I needed to impart some of what I’ve learned over the years to her. I’ve made plenty of financial mistakes over time, mostly because I just didn’t know any better, but I also feel like I wasn’t as prepared as I had hoped when I reached adulthood. I was also surprised at my own lack of knowledge. Even with an Economics degree, some of the practicalities of personal financial management just weren’t addressed while I was in college.
My mother gave have me a copy of Suze Orman’s Young, Fabulous and Broke when I graduated from college and that became my blueprint for getting out of debt and saving. I then went on to follow Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You to Be Rich who helped me advance my money goals further through his negotiation and automation techniques. I wanted to share what I learned with her and others so that she wouldn’t have to make the same mistakes I did and be better off financially early on.
With, Sisters for Financial Independence, I also wanted to give women a voice. When I first started learning about the FI/RE movement, I saw a lot of white men being quoted on their successes, and wondered, where are all the women? Women retire early too! Perhaps they don’t call themselves retired because they are stay-at-home moms or family caregivers. So the goal of Sisters for Financial Independence is to also provide guidance on personal finance topics that are specific to women.
5. What advice would you give to others with a similar background?
- My biggest advice is to start a conversation about money today no matter how uncomfortable it seems. Money is just a tool and it’s something that we all need, but if we can address how to manage it properly early and with the long-term in mind, we can all be better of.
- I also encourage women to be in the know about the family’s finances: where is money coming from, going, being invested in, etc.
- Being an immigrant sometimes means re-learning new money systems. Don’t be afraid to ask and to learn something new.
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