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How Caribbean Millennial Women Can Build A Solid Financial Foundation While Supporting Extended Family

How Caribbean Millennial Women Can Build A Financial Foundation While Supporting Extended Family

This post is in honor of Women’s Money® Week 2017, a national campaign of social media and live events encouraging women to speak up about money, access to financial information, and to encourage them take control of their finances and reshape their financial futures, hosted by Be sure to follow #WMWeek17 on social media for other posts this week and live events happening near you.

During my first summer internship, between my sophomore and senior year of college, I asked my American roommate to give me a ride to the post office to send money back home to my family in St. Kitts. Her reaction caught me off guard when she blurted out, “Well, that’s a role reversal!”

[clickToTweet tweet=”My roommate’s reaction to me sending money back home -‘Well, that’s a role reversal!’ #WMWeek17″ quote=”Well, that’s a role reversal! – My roommate’s reaction to me sending money back home…” theme=”style2″]

I was taken aback by her statement because sending money to family, as a Caribbean person living in America, was a common practice and it is not unusual for immediate and extended family members, to share financial resources among each a group extended families; minors, young and older adults alike.

I took on this “role reversal” again when financially supporting my parents who had recently immigrated from the Caribbean to the United States. By this time, I had recently completed graduate school and started my professional career and was facing $68,000 of credit card and student loan debt.

As of 2014, there are about 4 million Caribbean Immigrants in the United States (U.S. Census Bureau 2014 American Community Survey), a significant portion of whom are women, who support themselves, their immediate and extended families stateside and back home, in the Caribbean. That number does not even include the second or third generation Caribbean-American women, who also support parents or other family stateside.

[clickToTweet tweet=”4 million Caribbean immigrants in U.S.A. Many are women supporting family here & at home #WMWeek17″ quote=”4 million Caribbean Immigrants in the U.S. Many are women supporting family here & back home.” theme=”style2″]

For Women’s Money Week, I want to share how Caribbean Millennial women, who carry the responsibility of financially supporting themselves and extended family, like I have, can build a solid financial foundation for themselves.

1. Prioritize Your Personal Finances First

Although you might have a strong feeling of obligation to provide as much money as you can to meet the responsibility of helping your extended family, you must prioritize your personal finances first. When I started my first full-time job after college and grad school, these were the top priorities I had for my money:

  • Investing for my retirement by contributing at least 10% of my gross salary, before my company’s match;
  • Paying off my outstanding credit card debt and private student loans;
  • Making extra payments on my Caribbean student loan; and
  • Building up an emergency fund.

Once I identified these financial priorities, I had to take into consideration the amount of money I would need to assist my family, while they settled into their new life in Philadelphia. After that, I  formulated a budget around the financial commitments I made to myself and to my family.

2. Put Limits On Your Support For Your Extended Family

It is important to be very clear with the family members receiving your financial support about how much money you can contribute, how often, and for how long. In my situation, my parents took longer than expected to find employment and had exhausted their own savings covering the essentials. When their savings ran out, it was clear that my support would go to cover housing and utilities and that my parents would continue to look for employment.

I committed to providing financial support until they found jobs, which took a number of months, and when I became pregnant with my son, I had to set the expectation that once I was on maternity leave, I could not provide the same level of support, as I would not have regular income during that time.

Having an open dialogue and setting clear expectations, as you experience your own life changes will enable you and your family to plan, prepare and shift gears accordingly.

3. Build Up Extra Cushion In Your Emergency Fund

Having an emergency fund becomes even more critical when you are supporting extended family. If you were to lose your job, need a major car repair, get a large unexpected medical expense, your emergency fund will help you cover those costs and stay out of debt.

Start by building up a $1,000 first and then continue to build up your emergency fund to 6 months to a year of expenses. This may take some time, but you must keep growing your emergency fund because in a time of need you likely will have to rely on yourself.

4. Keep Excessive Debt At Bay

If you are already dealing with debt, while supporting extended family, avoid taking on more debt and prioritize dumping as much of your existing debt, as fast as you can.

Explore ways you can lower your expenses or that of your family. And don’t be afraid to the get family members to do their part in reducing expenses and help you with in-kind support.

For example, my Dad was able to stay home with my son for a period of time and helped me save on childcare expenses.

5. Get Ample Insurance For Yourself and Your Family Too

If you have extended family members who are financially dependent on you, even partially, exploring life insurance and long-term-care coverage options, especially for parents, is essential. If you were to pass away, life insurance can provide funds to both immediate and extended family members who depend on your income. On the other hand, if a dependent family member or parent, for example, were to die and the associated funeral expenses would probably fall on you, their life insurance coverage can save you from the associated financial headaches.

I don’t like to think about my parents dying anytime soon, but after reading this story about how  Mel Jones (the author of this article) would have to use her own home downpayment savings to assist her mother with funeral expenses after the death of her dad, it confirmed for me the importance of life insurance for myself and my parents.

If you are a woman who is taking on the responsibility of caring for aging parents or expect to in the future, purchasing long-term care (LTC) insurance for your parents, if they are eligible, is also something to consider. I have purchased long-term care insurance for myself and I help pay for LTC insurance for my mom (who, statistically speaking, will outlive my Dad), in order to plan for the future expenses of caring for her in her older age.

6. Take Care Of Your Physical and Emotional Health

The weight of the responsibility of your own financial obligations and those of your extended family can be a lot to carry and can negatively impact your health.

Make time to take care of yourself by taking breaks from your day to day routine and reaching out for help if you need it. It’s ok to reach out for counseling when it feels like too much to bear.

Have you supported family parents and extended members while taking care of your own financial life? What has been your experience. Do you think it’s a role reversal?

~ Melisa Boutin

Sallie Mae Is Giving Away $15,000. Plus Two Other Giveaways to Enter Right Now!

Today I am sharing three great giveaways that you can enter to win, right now! Sallie Mae is giving away $15,000 to high school students; Student Loan Hero is giving you a chance to win $3,000 to go towards your student loans and I am giving away a Clever Girl Finance Planner to help win with your own money in 2017!

Sallie Mae Make It Happen College Contest [Now Closed]

This contest offers the chance for high school student in the U.S. to win up to $15,000 for college.

Who Can Enter:  High school students between the ages of 14 and 18 years at the time of entry.

How To Enter; Student must creatively answer the question: “How do you plan to pay for college” with a video, photo, essay, song or poem.

End Date: December 31st, 2016, 5:00 PM EST.

Where To Enter: Go to the Make College Happen Challenge Website

Student Loan Hero Sweepstakes

Who Can Enter:  Legal residents of the USA, except Rhode Island, who are 18+ year old at the time of entry.

How To Enter; Fill out the online entry form at

End Date: January 17th, 2017, 11:59 PM EST.

Where To Enter: Go to the Student Loan Hero Sweepstakes Webpage

Your Money Worth Content & Programs Survey + Giveaway [Now Closed]

I am giving away Clever Girl Finance Life Planner to one lucky winner, in the U.S. or the Caribbean. To enter you just fill out this survey and giving me feedback on the content and programs you would like to see here at!

Who Can Enter:  Residents of the USA and the Caribbean.

How To Enter; Just fill out the survey and entry form at

End Date: January 2nd, 2017, 11:59 PM EST.

Where To Enter: Go to the Content & Programs + Giveaway Page

Good luck!

~Melisa Boutin

*This post may contain affiliate links.

How I Use These 3 Apps To Find Extra Money To Put Towards My Student Loan Debt

How I Use These 3 Apps To Find Extra Money To Put Towards My Student LoansOne of the key strategies I used to accelerate my $37, 000 student loan payoff was to apply extra money towards the loans’ principal balances. It can be quite a  challenge to find extra money in your budget, on top of monthly minimum student loan payments at $200 to even $700  or more per month and it has definitely been for me. I personally still have almost $28,000 in Federal Student Loan debt that I am working to pay off within the next two years.

Here’s how I am using these 3 Apps to find extra money to put on my student loan debt.

1. Digit Will Automate Savings For You

I heard many rave reviews of Digit before signing up for it myself, and kinda feel late to the party. is an app that scans my bank account to analyze my spending habits and bank transactions and automatically transfers money to the app and sets aside funds that I would not usually save on my own. These savings will accumulate without any effort from me. So far I like the fact the I get an update on my bank account balance and notifications of how much has been saved for me by text message. I plan to use my Digit funds towards my student loan debt. You can check out the app and test it out yourself here: *(Digit is free to try for 100 days with a monthly fee there after).

2. Ebates Gives Cash Rewards For Shopping

I have used Ebates via their website for years, to save money while shopping online. When I first started using, I would have to remember to sign into the Ebates website and choose the online store I planned to purchase from, so that I could get cash back. Now, Ebates has a Chrome browser extension that takes that step out of the equation and automatically prompts you to activate cash back savings when you visit an eligible online store. They now even provide cash back for in-store purchase and a mobile app.
I usually assign my Ebates Cash Back Rewards to my fun money fund, but now I will be designating any cash back rewards to making extra payments on my student loan debt.

Ebates Coupons and Cash Back

3. Qoins Pays Your Debt For You, With Your Spare Change is a new app that helps you pay off your student loan debt. I recently signed up for this financial app and plan to test it out.
Here’s how it works.

  1. Sign up for an account at
  2. Connect your bank account that you use everyday purchases and the student loan that you want Qoins to send payments to.
  3. Make purchases as usual, while Qoins rounds up your transactions in your bank account.
  4. Qoins sends the rounded up change as a payment to your debt, on a date you chose, once per month, minus a $1.99 monthly fee.

If you are really struggling to find extra money in your debt it’s worth a try.

Do you use any financial apps to help you pay off debt? Let me know!

~Melisa Boutin.

* I only include affiliate links to tools that can help you pay off debt, save and invest.

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Featured – Melisa Boutin on Voices of NY

Featured Melisa Boutin in Voices of New York Helping Caribbean Millennials Ease Debt Burdens

I had the opportunity to share my personal journey to pay off debt and help other Millennials achieve financial success with Melissa Noel that was recently published in Voices of NY: Helping Caribbean Millennials Ease Debt Burdens.

I shared how I changed schools while in undergrad to get off a path to $100,000 in student loan debt and why I started, plus, tips for paying off debt.

1. Imagine Your Life Without Debt

What could you accomplish if you were not in debt?

2. Know what you owe

What is the total amount of debt you need to repay?

3. Stop Adding New Debt

Don’t add to credit card debt or make large purchases if you don’t need to.

4. Make A Specific Plan

Lower expenses, cut back and try to pay more than the minimum on your loans each month.

5. Use Technology

There are many apps available that ca help you keep track of your finances. Try a few. One example is Ready For Zero App*

6. Keep Going

Life happens. There will be setbacks, but don’t give up on your financial goals.

*Please note that Ready for Zero is no longer available.

You can read the entire article: HERE and share it too!

~Melisa Boutin

How I Paid Off $37,000 of Debt, Saved for Retirement And Bought a Home 5 Years


I paid off $37,00 in debt save for retirement and purchased a home in 5 years

I have shared how I ended up in massive student loan in the first place and how my student loan lender messed up my Caribbean student loan. In this post, I will share how in spite of these two challenges, and a few more, I was able to off $37,000 of debt, 5 years after getting my first full-time job, while saving for retirement, a down payment on a home and supporting my extended family, all at the same time!

I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 2007 and that same year, I continued to graduate school. I then finished a civil engineering graduate program in December 2009 and 8 months later I was relieved to get my first full-time job, as a civil engineer, with a starting salary of $52,000.

My Personal Finances Starting Out

My personal finances starting out included $68,000 in student loan debt and little savings, plus the responsibility of supporting my parents, as they had recently relocated from St. Kitts & Nevis to the United States. I really wanted to start making a dent in my student loan debt and committed to paying as much as I could in spite of my circumstances, at the time. 5 years after getting my first job, I paid off $37,000 in student loan and credit card debt, saved $36,000 in my retirement fund and had put aside $11,000 towards a downpayment on a home.

How I Paid Off Debt, Saved For Retirement & Bought A Home

Here’s How I did it.

I Had A Desire To Get Rid of My Debt

This is the number one factor in this journey. I really, really, really wanted to get rid of this debt. During the 8-month period, I was job searching, I would keep tabs on my debt and estimate how much the minimum payments would be and how I would have to factor my debt into my future budget. Once I did get a full-time job, throwing money at my debt was a priority. There would be no lifestyle inflation for me, just inflation of my student loan payments.

I Understood How My Student Loans Worked

I had a good handle on how credit card debt worked but I needed to spend a lot of time researching and understanding how my student loan debt worked. I had four student loan accounts:

  • Caribbean Private Student Loan;
  • U.S. Private Student Loan;
  • Consolidated U.S. Federal Loan; and
  • U.S. Federal Graduate Plus Loan.

I reviewed my promissory notes, made note of the outstanding balance and interest rate for each loan.  I also checked the and my credit report to make sure I did not miss any of my student loan accounts. I knew who I owed, when each loan would come due, the minimum payment required, and kept my contact information up to date with each servicer.

I Paid Attention to the Student Loan Cycle, Interest & Capitalization

As part of educating myself on how my student loan debt worked, I paid attention to the stage of the student loan cycle each loan was in, how interest would accrue and how capitalization would affect my outstanding principal balances. (I actually learned this late. I did not realize how much interest would accrue and capitalize, while I was in undergrad and I could have paid the interest during that time.)


Not paying attention to interest while I was in college lead to accrued interest being added to my U.S. Student Loan principal balances, and an even worse outcome with my Caribbean student loan. The interest that accrued on my Caribbean student loan, caused that loan to become an interest only loan  for almost a year. I would use this lesson to avoid interest from being added to my principal balance in the future.

Once I had a full-time job, informed myself on the workings of my debt and was in debt slay mode, I paid close attention to how interest accrued and capitalized, especially in deferment.

For example, when I put my loans in deferment while I was on maternity leave, this time I paid the interest accrued to avoid it from being capitalized. If I had allowed the accumulated interest to capitalize, it would have increased my principal balance and my minimum monthly payment.

I Budgeted Around My Debt

Budgeting around my debt was another key strategy I used  to able to cover my own expenses, pay down debt, save, invest for retirement, and purchase a home, while supporting my family, in 5 years. I set my pre-tax 401K retirement contribution to 6% of my gross income and an additional 6% to a post-tax Roth 401k. Those contributions were automated and were taken out of my earnings and never hit my bank account.

When it came to my take home pay, I had to prioritize payments to my debt, paying for my essentials and committing $400 to $900 per month to my parents. And, I still saved for my other financial goals too. I was able to do this by keeping my personal expenses way below my income and making some sacrifices, which included:

  • Living with roommates.
  • Giving up international travel & vacations.
  • Forgoing financing a new car. (I kept my old paid-in-cash car).
  • Directing bonuses and raises towards increasing retirement, savings and debt payments.
  • Committing the extra paycheck in a 5-week month towards my debt.
  • Keeping my entertainment & dining spending in check.
  • Purchasing a home that is 15% of my household income.
  • Keeping a rainy day fund so that I didn’t rely on credit cards for emergencies.

At times it felt like I was just working to save for the future and pay debt, but when I look back at it, I am glad I prioritized paying off debt while saving and investing at the same time.

I Set Up My Own Debt Repayment Plan

My minimum payments had me on track to pay my student loans for 20+ years. Although income-based and extended repayment plans for student loans are touted as solutions to crushing debt, making minimum student loan payments for 20+ years just didn’t make sense to me. I set up my own payment plan by:

  1. Tallying up the outstanding balances on my credit cards and student loans.
  2. Listing each debt from highest interest rate to lowest interest rate.
  3. Identifying the debt that was most annoying to me.
  4. Budgeting for the minimum monthly payment of each debt.
  5. Committing at least $500 for extra debt payments.
  6. Making a plan to commit any unexpected money towards my debt.
  7. Increasing the money I put towards debt with each pay raise.

I started out by applying extra payments to my credit card and my most annoying student loan debt, and after my fist year of working full-time, I had paid off about $13,000 in debt. My debt pay off slowed after that due to my financial commitment I had to my family and having a beautiful baby boy, who I spent a partially paid maternity leave with, and the childcare expenses that followed when I went back to work. I stayed the course and after 5 years I was able to pay off $37,000 debt, save almost as much in my retirement fund and have $11,000 in cash for a downpayment on a home.

If you have massive student loan debt, you can pay it off if you are committed to getting rid of it. I was not fortunate to have parents to live at home with to cut costs, actually my parents were depending on my for some time. Neither did I have six-figure job that made getting rid of debt a breeze, but I was still able to dump the debt.

Start with your desire to get out of debt, get focused and get started!

What are your thoughts? Please share them below!

Melisa Boutin.