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Financial Information Month: Student Loan Series

Financial Information Month 2016 in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union

Welcome to October!

Financial Information Month in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU) starts today. October 2016 marks the 14th year of this annual public education program coordinated by the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB). The goal of Financial Information Month, as stated on the ECCB website, is “to promote awareness and understanding of general financial and economic issues, and support the aim of “a financially developed and vibrant ECCU region that fosters strong and sustainable economic growth and the improved well-being of the citizenry.”

This year’s theme is “Create, Optimise, Pursue, Embrace; Opportunities” and I will be taking the opportunity to:

  • Raise awareness about the issues Caribbean Student Loan Borrowers face;
  • Foster conversations about the experiences of Caribbean Student Loan borrowers; and
  • Address 10+ years of missed opportunities to improve the Student Loan Scheme in the ECCU.
What is the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union?

The Eastern Caribbean Currency Union is a group of states in the Eastern Caribbean that share the same currency: the Eastern Caribbean Dollar (XCD). The countries that share the Eastern Caribbean Dollar Currency and make up w the ECCU are Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, the Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. These countries are also part of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS.)

The Eastern Caribbean Dollar is issued by the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank.

Financial Information Month Student Loan Series 2016 More Related Articles

What is the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank?

The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank was established in 1983, oversees the banking system  within the OECS and is responsible for maintaining the stability of the Eastern Caribbean Dollar.

Although the ECCB is the Monetary Authority for the ECCU and provides oversight of the union’s banking system, its authority does not extend to, what are called “non-banks” like Development Banks throughout the region, which are the banks that issue most of the Student Loans in the Caribbean.

Another thing is, the ECCB’s financial education and awareness programs do not specifically address student loans in the Currency Union nor  the common issues faced by  borrowers when navigating these loosely regulated student loan lenders. In fact, even the most recent  Banking Act makes no mention of consumer protection nor banks’ or non-banks’ legal obligations to their customers. That’s why We Need Student Loan Answers in the Caribbean and this Student Loan Series.

Financial Information Month 2016:
Caribbean Student Loan Series

This month’s Student Loan Series is all about fostering a Regional and Diasporic Discussion about Caribbean Student Loans, raising awareness about the widespread issues with bridge work towards addressing the gap of information about Caribbean student loans.

If you’ve read my story, know that I had a Caribbean student loan from the local Development Bank in St. Kitts and Nevis, and experienced many challenges communicating with my lender and understanding how my student loan worked. After 8 years of making payments on my student loan from that lender, I found out that all of my first year of payments went to interest only.

Those payments added up to $4,000, not a penny of which went to my loan’s principal balance. Even worse, the lack of information I had about how my student loan worked is a far too common experience for Caribbean student loan borrowers who live in the U.S. like me, Canada or within the Caribbean region. This Student Loan Series aims to take the first steps towards changing that.

Related Article My Caribbean Student Loan Story

Share Your Caribbean Student Loan Story

If you have a student loan from the Caribbean Bank, especially from an Eastern Caribbean Bank, join the conversation by sharing your own experience with your Caribbean Student Loan.

Whether you are living in the Caribbean or the North American Diaspora in Canada, the U.S.A. or beyond, I would love to feature your story. Your can submit your story all throughout out the Month of October 2016. Just click the below to join the conversation!

Share Your Story Caribbean Student Loan Series

Submit Your Story

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How Hello Fresh Helped My Budget

While casually strolling in Lower Manhattan after Guest Co-Hosting with ladies on the Sip N Chat Radio show, Angei convinced me to sign up for two discounted boxes of Hello Fresh meal delivery service. She caught me at a good time because I had been thinking of going back to meal prepping, for some time, after my family had thrown away spoilt food one too many times as a result of getting more groceries than we could cook and eat fast enough. But the thought of slaving all day on Sundays to prepare meals for the week keeps me from starting.Melisa Sign up For Hello Fresh

Even, recently, when I tried to make an effort to meal prep and made at least 4 servings of qunioa one week, due to an out of short-notice out of town work engagement, it all went to waste when I rushed out of town and ended up dumping the spoilt food when I got back.

I was up for giving Hello Fresh a try, for the introductory reduced subscription price of $44 per week for three meals, on the Classic Plan, for the first two weeks. The weekly cost jumped to $69 per week after that.

Our typical weekly grocery budget was at least twice the full price, so I my family of three certainly couldn’t lose during the first two-week discount period. The Classic Plan, for 2 adults, included meals of meat, fish produce, and balanced grains.

Hello Fresh Weekly Order Process

Hello Fresh, automatically selects meals for you from their weekly menu, which is helpful if you don’t have time to pick them yourself. However, since I only eat fish and poultry, I had to make sure to pick my meals each Monday, prior to my Saturday delivery date to avoid getting a default selection that included beef. I also have the option to skip a delivery and the weekly charge.

Hello Fresh Weekly Meals for Two

The size of the meals are not Caribbean portion size at all. When you get two Hello Fresh meals, they are light servings for two adults, no more. The meal size is great for a light dinner during the week-nights or a small lunch during the day on the weekend. The meals we have been receiving usually take 30 minutes to prepare (except for one fancy recipe that was estimated to take 45 minutes and we ended up giving up on preparing the meal as prescribed and winging it instead). Definitely a sharp difference from typical Caribbean recipes that can take half a day hours to make.

Related Post: 5 Ways to Start Saving When You Don’t Know Where To Start

Hello Fresh Recipes

Maple Mustard Salmon - Hello Fresh
Hello Fresh

Our favorite dish to date: Mapel Mustard Salmon with Israeli CousCous

    • Ingredients: Salmon (Fish), Honey, Whole Grain Mustard, Asparagus, Shallot, Parsley, Israeli Couscous (Wheat), Vegetable Stock Concentrate
    • Cook Time: 30 Minutes
    • Difficulty Level: 1

A surprising bonus to this subscription service, is  being able to try different foods that we would never have known about, like Isreali couscous. The are also many vegetarian meals, including a variety of salads. We usually supplement the meals with fruit for desert or a smoothie if one of the meals is not particularly filling.

Current Takeaways

We have been using Hello Fresh for over a month and plan to keep the subscription for now. After the first month of using Hello Fresh, we:

  • Spent $200 less than the previous month on groceries;
  • Took less time on meal planning, for a least three meals per week; and
  • Reduced food waste.

Try Hello Fresh Yourself!

You can try Hello Fresh and get $40 of your first box by using this* Referral Link: 222525NEYLEL

How do you tame your grocery budget and minimize food waste, have you used a meal subscription service before or have you been thinking of trying one?

*The post may contain affiliate links.

Confessions from the 800 FICO Score Club

I have been obsessed with personal finance before I even knew that was a thing. My mother says that I have been “watching money” since I was a child. When my brother and I would get a $20 allowance for outings, I would almost always return home with at least $15 while my brother came back with none. As a child too, I saw what role money played in my own family life. If you didn’t have enough of it there could be frustration but you can also use it wisely and find more ways to make more of it.

In elementary school, we covered basic home economics that included lessons about how to write a check, balance a checkbook and understanding higher purchase. Investopedia defines a Higher Purchase as a method of buying goods through making installment payments over time that originated in the united Kingdom. This was my first introduction to the concept of “buying” something when you didn’t have the money to pay for it outright.

College Life and  Easy Credit

Fast forward to the point when I left my home, in St. Kitts, after high school and started college in the United States,  I signed up for my first credit card shortly after getting on campus. As an immigrant to the United States, no one prepares you for the ease of getting credit in this country. It’s still amazing to me that a recent immigrant, with hardly any money, could get approved for a credit card just by signing some paperwork on a folding table on the campus quad.

This, get into debt instantly card, was a very new concept to me. I had student loans already, and kind of knew the deal with them (or so I thought) but credit cards would take some getting used to. Needless to say, my credit card gave me access to other people’s money, to buy things I could not afford on my own, in just one swipe.  And swipe I did.Credit cards funded my shopping trips to Aventura Mall and my frequent travel back home to St. Kitts for Christmas break.

Store cards were another story, as a college student I would always the opportunity to get the store discount by signing up for a new card, and by my third year in college I had at least 5 credit card and store cards from Macy’s, New York  & Company and Company, Gap and Old Navy.  I remember my college friend, Vanesa, telling me “Girl, why do you have so many credit cards?” and I really didn’t have an answer.

The only upside to my credit card escapades was that I always made sure to pay my credit card bills on time and keep my utilization low and had over interest to the credit card companies. Of course, for this “good” credit use I was rewarded with high and higher balances and at one point one I had combined credit available of more than $30,000. Ridiculous, I know!

The 700 FICO Score Club

Although I was never educated about the “right” way to use credit cards, I always paid off my credit card balances over time, as quickly as I could; avoided late payments; and by the time I completed college, I had a 700+ FICO score and at least 10 credit cards. Even with the excessive number of credit cards I had, I never really thought that this was problematic. After all, I maintained a “good” credit score always paid back the charges I made and never used all the cards at the same time. Even with this good credit score and good credit, and I never used all of them at the same time. and  in

The truth is though that my good FICO score and made me think I had more money that I had and my credit limit subconsciously an extension of my budget. So much so, that all throughout college and graduate school, I never really prioritized building an emergency fund. This lack of planning for a rainy day, caught up with me when I completed graduate school and could not find a full-time job for 8 months. My credit cards, in part, became my emergency fund for that period. I was able to make my credit card minimum payments on time and once I got a full-time job, I paid off the remaining balances, kept my stack of credit cards, and  continued to spend on credit. This time, though, I prioritized building an emergency fund since I had already experienced how  living without a rainy day fund left me without a safety net.

The 800 FICO Score Club

Last year, when my family and I, bought a condo, my credit score hovered around 790 and of course, that served me well when it came to getting the best mortgage rate possible and enabled me to position myself to compare and negotiate with multiple lenders to ensure I got the best mortgage deal possible.

After becoming a home mortgage owner, keeping track of the new bills that come, like HOA fees, water bills, and renovations was a challenge, first. I had to reorganize the family budget and it did not help that I financed a portion of the renovations on my credit card. That in and of itself was not a terribe financial move, since it was at  0% introductory rate and I had already planned to use relocation reimbursement funds to clear those charges. But what the problem  came when I kept adding to the balance without keeping track of my spending and saw my credit card balance creep up by more than $1,000  more than the original renovations costs.

This is when I realized how my unplanned spending,  supported by my credit cards was really a problem. I am great with a budget and usually good at sticking to it, except when I use a credit card for an unplanned purchase. More often than not, using my credit card enabled me to spend without asking myself if this was a want (which most of the time it was), where would it fit into my current budget and did I really need it to purchase it right now?

Excellent Credit and Bad Spending Habits

I had to be really honest with myself and admit that the way I was spending on my credit cards was not serving me well. I had been in this cycle before and really did not want to continue with the cycle of the never ending credit card payments. The right way to use credit cards is to use them to make charges that are already accounted for in your budget. I wasn’t doing that and I recognized that I almost always spend more than I planned when I use my credit card. Psychology Today sums up my behavior as a result of the painless nature of spending on credit cards which can result in overspending. Whatever the reason, I committed to put a stop to it, this year.

First, I stopped spending on my credit card and committed to making purchases with the cash in my bank account. Shortly after making that commitment, I really wanted a computer, and in order to live up to my commitment of paying cash, I ended up buying a used one from my brother. #MoneyMasiveMoment

The second thing I did, was close all my store credit cards, that I hardly used, but somehow always found a way to spend on them when i got in the stores. My Macys, Gap, Old Navy, Target cards had to go. I’ve also closed almost all of my other credit cards, except, one for business use, and my first credit card that I haven’t used in many years. I am planning to close my oldest credit card at some point but haven’t decided exactly when, yet.

So far, I have gotten more in tune with my money and glad I became aware of the triggers that kept me

Do you overspend on credit cards?

I am sure there are many of us have made unplanned purchases that we really did not budget for on credits cards. And even if you pay off your credit card debt, you can reflect on whether being conscious of what may be causing you to overspend can be addressed to prevent that behavior. Once you know that you have been overspending on credit cards:

  1. Recognize when you overspend and what causes it.
  2. Commit to changing your habits.
  3. Ask yourself whether the unplanned purchase your are considering is a want and whether you need to buy it right now.
  4. Weigh how your overspending may delay you from reaching other more important financial goals.
  5. Limit your spending to what is in your bank account and your budget.

Even when you implement these practices you may have slip ups, but the key is to commit to changing your behavior so that you can limit overspending and have a better handle on how you use your money when it comes to spending in credit cards.

Melisa Boutin.

Featured – Melisa Boutin on Jewels Unveiled with Dr Judith Fletcher Radio Show

I am so excited to share my interview with Dr. Judith Fletcher’s Jewel’s Unveiled Radio Show that first aired on WDJY 99.1FM in Metro Atlanta on August 24, 2016.

We chatted about how to minimize student loan debt, as a college student, ways to reduce the costs of your college attendance, tackling student loans if you already have them and tips for families planning for college.

Take a listen!

What did you think of the interview? Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks for listening!

Melisa Boutin.

5 Ways to Start Saving When You Don’t Know Where to Start

5 Ways to Start Saving When You Don't Know Where to Start

You really don’t need me to tell you that you should be saving a portion of every dollar that you earn. You already know this! But you might still feel like you don’t have enough money to save. You will need to shift your mindset from “How will I ever get to save money?” to “This is how I am saving my money!” Here are 5 ways to start saving when you don’t know where to start.

Sign Up For Financial Apps That Save For You

Just like how technology has made it easier to spend money, technology is here to help you save effortlessly. There are a series of apps that you can download on your smartphone to help you get to saving right now!


Digit  helps you “save money, without thinking about it.” When you sign up for Digit and link this app to your checking account, Digit monitors your account to check your spending habits and moves money, that you can afford, from your checking account into your Digit savings. Digit does this for you every week, so your savings will truly be on autopilot and this will still allow you to get all your bills paid. (Update: Digit now charges a monthly fee)


Consider signing up to bank with ChimeBank which is a “bank account that helps you save money automatically”. When you sign up with Chime, you get a savings account, a spending account, and a Visa Debit Card that can all be managed from your smartphone. You have the option of turning on automatic savings, where every purchase made on your Chime card is rounded up to the next dollar and is deposited into your savings account. I have not personally signed up for Chime, but my little brother uses it and likes it so far.

Tip Yourself

Tip Yourself allows you to transfer money from your checking account to your very own “Tip Jar.” The concept behind the app is to”Tip Yourself” as a reward for a job well done. Maybe you have set a goal to walk to work five days a week, and you have successfully reached that goal. What better way to reward yourself than adding money to your own Tip Jar that you can then commit to savings. Tip Yourself makes it easy for you to keep yourself motivated and save.

Automate Your Savings Using Direct Deposit

Savings apps are great, but you will still have to become intentional with saving your money, if you are serious about improving your financial health. To practice the habit of saving, set up a savings account that is not connected to your checking account. You can use a website like to find one. This separate savings can be used to make automatic deposits from your paycheck and house all your unexpected cash savings.

It will be important to set a goal for your savings too. Are you trying to build an emergency fund of $1,000 in 3 months. Or maybe you’re saving for an epic international vacation. Set your goal and keep working towards it by making automatic deposits.

Tip: You can make intentional deposits into your separate savings account to stash extra cash too!

Join A Money Challenge

Money Challenges allow you to join a group people, who are all working towards specific financial goals over a specific period of time. The challenge can be an online challenge one with specific tasks that you are a prompted to complete to help you reach your money goals. Online money challenges can also include group support with online forums,  where participants can come together to support each other throughout the challenge.

Here’s one Money Challenges you should consider joining:

Cash & Curls Financial Freedom Challenge

CurlBox, The Finance Bar, and Frizz Free Curls have joined forces to present a challenge to help you increase your spending savvy and strengthen your money muscles. Learn more about joining the challenge here:

Commit To Saving Unexpected Cash

I am sure you can that think of at least one occasion where you received money that you were not expecting. Making a plan for saving a portion of any extra money that comes your way is an easy way to jumpstart your savings.

You can plan to save a least 30% to 50%of any unexpected cash. If you get a refund that you weren’t expected, save a percentage of it. When you receive a spot bonus, you will already know how much of it to save. Pick your own rule of thumb and apply it to any extra cash that comes your way.

Join A Partner Hand

A partner hand, (also called osusu, tanda, partner, and susu) is a group savings model that is based on community trust. This group savings plan is usually headed by a “collector” who manages the group’s savings. Once a group of people join the partner hand, each “partner” commits to contributing the same amount of money, to the collector, on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis, over a specific period of time. Each month, one partner will receive a “hand” which is the total sum of all the partners’ contributions for that installment. Each partner will still continue to make their own contributions until the end of the partner hand period, even if they reach their “hand” before the savings period is over.

12 Partners x 12 month Period x $500/Month

For example,12 partners sign up for a $500 contribution per month, partner hand, with a 12- month saving period. During that 12 month savings period, each participant will get a $6,000 hand.

In this example here is how the group savings works for each partner, who will provide $500 to the collector every month for 12 months.

Receiving Partner
Hand Disbursed
Month 1

Month 2

Month 3

Month 4

Month 5

Month 6

Month 7

Month 8

Month 9

Month 10

Month 11

Month 12

Partner 1

Partner 2

Partner 3

Partner 4

Partner 5

Partner 6

Partner 7

Partner 8

Partner 9

Partner 10

Partner 11

Partner 12













Note that even though Partner 1 received a $6,000 hand at month 1, that partner will still have to contribute $500 per month until the end of the savings period, in month 12. This model is all based on trust and community. There are no credit checks. If you are joining a partner hand for the time, a vetted partner may have to vouch for you and will be responsible for your contributions if you drop out, kinda like a co-signer. This partner hand savings method has been used for generation throughout the African continent, the Caribbean and Latin America to successfully save together.

Ask your immigrant friend how to join one, there will soon be partner hand like, savings group apps on the horizon, too, so be on the look out!

BONUS: Get A Side Hustle & Direct Earnings To Savings

Although you can always cut back on your budget to save, getting a side hustle can help you grow your earnings so that you have money to save. A side hustle can be a second job, but it doesn’t have to be. Tap into your talents and hire them out for cash. If whipping up sweet treats comes naturally for you, consider offering your services for your friends and family’s celebratory events.

There’s no shame in picking up a second job, or sharing economy gig too, if it means boosting your savings.

What do you think about these tips? Have you used any of these savings strategies before? Let me know in the comments below.

Happy Savings!

~Melisa Boutin

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