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Caribbean Diaspora

5 Money Lessons My Caribbean Roots Taught Me

Money Lessons Caribbean Roots

Formal personal finance education programs in the Caribbean, are few and far between, yet the informal lessons I learned about money growing up in the region still informs the way I use it.

Here are different money lessons from my Caribbean roots.

Living Within Your Means Was Your Reality

One of my first realizations about money as a child was that how much cash you had determined how much you could spend. Back then, credit cards weren’t a thing and nor making daily purchases with the swipe of plastic, routine.

Groceries, and school uniforms and supplies, and many other wants and needs were paid mostly in cash.

Save First and Spend Later

Saving for large purchases was another widespread practice, I witnessed growing up.

It was just as common to both save up for a down payment on a mortgage, for example, as it was to start buying the building materials for your home with cash, before you even approach a bank.

Some home owners even built their homes in a piece-meal fashion, by constructing each phase of a family home after saving enough to pay in cash.

If You Borrow, Pay Your Debt Fast

Although Caribbean people have a strong culture of saving, there were still times that you would take on debt.

How you handled that debt though, was to pay it off faster than required. This was especially true when it came to consumer debt. 

The are many times I heard the phrase “I don’t want to owe anybody,” from my family and other adult relatives, as they prioritized paying off debts, fast.

The are many times I heard the phrase “I don’t want to owe anybody,” from my family and other adult relatives, as they prioritized paying off debts, fast.

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Extended Family Is Your Financial Safety Net

In my twin-island Federation, there is no government sponsored unemployment insurance, nor a large scale program for cash payments for individuals or families to make up for low or non-existent income.

Your extended family provides housing, and financial support in cash and in kind to relatives in need. With multi-generational living arrangements as a standard, family members can easily pool incomes, and other resources, share the overhead costs and the financial need of things like childcare.

Side Hustles Are A Way Of Life

Unemployment rates in the Caribbean can top more than 30%, and what are called “side hustles” stateside are a way of life in the Caribbean.

It was not atypical for an individual’s income to be made up of a collection of side hustles. Nor was it uncommon to patronize your home economics teacher, as she vends local treats on a downtown street corner every Friday afternoon.

Supplementing your income is something that you just have to do.

These lessons have had a big influence on how I use money and I especially credit them for enabling me to pay off debt, save and invest while providing support to my extended family.

What are some money lessons you learned growing up?

~ Melisa Boutin

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Caribbean In America: How To Ease The Transition To High School In The United States for Caribbean Transfer Students

Caribbean in America: How To Ease The Transition to High School for Caribbean Transfer Students

I am excited to share today’s guest blog post from Sidjae Price of Sidjae and I,  know first hand, how disconcerting it can be to adjust to a new environment, culture and school life as a teen, newly arrived in the U.S. Sidjae was kind enough to offer a her insights on how to make the transition easier for international transfer high school students from the Caribbean to the U.S.

It is no secret that many Caribbean students are migrating to the United States with their parents in search of a better life. This idea of a better life is what we commonly know as The American Dream. In an effort to attain their own version of a better life, most families tend to forget about how migration might affect their children and their participation in the education system.

It is debatable, who is responsible for a student’s transition from the Caribbean to the United States. But, as someone who was born in the United States, then moved to Jamaica for six years, then moved back to the United States, I have experienced being a student in both countries. (Yes you read that right!) and I have recognized that there is a need for a structured transitional program to ease the burden of acculturation of Caribbean high school students to the United States.

I can tell you stories of eating lunch alone because I had no friends, getting mocked at school from my peers because of my accent, and even the time when I got placed in the wrong grade, all because the school administrators had no knowledge of the education system in the Caribbean. There is a steady stream of Caribbean students transitioning to U.S. based schools, every year, and there should be a transition plan in place.  Here are 5 ways such a plan could make a transferring from high school in the Caribbean to United States, a smoother process.

Teach School Administrators About International School Systems

School administrators should be taught about international school systems. There should be a tool that is used to understand what grade a child should be placed in when they leave their Caribbean island. This is extremely important because in the Caribbean the school system teaches students more intensely. For example, a child who ranked in the top 10 in grade 7 in Jamaica should definitely not be held back. There has to be a consistent decisions on how schools in the U.S. will manage students that come from international school systems. There have been countless times in which my family and friends have came from the islands and it is always a guessing game with school administrators as to which grade they should be in. This guessing game tends to cause stress on the child and often leave them questioning their intelligence. Teaching school administrators about international schools systems and having game plan for a child’s grade placement, would essentially ease the transition of a Caribbean high school student into the United States.

Friendship Program

When a student starts a new school they most likely have no friends. So having a friendship program will ease the pain of a Caribbean student feeling like a foreigner in the new land, even if they themselves are in fact, U.S. citizens. It is most definitely harder for a Caribbean student to meet friends in their school because of language barriers and also cultural differences. It is even more difficult because the diversity of the cultures and contributions of Caribbean countries is not taught at an early age to most students in U.S. based schools, even though we share the same Hemisphere. A friendship program would provide a host of benefits such as making a Caribbean student feel accepted at their new school, allow for them to focus more on their academic studies and it will foster cross-cultural relationships.

Teach U.S. Students About Diversity, Early

Many students in the US are not familiar with diversity or what it stands for. They are not taught to not mock someone who wears religious clothing to school, not make fun of someone who wants to read the Bible at lunchtime or not to bully someone who speaks with a slightly different accent. There is absolutely no diversity program that is taught to U.S. students in schools and students are not aware of how to accept others that may not be from this country. What happens next is bullying of other kids, which leads to fights in school and some kids may feel the pressure to do things to fit in. Teaching U.S. Students about diversity carries a significant benefits of acceptance of each other in a cross cultural school. This is something parents of Caribbean students can advocate for.

Academic Writing Program

A majority of the Caribbean islands are academically on British English. From my personal experience, it is extremely hard to switch from the British English to American English, and even in my graduate studies that was still a challenge. It takes a while to remember not to use the “u” in the word color or favorite. While I know that many say if you came to this country you should have learned how to write and speak like us; keep in mind that as a youth, a choice was made for you to be brought to this country. Additionally you are asking a child to unlearn the way of writing in which he or she may have learned all throughout grade school. Implementing an academic writing program to ease the transition of the Caribbean high school students into the U.S., stop this problem early by simply teaching students who are in British English how to write on American English. This could really ease the harshness of the transitions process. Until a program like this exists, try to use online resources that help you understand and practive using American English.

Discreetly Break Language Barriers

The transition of Caribbean high school students into the U.S. is going to require a strategic plan if the school system wishes to ease the stress of the students. Having a strategic plan in place will decrease the anxiety students feel after they migrate. A strategic plan will also make it more tolerable for U.S. students to accept their cultural peers. Overall it would making it a better school environment for everyone that builds a cross-cultural environment.

Sidjae Price is the founder of Priceless Planning where she helps modern solopreneurs destroy the overwhelming feeling with strategic business planning, in-house business operations, and business time management. She is also a PhD candidate and enjoys empowering youth through her non-profit Speak Loud, Inc.

Thank you Sidjae for your insight!

Are you a student who transferred from high school in the Caribbean to the U.S.? What was your experience like?

~Melisa Boutin

5 Personal Finance Tips for Caribbean Women Entrepreneurs

5 Personal Finance Tips for Caribbean Women EntrepreneursCaribbean women are reaching new heights. As a group, they are experiencing increased rates of higher education attainment and entrance into professional leadership roles, in the government and private sectors. And like their foremothers, creating businesses, while managing financial responsibilities to themselves and their families.

Over on the Secret Birds Caribbean blog, I had the opportunity to do a guest blog post on these 5 ways Caribbean women entrepreneurs can manage their personal finances.

1. Understand your financial obligations.
2. Manage your personal finances effectively.
3. Self-fund your business, the right way.
4.  Diversify your income, while building your business.
5. Check-in on your money, regularly.

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You can read more of the original post on the Secret Birds Caribbean Blog, HERE.

~ Melisa Boutin


Scholarship Alert: $235,000 Available for U.S. & Caribbean International Students At York University (Canada)

Scholarship Alert: $235,000 Available for U.S. and Caribbean International Students York University (Canada)

Canada is the host of many Caribbean international students and I am excited to share this scholarship opportunity that is available for both American (U.S. residents are considered International Students for Canadian universities) and Caribbean International Students.

The $235,000 in awards is made up of three scholarship awards to attend York University:

  1. The International Circle of Scholars Scholarship ($15,000).
  2. Global Leader of Tomorrow Award ($20,000 x 4 year = $80,000); and
  3. International Entrance Scholarship($35,000 x 4 year = $140,000).
Scholarships for International Students at York University

To be eligible, applicants must:

  • Be an international student.
  • Be applying directly from high school, with no more than 2 years after graduation and have no previous university or college studies.
  • Be applying to an academic program that begins in Fall 2017 for specific departments: Arts, Media, Performance and Design, Environmental Studies, Education, Glendon, Lassonde School of Engineering, Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, Science, Schulich School of Business.
  • Possess high academic record (“A”average or equivalent), community service or excellence in the arts, sports or other areas of individual achievement.
  • Submit required documents to complete the York University application by February 15.
  • Complete the online International Student Scholarship Application Form by February 15.

Related:  More Scholarships for U.S. & Caribbean Students:

Where to Apply:

More information on these scholarship opportunities can be found on the York University Future Students webpage.

The scholarship application can be accessed here: International Student Scholarship Getting Started.

~ Melisa Boutin

My Journey: How I Transitioned From Engineer To Money Coach

How I Transitioned from Engineer to Money Coach

As a high schooler in St. Kitts, I watched my family’s home go from architectural blueprint to construction and then completion. That experience allowed me to see how; physics and technical drawing (architectural drawing by hand) could come together to result in a tangible, physical engineered structure. After this experience, I considered becoming an architect, but after researching the college curriculum for that degree program, I thought that there were three too many art courses and not enough math or physics. I decided instead to pursue a degree in civil engineering that would bring together my skill in technical drawing, love for math and passion for physics and that was that!

That seems like such a long time ago now, wow!

Today I want to share how I transitioned from a well-planned out career in engineering to money coaching.

Life As An Engineering College Student

Once I moved from St. Kitts to Miami, Florida after high school, I was driven to get into and complete a civil engineering degree program of my choice. Although, I felt confident that I was adequately prepared for the rigors of an undergraduate engineering degree program, balancing a full course load of engineering, math and science classes, while facing various challenges to accessing to financial aid (I share more about that here and the result here) proved to be my greatest struggle.

Still, 5 years later I was able to overcome most of those obstacles and graduate with a bachelor’s of science degree in civil engineering in 2007 and I went on to complete a master’s of science degree in 2010.

Engineering in Real Life

A new challenge came when I was seeking full-time employment during the Great Recession of 2010. After an 8-month long job search that involved me submitting almost 100 job applications, I finally landed an engineering consultant position. I was so eager start working so that I could finally start the engineering career I had dreamed of and worked hard for, plus I needed to start paying off these student loans.

Starting from my first day of employment, I had a full plate work wise. A few months after I started working in October of 2010, on the day before Christma, I was the lone junior employee in the office when Chief Engineer asked me to make changes to an engineering drawing in order to fulfill a client’s a last minute request. This was a test for me because even though I could do engineering calculations, tests and reports all day, I had never mastered AutoCAD and really had a phobia of it. But I used the knowledge I had and a few text messages to my CAD designer co-worker and got it done.

That’s how much I wanted to soak in all the opportunities of my engineering work life. Even when I knew that AutoCAD was my weakest skill I pushed through and made it happen.

6 years later I would be working as an engineering project manager for a different employer, where I managed multi-million dollar client budgets, negotiating contractor agreement and design, engineering and field construction teams. This is why I went through all this engineering schooling and I was right where I had planned to be. Some of the main functions of an engineering project manager/consultant, is to manage massive construction projects and stay on top of every aspect of the project. You have to communicate with internal project team members, upper management, complete billing and invoicing of your company’s charges to the client, manage and review contractors’ billing to the client, complete site visits plus run revenue projections and formulate budgets both for your employer and clients.

All of this work was tough yet provided the amazing opportunity to learn and I have done just that. But at some point, the drive I had for this career path waned.

From Engineering to Money Coaching

I have been crushing on the #engineerlife since I was a pre-teen, yet I have always had a deep desire to learn and master my own personal finances, especially figuring out how I could build wealth, with $68,000 of debt while playing the role of supporting my immediate and extended family as well as how I could teach others.

My engineering skills and professional experience have helped me tremendously on that parallel path. Engineering economics taught me the time time-value of money and how bonds work. While engineering consulting work gave me the opportunity to apply what I learned from budgeting, tracking and documenting millions of dollars to my own budgeting system and helped me become a trusted resource on managing money, understanding and paying off student loan to my family and personal networks.

At the end of 2015, I had a very challenging year managing everything that was #engineeringlife and my own personal and family life. I asked myself if the career that I had so carefully mapped out, now aligned with the life I truly envisioned living. I dug deep and found the passion for personal finance education that I have always had, just sitting there and decided to start to address the stories (like these share Here, Here and Here) of borrowers’ confusion about their Caribbean student loans. I partnered with Groundation Grenada and M.A.D.E. Grenada and launched a workshop at the University of The Virgin Islands, in St. Thomas, U.S.V.I. to educate current students about their Caribbean student loans. With the feedback I got from the workshop, I dug deeper and recognized the gap of personal finance information specifically for Millennial in the Region and the North American Diaspora and launched on May 30th, 2016 to serve them.

Founder, Financial Educator & Money Coach

Now that I have transitioned, I would like to take my new intro for a spin, so here goes….

Hi! My name is Melisa Boutin a former Engineering Project Manager, now Certified Financial Education Instructor and Money Coach and paying off debt is my jam!

I am the founder of that provides personal finance tools, tipsresources, and coaching to help motivated Millennials, in the Caribbean region and the United States get rid of debt and finally live the life they envision.

Let me know what you think of it!

~ Melisa Boutin