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  • Writer's pictureRianka

How First-Generation College Graduates Can Approach Their Finances With a Healthy Mindset

Are you a first-generation college graduate struggling with a negative money mindset? Rianka tackles how to rethink your approach to finances in her latest for Forbes.

Mindset matters.

This is true no matter what challenge you’re facing. Having a mindset that focuses on growth, opportunity, and the possibility of achieving your goals can help guide you to success. Likewise, having a mindset that’s locked in limiting beliefs about what you’re capable of, or what life will bring you, can set you up for failure. 

Author, Kemi Sogunle, once said: 

“What you feed your mind, will lead your life.”


Unfortunately, due to lack of exposure, many first-generation college graduates may have an unhealthy mindset around money. This unhealthy money mindset can impact how they interact with family members, pursue career opportunities, and more.

What Is Your Money Mindset?

A money mindset is a belief that you currently have about money. Usually, money mindsets aren’t conscious. You don’t usually decide what money mindsets we have, or how they impact your financial behaviors. Typically, your unconscious money mindsets start forming from a young age - sometimes your experiences can shape how you view money from as early as ages 3-5. 

Throughout childhood and young adulthood, money mindsets are formed in a few ways:

Observing parents and adult role models interact with money.Sensing how your community feels about money, or how they react to money-related problems.Having positive or negative personal experiences with money.

Money Mindsets of First-Generation College Graduates

Money mindsets are developed based on your experiences. In other words, your culture and identity have helped to shape how you view money as an adult. 

First-generation college graduates often have an unhealthy money mindset in their adult life because their cultural background, family, or mentors have taught them that:

  1. Money is stressful.

  2. Managing your money is overwhelming.

  3. Holding onto wealth, or living well (even if it’s in your means) is greedy.

  4. Those with wealth need to help their community.

A client, Danielle*, recently dealt with an unhealthy money mindset that was impacting her long-term ability to succeed. She was a first-generation college graduate, and she started out-earning her parents at age 26. Over the course of her educational career, and in her new role at her post-graduate company, she had worked hard. She’d received several designations in her field, and was helping her clients achieve success. 

In spite of all of this, Danielle didn’t feel worthy of the salary she was earning. She made financial decisions out of fear, and was convinced that her career, paycheck, and benefits might disappear at any minute. 

To “justify” her high income and wealth to her community, Danielle started giving back. She sent money to parents, grandparents, friends, and siblings who had all been there for her as she grew up. Anytime someone reached out to ask her for money, she was happy to write the check no matter what it was for. In some ways, helping her community made Danielle feel like she was “earning” her salary. 

The day eventually came when Danielle was in financial trouble. A medical emergency caught her off guard, and because she’d given so much away to her family and community over the years, she didn’t have a big enough emergency fund to protect herself. When she reached out to the same family members and friends who she had helped over the years for support, nobody was able to come forward.

Danielle’s story is one that’s shared by many first-generation college graduates. The overwhelming belief that you don’t deserve the money you’re bringing home, even after working hard to earn a degree and to succeed in your career development, can bleed into all areas of your life - and cause you to put yourself in risky financial situations.

Changing the Narrative

The late Christopher Wallace (The Notorious B.I.G.) once said, “mo’ money mo’ problems”. But this doesn’t have to be your money narrative.

The truth is, everyone has some kind of financial experience in their history that can cause an unhealthy or unhelpful financial mindset. 

Most people don’t do the work to recognize their money mindset until it’s too late. You don’t want an unhealthy view of money, or whether or not you deserve the wealth and success you have, to impact your financial decisions moving forward. Instead, focus on owning the mindset you currently have about money and the role it plays in your life and recognize how your mindset might be negatively impacting the decisions you make. 

Being self-aware as you make financial decisions can help you to hit pause and take the full picture of your culture, background, and mindset into account before making a less-than-savvy money move. Remember: you have the power to acknowledge your background and your current money mindset, and choose to change them so that they serve you

Choosing to rewire your money mindset isn’t an easy process - especially if your culture has raised you to fear, ignore, or look at money in a spiteful way. But, like all good things, taking the time to reframe how you view your finances is worth the effort.

Actionable Steps You Can Take Today

So, how do you get started making positive financial decisions with a healthy money mindset? Check out these actionable steps:

  1. Think about how you feel about money. How do you use it in your life? How does managing your finances make you feel?

  2. How did your community view money growing up? Were they living with a fear that resources would dry up? Did they avoid discussing money with you as a kid?

  3. Look at your experience, education, and expertise and realize - you deserve the money you’re making. You deserve to live well, and to enjoy your life. If it helps, write yourself a sticky note and put it on the mirror - there’s nothing wrong with earning money, wanting to earn more money, and wanting to use it in a way that makes you happy and supports your goals.

  4. Think twice before giving money to family members, or people in your community. It can help to create a line-item in your budget that’s specifically for giving money away. This will help you to prioritize your other financial goals (like emergency savings, retirement savings, or paying off student loans), while still leaving some wiggle room to support the ones you love and care about. Once you spend everything in the “giving” portion of your budget, you can honestly say that you don’t have anything left to give.

  5. Set “fun” money goals for yourself. There’s a temptation among first-generation college grads to only set reasonable, safe financial goals. While it’s important to save for the future, it’s also important to enjoy the wealth you have now. Don’t be afraid to set a goal to save for a special vacation, a big purchase, or other non-essential things. As long as your purchases align with your values, and you’re saving and spending wisely, there’s no reason that you don’t deserve to enjoy the money you’ve earned.

If you’re struggling to treat yourself with empathy or to move past the money mindset you’re facing, get help! You aren’t in this alone, and you don’t have to walk this path by yourself. Partner up with a friend to work on improving your money mindset, work with your spouse/partner on how you view money in your life or talk to a Certified Financial Planner™ professional about your goals and financial decisions.

*names have been changed

This article, written by Rianka R. Dorsainvil, CFP®, originally appeared on



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