Pioneers of Financial Literacy: A Conversation with Dr. Bick Carfrae

First-generation professionals inherently experience obstacles on their path toward financial literacy and independence, both internal and external.  Studies have shown that this group of Americans still lag behind their peers regarding financial confidence, knowledge, and participation.  In this particular study, they found first-generation Americans have more debt than their counterparts.

There is no one way to achieve financial independence, but there is a common thread among first-generation Americans: they want to learn what it takes to become financially literate.  In our new series, Pioneers of Financial Literacy: First-Gens Building Generational Wealth, we are setting out to prove that these obstacles can be overcome.

I sat down with fellow investor and first-generation immigrant Dr. Bick Carfrae to get her perspective on navigating money and being the pioneer of financial literacy in her family.  Her journey is an inspirational one, and while she overcame many of the barriers so often experienced by first-generation Americans, it was a journey that was not without struggle.

Q: What makes you a pioneer in financial literacy?

A: My parents were young, non-English speaking, uneducated refugees who had to start a life from scratch in America.  Along with a robust public school system that offered many resources, my family’s strong work ethic and general academic aptitude were my conditions for success.  I went to a state university on a full-ride scholarship then state medical school on student loans. From there, it was an even playing field with everyone else.

Q: When were you first exposed to financial literacy?

A: My first lesson on financial literacy came early in high school.  Since my parents did not understand how to navigate the educational system or communicate well within these institutions, I was essentially on my own.  I applied for financial aid, as that was the only path to higher education.

This particular scenario plays out in most immigrant households. Often, the first-generation child is the bridge between the parent’s former life and the family’s new life in America.  This is quite burdensome for first-generation children, even as they become adults.

Q: When did you start investing?

Because I had debt to pay down, saving for my financial future was not top of mind. As a result, it wasn’t until my 30s or 40s that I had enough saved to start investing. 

Q: Who did (or do) you go to for financial advice?

A:  I originally relied on word of mouth.  My fellow med students told me to consolidate my loans.  I did, but I didn’t realize the importance of that move until much later in life.  Now, I rely on trusted experts to help guide my investments.  I also want to point out that a good CPA is key in tax planning, which is a large piece of financial planning.

Now that I am [financially literate], I am currently prioritizing passing on financial knowledge to my kids. 

Q: What advice do you have for other first-generation professionals on their journey?

A: Learning about money really is just like learning about anything else.  You must understand the nomenclature, and you must apply it for it to make sense.  Even $100 or $1000 can teach you a lot if you dedicate yourself to learning about where it should go.  Pay down debt?  Compare interest rates?  Compounding?   Even when the amount of money you have is in the negative (loans), you can still learn to make impactful decisions. These are all fundamentals that I could have learned very early and would have been useful to build upon.

More about our Pioneers of Financial Literacy series:

Stay tuned for upcoming content, where we will be:

  • Delving into the stories of other pioneers and their journeys to financial freedom
  • Uncovering secrets other investors and subject-matter experts have used
  • Exploring and explaining tools to build confidence in your financial journey
  • Discussing how to help others on their wealth-building journey
  • Offering advice for how to talk to your significant other and/or kids about finances
  • And much more!

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