Learn from my Money Stories

Before I first moved to the US

,14 years ago, I used cash exclusively in my home country. Making a purchase, no matter how low the price, with a swipe was fascinating to me.

Soon I discovered that the card I thought was a credit card was in fact a debit card. I didn’t get any points or benefits for my purchases! I tried to apply for a card others raved about but got denied, because of course, I did not even have a credit file.

Entered a Secured Credit Card offer from the bank I opened the checking account with. I got a whopping… wait for it… $500 credit limit. It was not really large enough to even purchase a plane ticket home, but I took the offer.

It’s amazing how a revolving credit line would do for you. In less than a year, the bank increased my credit line to $2,000, and I started getting unsolicited credit card offers.

It’s not until a few years later I understood how credit scoring works as part of my first job in the US. But it always stuck with me. As a new immigrant, credit history is crucial to establish your footing in the US, even if you do not have the need for credit. It affects renting an apartment, setting up utilities in your name, and sometimes even getting a job.

One of my most expensive money mistakes

has to do with a gap in health insurance coverage.

It’s one week after I got married. I had been away from the US for roughly two years. We flew in to our first home together in Mexico, at the US border. Just when I was supposed to be settling in, I began to feel ill.

My husband had just added me to his health insurance, and it wouldn’t kick in for another week. There was a clinic in our neighborhood in Mexico, but it was the weekend and we didn’t know whether it could deal with my medical situation.

So I just happened to get sick enough to have to visit an emergency room in the US within the two weeks when I had no insurance.

Growing up in a country with plentiful medical resources and low cost access to them, I never actually thought health insurance was important until then.

Since then I’ve lived in four other countries, and used healthcare providers in all of them. I paid full out-of-pocket cost for every single visit. (I am able to submit the cost for reimbursement, but don’t’ always have to. Most of the time the cost was lower than copay or deductible.) None of the services was as expensive as my 30-minute emergency room visit in El Paso, Texas.

"When we first moved here,

the exchange rate was 1:1. I want to wait and see it comes back.”

“The exchange rate is so bad today. Do it tomorrow!”

“Exchange rate is pretty good lately. You should exchange more and keep it for later.”

Those are some of the most common sentiments I’ve heard from people while living in other countries.

You may say that I have the worst luck ever in currency exchange. In the last six countries I lived and worked, exchange rate always worked against me. When I earned local currency, US Dollar would gain strength. When I earned US Dollars, local currency would become favorable. No exceptions.

Case in point, almost 10 years ago I left the US to try out a new career path in India. At the time 1 USD gave you less than 50 Rupees. Now? 71 Rupees. It’s great if you earn USD and live in India, but not the other way around.

Over the years I’ve learned to think about loss through currency fluctuation as a cost to enjoy a flexible and mobile life. Unless you move to a country with a fixed exchange rate with other major currencies, you cannot predict how exchange rate will change. I don’t think we can “win” consistently, no matter how patient we are.

The best we can do is taking timing out of the equation.

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