Learn how to manage your money and keep more of it — After having a pit in my stomach every month before checking my bank balance one too many times, I decided enough was enough. I sought out financial advice and started asking for help on how money and investing in America works. It wasn’t much at first but the pit in my stomach was eased knowing I was doing something for my future to get ahead (and that someday I would check my account without any pit at all). You do have to know how to play the game or you’ll always feel behind.
Is the American Dream still alive? If you speak to many of the immigrants we spoke to, who came to this country with nothing but grit, resilience, and a dream, they will tell you that it certainly is still alive.
As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Javier Gutierrez, an immigrant in tech and the founder of DreamerMoney.com. As a DREAMer and DACA recipient Javier is a former undocumented immigrant, a first generation college graduate and an entrepreneur. After paying off student loans Javier is on the road to becoming the first millionaire in his family and is teaching others how to do the same.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was born in a small town in the northern part of Mexico, into a family full of dream chasers. My dad was one of the first in our family to seek a better life in the United States. He worked as a migrant worker in construction to give my family the best life possible.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell us the story?
Due to my dad’s migrant work, he was gone for years at a time in the US while my mom was with my brother and I in Mexico. She decided she wanted us to be together as family, and to give my brother and I the chance at a better education. She brought us to the U.S. and enrolled us in school when I was 10, my brother 13. While it is possible to get a good education in Mexico, it often means paying a lot of pesos for a private (and often religious) school — something my family could not afford.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
Unlike much of the misconceptions of immigration and being undocumented, we crossed the border legally and over-stayed our visas. It was (and still is) a common practice, because there is no easily accessible or affordable way to renew a visa once you’ve arrived and decide you would like to stay longer. Of course, since we were kids, we had no idea what any of that meant. One day my parents told us we were staying in the U.S. for a while, and I was so excited. The America seen in Mexico is through TV and the movies — though I was young, I was so happy to be having an adventure in America — living the American dream — with my family.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
My elementary school teacher Mr. Thompson was a huge influence. He’s the reason why I originally started out my career in teaching. He was leading a bilingual and immersion program at my elementary school and was very helpful in helping me learn English and even helped my family navigate the American system. When he saw potential in me, he made the effort to come to our home and talk with my parents about my education. I will never forget how impressed my mom and dad were to talk with a 30 year old white man in fluent Spanish in our humble little casa.
So how are things going today?
I could not be more grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given in this country. And it’s all because of true Americans who welcome people like me and invest in our success. There are countless people in my community that supported me through the last 20 years — people who fed my family when we were struggling, helped me graduate college, and supported me through the arduous immigration process. After five years and lots of dinero, I am now a proud U.S. citizen and was able to vote for the very first time in the 2020 election.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Because of my journey I decided to create DreamerMoney.com to discuss the financial struggles, provide resources, and share the reality of what it’s like to be undocumented. Being undocumented is terrifying, overwhelming, and isolating. If my website can help one person feel hopeful and provide them help, then I’ve achieved success. Overall, I hope to bring the community of immigrants and DREAMers together and somehow show that as immigrants, we make this country great and are part of a community of brilliant and hardworking new Americans.
You have first hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you suggest to improve the system?
- Fund our immigration department to create a quicker process.
There are so many people waiting for years and sometimes decades that have filed for naturalization. For example, my case was an easy one, according to our lawyer, and it took FIVE YEARS. When I asked about sponsoring my mom after I got my citizenship in 2019, our lawyer told us they were currently processing applications from the 1990’s.
2. Create a permanent path towards citizenship for DACA DREAMers.
Our community is often used as pawns in political games even though we’ve proven time after time that our rates of financial success and education are higher than the average natural born citizen. We deserve a path towards citizenship and the recognition that we belong in America.
3. Invest in our neighboring countries.
We need to abandon futile projects like the border wall and instead invest in understanding how we can as a country actually help our neighbors instead of demonizing immigrants. The US has had their hands in so many countries where immigrants are fleeing from so it only makes sense that we try to help them instead of adding to their problems like in the past.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
- Work hard — America is one of the few countries where hard work is valued and rewarded. I got my first job at 14 shucking oysters, and worked at a fast food restaurant for the next seven years. Once I got DACA, I was able to get a better paying job as a mover as I finished college. It isn’t easy or fair — but you can get ahead by working hard.
- Learn how to manage your money and keep more of it — After having a pit in my stomach every month before checking my bank balance one too many times, I decided enough was enough. I sought out financial advice and started asking for help on how money and investing in America works. It wasn’t much at first but the pit in my stomach was eased knowing I was doing something for my future to get ahead (and that someday I would check my account without any pit at all). You do have to know how to play the game or you’ll always feel behind.
- Stay out of debt — Debt is as American as apple pie, but it only gets in your way. I was over 36,000 dollars in debt after graduating from college and that isn’t even considered a lot by today’s standards. I made the decision to live with the slimmest margins possible and use every extra dollar to pay off that debt early. 22 months later, it was gone and it felt like the road was finally clear in front of me. My wife and I now have a positive net worth all thanks to that 22 months of hard work. Sometimes debt is unavoidable and the system is abominable and predatory — so I know this is a hard one for our generation, but focusing on paying it off as early as possible was really important in my journey.
- Always seek to learn. Education doesn’t always mean a four-year degree — when you feel out of your depth or helpless like I did with understanding investing — seek to learn and don’t give up until you understand enough to put it into practice in your life. This applies to anything!
- Invest in people. I owe my success to allies who saw something in me — my parents and family, Mr. Tompson, my college friends, my wife and her family. Without their help I would not be where I am today. People and community can provide the greatest ROI.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
- New leadership in our government/New administration
No politician is ever going to save us, but I sleep a lot better at night knowing we’ve got a new guy in the driver seat.
2. Our freedoms are unparalleled compared to most countries
Something I never forget and remind my American-born wife of often. 🙂
3. Our ingenuity and ability to create new things
We are the leaders of the free world and we have a system that encourages and supports the new, which is always encouraging.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to meet Warren Buffett. I’m currently reading “The Snowball; Warren Buffett and the Business of Life” by Alice Schroeder and find him fascinating, and it has nothing to do with his wealth. He inspires me because he has lived his life his own way from the very beginning. He grew up with limited means and worked multiple jobs and never stopped asking questions so he could have as much knowledge as possible. He always understood the value of work, even from a young age, which is also something many immigrants can identify with, myself especially.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
Visit dreamermoney.com and follow me — Instagram @yourdreamermoney and Twitter @dreamer_money
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!