By Nsiona Nguizani

After last summer’s sudden layoffs at Abbott Laboratories, many immigrant workers found themselves in financial trouble. Community associations, the Maine Department of Labor, nonprofits, and grassroots organizations all scrambled to provide help. Now Abbott is rehiring, the job market is good for employees, and I think it’s a good time to draw attention to the importance of financial management, to help survive future crises.

Many of us have misconceptions about wealth. We think the rich are slackers, while the rest of us work hard and sacrifice. We aim to get rich quickly, but usually accumulating wealth takes a lot of effort and time. And life sends unpredictable problems to everyone – car accidents, illnesses, and unavoidable tragedies. But I have learned some principles that help with financial management and overcoming problems. I believe following these principles places us in charge of our own destinies, and helps us build wealth.

The first principle is to establish a budget at the start of each month – a written plan. This prevents disorganization and impulsive spending that can quickly swallow a family’s resources. There are free tools on the internet to help people start managing money by budgeting.

The second principle is to get rid of debt. According to the National Automobile Dealers Association, the average monthly payment for a car in the U.S. today is $499. If one took $499 a month, and invested it from age 30 to age 70 in a decent mutual fund, the investor would end up with $5.6 million! Those monthly car payments certainly make someone rich – but it’s not the borrower. And we wonder why we can’t save for our children’s college education!? Part of the solution is not borrowing money anymore.

The third is developing quality relationships. St. Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived: evil company corrupts good habits.” Most of us believe this, and it is why we monitor who our children spend their days with. Studies have shown that over a 10-year period, a person’s income generally approximates the average income of their 10 closest friends. Why? Because of shared habits and attitudes. So, even when it comes to money, it matters who our friends are.

The fourth principle is saving and investing. Wise people save money before they have an emergency, and don’t wait until they have a car accident or lose a job to begin saving. It’s inevitable that something will happen eventually. And we all have to save and invest to retire with dignity.

The fifth principle concerns generosity. Generosity is not just the transfer of funds, but also a generous spirit. Generous people smile more, are more attractive, aren’t grumpy. They don’t keep everything to themselves; they open the door to others. But it’s hard to give to others if in debt, broke, without a plan, and hanging out with ungenerous people.

Life in the U.S. is financially challenging, and newcomers who didn’t grow up here struggle to get by. I encourage immigrants to consider following the five principles outlined here. In addition, seek out financial education. A good place to start is in the monthly Financial Literacy section of Amjambo Africa!

Nsiona Nguizani is the president of the Angolan Community of Maine. He arrived in the U.S. in 2012, and is now a permanent resident. In Angola, he built a successful career as a project manager for organizations such as UNICEF, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the European Union. Before moving to the U.S. he was the national representative of Comité d’Aide Medicale and traveled between offices in Paris and Luanda. When he arrived in the U.S., he was obliged to start all over again, and earned degrees in Accounting and Economics. He is currently employed as cultural broker for the City of Brunswick.