Fabiola’s Story: Achieving the American Dream

Meet Fabiola, the Grand Prize Winner of our annual SaverLife Tax Time Story Contest. While the SaverLife team didn’t get to congratulate her in person, we met her over Zoom!

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I was born in Peru and my first language is Spanish.I came to the United States in 2012 with my parents and brother when I was 18 years old. My first American dream was to go to high school, but unfortunately, I was not accepted because I was too old to enroll. So I decided to go to the Altos Church at night to learn English.

My parents divorced a year after we moved here, so my brother went to live with my mother in a different city and my father got his own place. I decided to move out and live by myself. I worked full-time and learned English, but I was working a minimum wage job that paid $6.50 an hour, so I had to work many hours. According to the managers, I couldn’t be paid more because I didn’t speak English or have enough job experience. Sometimes I didn’t have money to eat or pay my bills.

So you lived by yourself a year after you moved to the United States?

Yes, it was hard. After living alone and working long hours, I learned that I needed to save money. Everybody should save for their future goals or financial emergencies. Once I opened my first emergency savings account in 2019, I started saving $1, $5, $10, or $20 a week. Every dollar counted.

What kinds of jobs did you have when you started working full-time?

It was mostly in the fast food industry. Once, when I was applying for a job, they told me, “Don’t apply here. We’re not hiring Spanish people. This company hires just white people.”

I said, “Okay. Okay, that’s fine.”

On another occasion, I tried applying for a cashier role at the same fast food restaurant because I wanted to gain experience working in the front of the establishment. The manager told me, “No, because you are Spanish, you have to work in the kitchen.” I quit because I didn’t like how racist the manager was.

You said you took night classes at a church. What was that like?

All the adults at the class spoke Spanish with one another, and I knew I wanted to learn English, so I started teaching myself at home. I tried saving money to pay for classes at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA). It was $600 per class. I said to myself, “Okay, I’ll start there. Maybe I can learn something that will help me get a better job.” So I saved my money and paid for the class. After I finished that one course, I realized that I would have to work another year to afford my next class. At that point, I didn’t realize that I could apply for FAFSA or federal financial aid.

In 2017, I tried applying for financial aid. After three semesters at college, I landed on Business Administration as my major. Now, I’m planning on attending George Mason University and earning my degree in Accounting. I love numbers and enjoy the classes. The next step is to earn my CPA. That’s my end goal. I want to help people with more than just their taxes. I’d like to work with the administration or accounting department of construction companies.

Tell me about your experience saving for college and applying for FAFSA.

When I moved by myself in 2012, I opened my first savings account. I started saving, but it was just enough to pay for classes. College is very expensive. Fortunately, FAFSA helped me pay for my other classes and books. I reduced my hours at work so I could go to school full-time. I discovered that you receive the most federal financial aid when you’re going to college full-time. If reducing how much I worked and going to college full-time meant a better job in the future, then it was worth it.

Where are you working now?

I do part-time front desk work at a primary care facility. Most of the patients are Spanish, so I can help them through the payment process. While it’s not a free clinic, it’s cheap for a private facility, which is good because a majority of the patients are low-income. I try to help everyone I can because when I was in their shoes, nobody wanted to help me.

Have you had your hours reduced at work because of the lockdowns?

Yes. The clinic has been closed since March because the owner is considered high-risk and also doesn’t want to spread the virus. She’ll still take a few patients here and there.

When COVID happened, I had to take some money out of my savings account to pay my bills and whatnot. I was saving for a financial emergency, and that’s what I used it for.

What was it like to find out that you won the $5,000 grand prize on TV?

I thought there were going to be other finalists there. The news people handed me a microphone and an in-ear headset and that’s when I got so nervous I started shaking. Before I knew it, someone from the SaverLife team announced that I had won the $5,000 grand prize while the film crew recorded my reaction. I was just in shock! When I went home later that day, I drank some chamomile tea to calm myself down.

Do you have any plans for the $5,000?

I’m saving it for my college tuition. I want to take fewer loans out and pay for my education out of pocket. That’s my main goal.

What sparked your interest in numbers as a kid?

When I was much younger, I traveled to participate in different math competitions against other students. Both my parents are engineers by trade, so that’s why I have such a strong interest in working with numbers.

Did you learn about money growing up?

My parents didn’t teach me too much about money. I learned about money through my college studies. I didn’t learn about needing to save for emergencies until I came to the United States.

What’s been a high point for you in saving money?

Being able to pay everything on time has been a high point for me. I never pay late. Opening a savings account has been able to help me with this. I know that even in times when I may not have a job, I’ll still be able to afford to pay bills. I feel more empowered. There’s this kind of power you feel when you’ve built up your savings.

My life’s changed since September 2019. Before joining the savings challenges on SaverLife, I was saving just $5, $10, or $20 at a time. The savings challenges like Race to $100 and Scratch & Save have pushed me to save more. And even if I don’t win the challenges that week or month, it’s still good for me because I saved money.

How did you find out about SaverLife?

About two semesters ago, one of my professors introduced me to SaverLife and linked an article from the Money 101 section. I haven’t taken another one of her classes since signing up for SaverLife, but I want to thank her for introducing it to me. I signed up and linked my bank account on the same day after reading reviews from people who said they enjoyed the website.

I saved about $4,000 total since joining!

What’s your favorite thing about SaverLife?

I like reading the investment articles in the Money 101 section. I started reading those articles because I like everything about accounting and think long-term investing is good. Unlike other site’s articles, SaverLife articles aren’t long and boring. They’re short, sweet, and informational.

I also told my friends about SaverLife. I explained that the website has articles about investment, retirement, and COVID resources.

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