Maria Melchor founded FirstGenLiving in the summer of 2020 as a space for first generation immigrants, college students and young professionals to unpack "their histories with money and design healthy financial lives."
The 25-year-old's own background as a first generation immigrant in the United States inspired her to start her business and influences her approach to her own finances, as CNBC Make It profiled earlier this year.
Currently, Melchor earns money from coaching sessions with clients, in which she helps them with tasks like rolling over IRAs or talking through their financial histories and anxieties. Many people, she's found, simply need someone to talk with about their money. She is also considering introducing an online course or group sessions to reach more people.
Melchor is currently a permanent U.S. resident and is applying for her citizenship. She moved to Connecticut from Veracruz, Mexico, when she was 9, and has lived in New York since she graduated from college in 2018. It took her years to learn how to budget and manage her personal finances, as it wasn't something that her parents, who both came to the U.S. as adults, knew much about.
"My parents are very, very hardworking. They always have been," Melchor told CNBC Make It. "But given that my dad and my mom were undocumented for a while … we were pretty poor."
Since college, she's immersed herself in personal finance content, building up her own savings and creating her own budgeting system. She is not a certified financial professional, and she does not advise people on how to invest their money. Rather, she aims to help other immigrants like herself and anyone else who might not know the basics of money management.
Building a sustainable business
FirstGenLiving is structured as a limited liability company (LLC). Before launching, Melchor read articles on government websites, listened to business podcasts and reached out to friends and family members who operate their own businesses for advice. So far, many of her clients have been friends of friends and family, or found her organically on her Instagram account.
The business earns about $1,200 per month in revenue, and Melchor pockets around $400 of that. She leaves the rest in her business checking account for taxes and other expenses.
She advises others interested in starting a business not to get discouraged if it doesn't immediately take off. It's also helpful, she says, to not rely on it as a main source of income right away. That takes time to build.
"Don't be afraid to get started," she says. "It can be an overwhelming process to do alone, but you can do it."
Still, it's never been about the money for Melchor. In fact, she says she has more clients interested than she has capacity to take on, since she also has a full-time job as a paralegal case handler and values free time.
Rather, she intends to be a resource for people who have the same questions about money she used to have, such as how to set up a brokerage account or how to manage the emotions attached to their spending and saving habits.
Quality over quantity is important, Melchor says, and will help sustain a lasting business.
"I really like seeing people go from feeling very confused and scared about their money to feeling very much like they are in control and taking ownership," she said. "That's been super rewarding."
Correction: An earlier version misstated Melchor's age. She is 25.
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