Refugee Orientation: Banking and Budgets

August 9, 2016

Dealing with cash during the first weeks in the United States can be as foreign as the language. In the sixth of a 10-class series orienting new refugees to life in the states, participants learned about spending money and building a budget.

Buthainah Alzubaida, who arrived last month from Iraq, identifies U.S. currency during cultural orientation.

And they started with the basics. Janet Gallagher, a facilitator with People-Places-Things held up a penny. Then a nickel. A dime, a quarter, a half-dollar coin.

Elizabeth Gray, a financial educator with Catholic Charities, said bigger bills will be safe in a bank, where their money won’t be stolen, burned, or destroyed. Even if there were a natural disaster in Portland, she said, their money will always be safe. That’s because the government promises to reimburse whatever might be lost in a disaster.

When families open a bank account, they have the option of opening a checking account which is for the money that they will spend regularly for things such as groceries and rent. They can also open a savings account to store money for their future.

Before they go to the bank and open an account, they will need to gather personal information including an identification card and social security card. Some banks might ask new members to put a little money into their accounts to start.

Once the account is open, the bank will mail them checks, Gray explained. She recommended people only use a pen to fill out the checks, demonstrating how to fill in information for the date, amount and signature.

The bank can also provide a debit card that will take money from their checking account. A debit card is a safe way to manage money, because even if it gets lost, the bank protects the money in the account. People just need to report to the bank if the card is lost or stolen.

“I’m excited to get a bank card because it’s more safer and secure,” said Kitu Khanal, a new resident from Nepal. “I know the bank will protect my money.”

Toc Soneoulay-Gillespie, director of resettlement with Catholic Charities, congratulates a graduate of the cultural orientation class series.
Toc Soneoulay-Gillespie, director of resettlement with Catholic Charities, congratulates a graduate of the cultural orientation class series.

Most of the class participants said they had never created a budget before, or worried much about bills. That’s especially true for families who lived in homes they had built, without electricity or indoor plumbing.

Gray cautioned people that they would have to manage many bills in the U.S. and chose how to spend their money. She encouraged people to make a budget and track how much they spent each month. One way to do that is by saving their receipts to help plan for next month.

“It’s important to honor the experiences people may have had in their home country,” said Gray. “In this amount of time we have, I just want to give people a big picture view of their options and something to watch out for as they start a new financial life here.”