Hi, my name is Carlos Barros. I was born, raised, and lived a good part of my adult life in Brazil. In late 2011, I received an offer to come work in the United States. I took the offer and moved here in early 2012. Two years later I married my lovely wife, Lilia, who is also from Brazil. We have a beautiful son, and a daughter on the way. I spent 3 years in the freezing cold weather of Chicago before moving to the desert heat of Arizona, where I spent the next 7 years. Now, I’ve embarked on another cross-country journey, this time to Florida, where I plan on staying for the foreseeable future.
Although I write about personal finance, I have no finance background whatsoever. I’m a software engineer. I spent the first 3 years of my career developing software for missiles and satellites but then decided to switch to web development. That’s what I still do these days. I also run a deal and coupon website that I started in Brazil, right before moving to the U.S.
I’ve always been interested in personal finance and have taken good care of my money. I’ve been tracking pretty much every penny that comes in and out of my bank accounts since 2010. I’m a natural saver but I had never been a good investor until I found out about Bogleheads.org and started listening to the ChooseFI podcast sometime in 2018. From that moment, investing became
an obsession a passion of mine. I listened to hundreds of podcast episodes (mostly from ChooseFI) and spent (and I still do) more hours than I dare to estimate reading everything I could about investing, from books to blogs to forums.
A New Financial Environment
When I first moved to the United States, I thought I had a good grasp on finances in general. After all, I had a small business, a rental property, some small investments, and did my own taxes back home! As time passed I started to realize things in this country were very different than what I was used to.
For starters, I grew used to an environment where interest rates hovered around 10% a year. Investing meant leaving your money in a savings account, CD, or some fixed income fund your bank would sell you. If you were a little more adventurous, you would buy physical assets like land and/or properties. The stock market, at least for me, was some complicated and extremely risky thing, akin to gambling. I had never considered investing a penny into it. I don’t need to tell you that the environment I found myself in when I moved to the U.S. was pretty much the opposite.
Retirement was also a sticky point for me. I had been conditioned to just pay for our version of Social Security directly from my paycheck. That was about it. I did have the option to purchase private retirement plans on my own if I wanted to, but those were (and still are) horrible investment vehicles you purchase from banks/insurance companies. For this reason, I never bothered with it. It took me way too long to understand all the available retirement plans/accounts I had available in the U.S. and to fully appreciate their benefits.
And then there are taxes! Who doesn’t love them? Federal income tax, state income tax, and all the fun stuff that goes with it. As most people do, I hired a CPA to do my taxes for the first few years. I would give them my W2 and 1099s and not worry too much about it. But that changed when I got married and decided to switch CPAs. I learned the hard way how far the U.S. tax system can reach, with its worldwide income tax policy, and how harsh the penalties can get.
Throughout the years I have learned a lot but I also left so much money on the table (and flat out lost it at times) for not understanding the new system I was subject to. Looking back, I wish I had someone explain to me how all this worked so that I didn’t have to learn it by my own mistakes.
The goal of this blog is to be just that. To serve as a source of information for people who, like me, immigrated to this wonderful country that is the United States, and are trying to learn how to manage their financial lives in a new country. Throughout this blog I use my own experiences, things I went through, to talk about money topics I believe everyone new to this country should be aware of. If I can help at least one person not to make the same mistakes, I’d consider this blog a success!
Keep in mind that I’m not a lawyer, financial advisor, tax professional, nor an expert in any of the topics I talk about. Always seek appropriate professional advice before implementing anything you read here.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering what AlienMoolah means: alien is a person who is not a citizen or national of a given country. In the U.S. specifically, all immigrants (and visitors for that matter) are officially called aliens. And moolah is just another name for money.