What my Asian parents taught me about money

what my asian parents taught me about money

Like all true Asian parents, mine drilled the work first, play later mentality into me.

(Though in fairness they were nowhere near Amy Chua tiger mother levels.)

And along with modelling delayed gratification, my Asian family also taught me a few things about money over the years that I’ve never forgotten.

Shop the sales

Apparently I once asked Mum, “why don’t you ever buy anything that’s not on special?”

She is the most frugal person I know. Never overpays for anything, and knows how to get the best price on everything.

Back when we were in primary school, I once went to the supermarket with my best friend in primary school to get snacks. We were so proud to find and buy bottles of Coke on special for 99c. Even my friend’s dad praised us for our bargain hunting ways!

Not my mum. At their lowest price, she informed us, you could get those bottles on special for even less than that.

She is the queen of thrift shopping and I didn’t really appreciate it until adulthood. Now I’m like, tell me all your secrets.

Always negotiate

We spent a lot of time at garage sales when I was a kid and I watched the master bargainers in action. Whether it was a $2 doll or a $600 TV, they would always ask for a better deal (as it turns out, basically everything is negotiable).

Despite all that, I could barely bring myself to haggle at markets while travelling through Asia. And I think back on the times I didn’t negotiate salary and mentally kick myself.

I get the theory, but actually doing it is a different kettle of fish.

Needs vs wants

Wants never masqueraded as needs in our household, not even for a second. People bleat on about how extravagant parents are with presents for their kids, but we literally didn’t get gifts. I feel like we could have done with more wants, growing up.

(For years we didn’t have a TV – before broadband, before streaming, and so I never got to participate in conversations about last night’s TV shows at school. #firstworldproblems)

OTOH, sometimes needs can be disguised as wants…

Props to them for trying to pass off buying me a sleeping bag (you know, for school camp) as an early birthday present. (Spoiler: didn’t fall for it.) Even 10-year-old me knew better.

I’ve always stood by the belief that gifts are for things you want, not things you need. That will never change.

What did you learn from your family about money?

Disease Called Debt

11 thoughts on “What my Asian parents taught me about money

  • Reply Bitterman February 8, 2017 at 15:58

    It was taught to me by my parents, that if you keep denying it and don’t discuss money with anyone, buy two houses without renting one out, spend tons on the credit card, and drink what’s left over, it will all work out. Money was a taboo subject. Never did get an adequate explanation on that one.

    What I learnt from that was that if you do the above you end up in crippling debt despite a 170k/yr combined income and have to spend your kids education money on credit card bills.

    Yes I’m bitter about my financial education. Parents have improved, slightly. Could be millionaires by now though, if someone gave them a financial facepunch when they were younger (read Mr Money Mustache for more on that reference)

  • Reply Pamela February 9, 2017 at 09:14

    I learned to hide debt and purchases. I learned how to charge everything and not pay off bills each month. I learned to buy just to make myself feel better. Lessons I have since overcome (I think).

  • Reply Frugal Desperado February 16, 2017 at 11:03

    I contemplated/wrote about the lessons I learned from my immigrant mama just earlier this month as well. Except the difference is I didn’t learn. Not until now, at age 31 and 60K deep in debt. I had the perfect role model at home and I just flew in the face of all that exemplary behaviour. If only I woke up ten years ago, even five, even two. If only, if only.

  • Reply Kate February 16, 2017 at 22:19

    I guess the biggest takeaway from my parents are “saving for a raining day”. Always have some extras for something unexpected that might happen. And never spend on credit.

  • Reply Linda February 20, 2017 at 05:57

    My mother was always frugal and taught me to reuse what I can, and to buy thrift or on sale. She was actually quite ridiculously frugal at times; I have many memories and examples of how she “cheaped out” on some things that were such small “luxuries” (like a toilet brush or menstrual pads). My father wasn’t exactly the opposite, but he was more likely to splurge and spend money unwisely.

    I think I learned some good money habits, over all. I never expected to have my college education funded by my parents, and it’s a good thing I didn’t or I’d be like Bitterman above.

    • Reply eemusings February 20, 2017 at 11:37

      Argh yes, budget brand pads! (shudder) Hell to the no.

      • Reply Linda February 20, 2017 at 14:59

        Uh, actually she often used rags and washed them out. Yeah, it was she was living in the 1800s or something.

  • Reply Mel @ brokeGIRLrich February 20, 2017 at 09:45

    My dad is super frugal too and always reminded me to buy the store brand before the name brand, but he also taught me that once in a while it’s better to pay for quality or exactly what you want – he never believed the store brand ketchup was as good as Heinz, so he always paid the extra amount to get that cause he thought it was worth it.

    • Reply eemusings February 20, 2017 at 11:38

      Yeah same, when it comes to electronics/appliances, the importance of brand got drilled into me!

  • Reply Tyler February 20, 2017 at 11:32

    My parents are so not frugal its crazy. We wasted so much money growing up, and worse thing was we didn’t have money. We always lived poor, and the little money we had was managed poorly. It’s these types of things that are making me not do that in my life.

  • Reply We're All Poor Here February 27, 2017 at 10:29

    My parents were terrible with money. I grew up thinking that the wrong things should matter. Now I’m in my early 30s and realizing it was all wrong. I had to turn to the internet to figure it all out. And yes, it feels weird admitting that.

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