May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and to celebrate, the MyBankTracker editorial team got together to talk about what money lessons we learned, growing up in Asian households.
Amy: My parents always paid their credit card in full, they didn’t like owing money. I think that’s a huge thing in Asian money culture. They view debt as the worst thing ever and now that I have to start paying my student loans, they’re like “Oh my god, pay it off as soon as possible because it’s debt and it’s horrible.”
Laura: Did they talk to you about that when you were growing up? You just knew they paid off their credit cards in full?
Amy: If they had a balance, they always paid it off because they didn’t like the idea of owing people money. Being able to buy things that you can pay off immediately, as opposed to buying against a line of credit.
Claire: My parents never used credit cards growing up. If they did, it was a Macy’s or Nordstrom card or something. They always used cash or wrote checks. Other than business loans, they didn’t have a lot of debt. At the same time, they weren’t very good at teaching my sister and I about money. They just gave us money whenever we wanted.
Laura: Do you know why your parents didn’t use credit cards?
Claire: Probably because they didn’t want to accumulate debt. If they did use it, they did it in a really careful way. I wish they had raised me to be more conscious of my savings, but they weren’t, and that’s why I grew up as an adult that was really bad with that stuff, until fairly recently.
Simon: My parents were a combination of Claire and Amy’s parents. They didn’t like debt either. My parents never had a credit card, until a couple of years ago. They have a mortgage but that was out of necessity.
Laura: My parents moved here when I was very young, and they were very poor because my dad was going to grad school. I remember being afraid to ask for money, and even after I grew up and we became more middle upper class. I feel like my parents were different from yours because I don’t know how much debt they had, they always used credit cards.
I got an allowance of like $15 a week for lunch in high school, but I skipped lunch and saved that money. It took a lot of self-discipline that I no longer have.
Amy: My parents didn’t talk a lot of specifics about money, but there were general concepts. Like, earn lots of it, save all of it, and never accumulate debt. I didn’t learn anything about saving for retirement, or compound interest. So all of those things that white American families or non-immigrant families taught their kids in their high school or college years, I never learned anything about that.
So the years in college or right after college, the concept of how to “do” money were all lost on me.
Simon: Our parents are immigrants, so they had, like, no concept of IRAs, retirement, and things like that. They were probably poor back home, or didn’t have credit cards, and cash was the only real currency.
Amy: Did you guys learn how to haggle?
Laura: I definitely saw a lot of it because my mom was super cutthroat. We’d go back to China every three or four years, but I was really bad at it.
Amy: I’m awesome at haggling. When I’m back in Asia, I feel like there’s nothing I can’t haggle over. And that’s an interesting thing because I feel Asians view money exchanged in businesses as a much more fluid thing. I don’t ever get the urge to haggle when I’m in the States. Haggling is not in the American money conscience. There’s a retail price, and you pay it or you don’t.
What have you learned from your parents that affect how you guys deal with money on a day-to-day basis?
Claire: I’m learning to save a lot more. Every time I want to make a big purchase or something stupid, I always think about my mom and I don’t do it. It always makes me feel so guilty. It’s not that she makes me feel guilty, but I think about how they lived — and they lived very frugally — and it makes me feel like that’s how I should live too.
Amy: If I ever make a stupid purchase or spend a lot of money, I immediately feel ashamed. (laughs) I think, “My parents would never have done that. They didn’t raise me like that.”
Simon: What do you think you guys will teach your kids?
Amy: I would definitely teach them about savings and retirement early on, for sure.
Claire: Same here. I would make them recognize the value of the dollar. If they want to buy anything, they have to save up and learn about the value of things that way.