Personal Finance Stories From Our AAPI Community
Members of the Asians of Betterment ERSG share financial advice learned from their parents and the immigrant experience, and how their financial perspectives have shifted over time.
Advice is a powerful way of connecting families across generations. In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we asked members of our Asians of Betterment community to share personal finance advice from their parents.
Financial advice is rooted in our experiences
While our families grew up at different times and in different countries, many still have a shared experience of moving to the United States that left an impact on their advice for how to grow their wealth through saving.
Anwesha Banerjee, Senior Counsel: My parents taught me about getting a bank account and a (starter) credit card early and paying it in full each month, to start building good financial habits and credit. Also, they emphasized strong and quick mental math—you can't get cheated if you know your numbers!
John Kim, Mobile Engineer: My parents were responsible spenders and liked to save. They taught me not to make purchases off of impulse and I learned how to live within my means happily.
Jeff Park, Software Engineer: My family's perception of money has always been heavily influenced by historical events that affected my family over generations. My father's family, for example, were scholars in the nobility class, and for all intents and purposes, they were pretty well-off. My grandfather was a university professor in the early 1920s, but due to his vocal criticism of the Japanese occupation, he and his family were forced to leave their wealth behind as they ran away to China to avoid criminal prosecution.
My mother's family also saw their wealth significantly decline due to the Korean War. As both my parents looked abroad for sustainable opportunities, they brought with them an understandable fear that events outside of their control can significantly affect their well-being. Prudence and savings were often preached in my family, and we were always told that it is often better to forego immediate petty pleasures for the peace of mind of a prepared tomorrow.
"Save where you can, spend when you need to." -Thi Nguyen
Taking care of our families always comes first
Family is a recurring theme in the way that our community thinks about finances. Our parents instilled a strong sense of frugality and saving, but taking care of family financially, both at home and abroad, always comes first.
Erica Li, Software Engineer: My family taught me to recognize and prioritize your financial goals. Work towards reaching them even if it means sacrificing from other areas. My dad made $30 a month in China before getting the opportunity to immigrate to the United States. His biggest goal, in addition to learning English and acclimating to an entirely new culture, was to save enough money to bring my mother and I over as well.
Once my mother and I settled in the United States, new goals and expenses appeared: buying a house in a good public school district and starting a college fund for me. Saving for these goals wasn't such a smooth journey. My mother had to transition from a stay-at-home role to working alongside my dad as our financial circumstances fluctuated. They took up multiple jobs and sacrificed retirement savings to put money towards these goals.
We eventually bought a house in New Jersey, and I was lucky to have had financial support from my parents during my college years.
Our financial perspectives shifted over time, too
Part of the beauty of the advice passed from generation to generation is how it evolves and adapts over time. Times change, environments change, knowledge changes and our perspectives shift with that. Our community members, many of whom grew up in a different country than their parents, shared how their personal outlook on finances evolved from that of their families.
John Kim, Mobile Engineer: I definitely took after my parents’ saving habits and learned to expand that mentality through investing.
Nima Khavari, Account Executive: Moving to the United States and watching my parents adapt to a consumer driven economy based on access to credit was a significant observation. Remembering them trying to understand credit scores and how to improve it in order to purchase a home left a lasting impression.
Erica Li, Software Engineer: Now that I'm all grown up, my parents are no longer putting away money towards goals for my benefit. Alongside catch-up retirement contributions, it makes me happy to see that my parents are finally using their money for pleasure. They recently bought themselves a new car after having their old one for 20 years. Also happy to say that they finally replaced their stove with one that has a working oven!
Anonymous: My family made every financial mistake in the book. I can't blame them since they immigrated to this country without knowing English and without a formal financial education. They fell for every scam, pyramid scheme, loan shark, didn't know how credit worked, and lost everything.
However, it was an opportunity to learn from their mistakes. After seeing what my parents went through, I learned how credit and financing worked magic, financial planning, and how to recognize cons. I wouldn't be as financially apt if it weren't for their experiences—a huge motivation for why I'm studying for the CFP® exam. The plan is to go back to immigrant communities and warn others from making the same mistakes.