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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.

Articles by Betterment Editors
By the Editorial Staff Betterment Resource Center Published May. 18, 2021
Published May. 18, 2021
5 min read

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.

Eric Pan, Senior 401(k) Operations Associate: I’ve accumulated subtle frugal habits from my parents since I was a minor. From observing my mom pick off slightly rotten parts of the vegetable prior to checkout so it weighs less, to being scolded for tossing a soda can into the garbage instead of the recycling that could be redeemed for cash at the supermarket, their advice has been ingrained in me.

Kim Pham, Brand Designer: We used cash for everything. Credit cards were such a foreign concept to me growing up—I didn’t even get my first card until I almost graduated college. We always had the mentality of not spending what we didn’t have. To this day I still take that to heart, but I also understand the efficiency and importance of credit cards and building credit.

Anwesha Banerjee, Legal 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.

Thi Nguyen, Senior Technical Recruiting Manager: My family comes from humble beginnings, and I remember my dad working every single day and only taking time off when he was sick. We never got any advice directly, but understood that working to earn money was tough. My parents never really cared about material things, but we always had food on the table. It taught me that it’s okay to spend money on necessities (food, clothing, housing), but I needed to stay humble in how I spent my money. I learned to be frugal and always love a good deal.

“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.

Kim Pham, Brand Designer: My parents taught me the importance of spending money on family. When my parents first came here they had to build their own wealth from the ground up, which meant a lot of sacrifice. Our family values spending and sending money to our family here and abroad, more than material possessions.

Cat Gonzalez, Product Marketing Manager: My mom always taught me that family comes first with your finances. While you are saving for your own goals, make sure to save enough to take care of your family. Help them make sure they have enough to reach their goals as well.

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.

Kim Pham, Brand Designer: When I was younger, we didn’t invest and we held all our money in savings accounts. This was a hard habit to unlearn. My entire life growing up my parents would instruct us to put all our money into our savings account, mainly because they didn’t know enough about investing. It helps that I work at Betterment because now I learned how to diversify my portfolio, and that investing isn’t—and shouldn’t be—as hard as it seems.

Begin your investing journey

Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. (CFP Board) owns the CFP® certification mark, the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ certification mark, and the CFP® certification mark (with plaque design) logo in the United States, which it authorizes use of by individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.

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