Let’s Kill This Stereotype: Asians Aren’t Cheap

let's kill this stereotype - asians aren't cheap
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When I first visited China as an adult, I was really surprised to see Chinese people (over there they just call them “people”) drinking and smoking, wasting time, and being below-average violin players. =P Chinese Americans are not like that. It was then I realized, Chinese and Chinese Americans are fundamentally different people. After all, it’s the group of people who stayed versus the group who left.

I guess this is the fundamental problem with stereotyping over a billion people. In retrospect it seems silly to characterize so many people in a certain way, without really understanding what causes them to be that way. That’s where we start mistaking cause and effect. For instance, let’s start with killing this stereotype: Asian Americans are not cheap. You may see Asian people refusing to spend money on certain things and having high savings rates, but I’d argue it’s not because they’re cheap but because they’re different.

What Cheap is Not

Some Asian people say they’re cheap because they “hate paying more than they have to” or because they “like good values.” That’s not cheapness so much as not being a complete idiot. Who likes paying more for the same service? Who likes bad values?

Despite it being fashionable for millionaires and billionaires to SAY their money should be used for the greater good and that it’s immoral for them to have so much money – they don’t voluntarily pay more in taxes.   Only $714,000 was donated to the government last year.People who say they “WANT” to pay more in taxes admit that they still take advantage of tax loopholes to save them money.

Not paying more than you have to? Normal.

Asian people also haggle at stores. That also doesn’t mean they’re cheap. It’s just more common to haggle in Asia than it is in America. That’s more a custom than a character flaw.

What Cheapness Is

According to Urban Dictionary, a cheap person is “who is extremely careful with money.” Wikipedia defines frugality as “sparing, thrifty, prudent or economical in the consumption of consumable resources such as foodtime or money, and avoiding waste, lavishness or extravagance.” Sparing with food? That’s basically the opposite of being Asian.

Some Asian people like to brag about being cheap, but I think they’re trying to explain the culture from the eyes of a (somewhat racist) outsider. Sure you can see it as being cheap, but actually there are certain things Asians won’t spend on. For the things that they care about, they will spend ridiculous amounts and won’t even try to skimp in the ways that others do. For instance:

Asians Spend A Lot on People

Asians never cut their spending on people. Asians fight for the check among family and friends. How many other people resort to violence in order to pay MORE rather than get a free ride? Also Asians don’t go dutch on dates. My parents laugh hysterically at this idea.

Personal finance bloggers love to talk about cutting off irresponsible parents or adult children. Asian people, however, support their families financially without boundaries.  Asian parents will let their kids live with them indefinitely – and will pay for everything. Similarly, Asian children know from an early age that they’re responsible for taking care of their  parents when they’re older no matter how irresponsible those parents were.

I see a lot of nonAsians that love being taken out to eat by their parents. For Asians, it is one big pot, so it seems like less of a treat. The money my parents spend on me will eventually be money I spend on them.

Asians Spend A Lot on Education

I know lots of nonAsian parents will pay for their kids to go to parties or dances or social events. Asian parents won’t let their kids go to any of those things, but they will pay for their kid to go to whatever educational activities they want. They will pay for the most expensive tutors, the most acclaimed teachers. They will pay to travel to competitions and recitals, admission fees, equipment, etc.

Asian parents do not gear their kids toward state schools if there’s an opportunity to pay full freight for the best schools. My mom ran into an Asian mother whose kid was at Princeton. My mom noticed that the mother’s groceries were filled with bruised fruit – those are the lengths that Asian parents will go to to send their kids to the best educational institutions. I mean, maybe you can see the parents as cheap, but Princeton is expensive.

Asians Spend a Lot on Health

When I got sick as a kid, my mother would make me any number of horrible tasting tonics. Little did I know, the herbs that my mother used were very expensive – some could cost hundreds of dollars per pound.

Likewise, Asians spend a lot on food, because good food is integral to good health. I mean, they don’t spend a lot when they really don’t have any money. My mother lived on rice and soy sauce when she was a young immigrant. But once Asians have money, the money goes to food. My family comes from a coastal area and are used to eating a lot of seafood. I always have a bag of shrimp in my freezer. It doesn’t mater the cost – I’m not going to start eating rice and beans just to save a few bucks if I have the bucks to spend.

Asians Spend a Lot on Travel

40% of Americans have never left the country. I assume very few Asian Americans fall into this category. First, most Asian Americans are foreign-born or second-generation so they came from another country or still have family or ties in another country. Plus being an immigrant means you know there’s a whole different world out there, and if you’re going on a plane trip to your parents’ home country, it’s less intimidating to go on a plane to somewhere else. It’s basically a gateway drug.

Asians Spend a Lot on Occasions

The internet is full of advice on how to save money on weddings. None of that advice is applicable to Asians though, who are practically required to throw super expensive weddings. Indian weddings are notoriously lavish. Chinese weddings can have hundreds of guests and feature a 10-course meal. Also it’s customary in Chinese weddings to make sure their guests are comfortable. Brides and grooms will often pay for their wedding party’s expenses and the expenses of their family.

This flies in the face of wedding personal finance. How can you say this is a cheap culture when there are no angsty bridesmaid stories?

Asian People Save for the Future

Are Asians swimming in their money a la Scrooge McDuck? Nope. Asians have a lot of savings to account for the future – buying a home, having a family, or unexpected emergencies. There are lots of reasons that Asian Americans might think they need to save more money than the average American.

Asians Don’t Expect Help

I’ve seen some articles say Asian Americans save because they love money. And I think that’s asinine. If you just think about it for a bit, Asian immigrants save because it makes sense in their specific situation. Asian countries don’t give charity. There’s no pension or Medicare, workers’ comp. You have to save for yourself and for your family.

Also, American history is not one that has welcomed or helped Asians. See, e.g., the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese internment, even coronavirus fears now. Asian people have never forgotten how hard it was for their parents or grandparents’ generations to make it, and they expect that their lives will be more difficult than for someone who isn’t a different race. Saving is a way to protect themselves from racism.

Asian Immigrants Are Desperate to Succeed

You may realize that Asia and America are not close to each other. So if you’re poor, it would be difficult to get here. If you’re rich or somewhat well-off, it’s would be a lot easier to stay in your home country to succeed. If you emigrate, you have to learn the language, the laws, the customs, the money, the immigration process, and you likely don’t have a huge network. You have to have enough money to travel but not enough money where it would be better to stay. And if you choose to leave, you know it’s a huge risk.

If you leave Asia for America or Canada, you have decided you are going to work like crazy to succeed. How do you do that? By saving your money so you have options.

It seems like Asians are so boring. They work hard at school and take stable jobs. But if you think about how risky it was for them or their parents to get here, you cease to wonder that they are taking as few chances as possible to succeed. Asians are following the tried and true script for success – work hard, save a lot of money as security, make conservative investments. Otherwise coming here was a failure.

Have you ever noticed how a ton of Asian entertainers all have excellent educations? Lucy Liu went to Stuyvesent High School and UMich. John Cho graduated from Berkeley. Ali Wong graduated summa cum laude from UCLA. Gemma Chan studied law at Oxford. Jeremy Lin went to Harvard. Mindy Kaling graduated from Dartmouth. Aziz Ansari went to NYU. Ken Jeong is a medical doctor.

Asian people make sure their kids have a fallback of education because they want to guarantee success as much as they possibly can. They’re not leaving things up to chance.

Asians Understand Extreme Poverty

Another reason Asian people save so much cash is because in a way it’s really easy. Asians have seen extreme poverty in Asia – the kind you don’t see in America. And for whatever reason, Asians seem to always remember that and look down instead of up.

One of China's largest shantytowns, in Heilongjiang province's capital Harbin, prepares for redevelopment on May 27. Photo: VCG

Compare an American slum (above) with a Chinese slum (below). The American slum used to be an ok place that has fallen in disrepair. Middle class families could move in and spruce it up. The Chinese slum is made up of shanties – there isn’t an equivalent in America. It will only get better by razing it down And when you’re exposed to such poverty, it’s much easier to think that skipping a latte does not count as sacrifice.

Also, because Asians travel, they know how much opportunity there is in America. It’s hard not to be grateful for such opportunities and not want to waste them by squandering your money.

Ok Some Asians Are Cheap

You might point out this or that Asian person who is incredibly stingy, even towards their own health or towards their family. Ok fine, SOME Asians are really stingy. There are over two billion Asians- some have got to be assholes, ok? But a lot of us aren’t.

Why It Matters that Asians are Not Frugal or Cheap

Ok this is a blog about women lawyers – what does Asians being or not being cheap have to do with that? Well nothing and everything.

Personal finance is personal. There’s no right way or wrong way. And if someone does something differently it’s not because they’re more self-controlled or cheap or stupid or whatever host of words you can use to describe it. They’re just different.

In a way though, everyone is the same. Millennials have also been accused of cheapness because they save. Really, it’s a reaction to entering adulthood in a recession, saddled with hefty student loans. Everyone has their reasons for doing whatever they’re doing and instead of judging someone else’s behavior with a label – maybe we just need to better understand their reasoning behind it.

What Happened When I Retired for a Year at 35

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On February 4, 2019, I quit my job. February 19 was my last day at work, and February 20 was my first day of freedom. On this one year anniversary, I’d like to look back at what happened the year that I retired at 35.

The “Accomplishments”

I read another blogger’s early retirement post and he could quantify a great deal of accomplishments. And I guess I can rattle off things I’ve done, but that seems like running a different kind of rat race. 

I kept busy on my time off. I’ve traveled a bit – to L.A., New York, San Francisco, Redmond, Capetown, Johannesburg (South Africa), Lisbon, Porto, and Sintra (Portugal). This is what I would say if people asked me what I had done with the year. Travel seems to be the only “real” accomplishment worth noting when you’re retired. And to be fair, South Africa was eye-opening, especially after listening to Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. But to me, the really interesting changes were when I was home. 

What I’m focusing on in this post is not necessarily my choices during the year, but the repercussions. I often would made one choice that led to another choice and all those choices led to a different trajectory. It’s like when I started this blog, then I started Twitter to promote it, then I met friends, and two of those friends were the duo that started Chain of Wealth, who will figure significantly in some of these adventures. You just never know where things are going to take you. And the oddest part of any journey may be where you end up. 

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How to (Finally) Feel Like You Have Enough

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When I was paying down my debt, it felt like I was fighting for every last penny. I’ll feel so much better after my debt is gone. But then, after my debt had been paid, I looked at my paltry bank account and still felt fear. I wondered, when would I ever feel like I have enough?

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Don’t Go To Law School! (Without a Financial Plan)

Law students dream of big starting salaries – but will high salaries be enough for a comfortable lifestyle with law school loans? This post intends to find out.

don't go to law school (without a financial plan)
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Law school is billed as a “safe” bet but I’m telling you – don’t go to law school without a financial plan! When I looked at law school tuition prices recently, I was shocked. Prices have doubled since I went to school 10 years ago. And even when I was in school, the tuition prices and student loan loads were burdensome. Meanwhile, BigLaw salaries (the highest salaries a law graduate can expect when she graduates) have only increased slightly.

The rising cost of law school tuition should give any potential law student pause. My last post touched on how the rising cost of college should encourage more students to think critically before attending – and the same is true for law school.

What I hope you’ll find by the end of this post, is that even if you end up with a high salary, attending law school is a risky investment. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go, but you must go in with open eyes and a financial plan.

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Why College Is Often Not Worth the Cost

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Most articles addressing whether college is worth the cost inexplicably conclude “of course!” But this doesn’t make sense based on basic economic facts.
Average costs for four years in college are between $44,000-165,000 (public to private schools) JUST FOR TUITION.  Adding minimum living costs, this could easily balloon to $84,000-$205,000 at 5% interest. The median entry-level salary for a college graduate is $48,000. Even entry-level salaries at the high end are $71,000 (pre-tax).
The best case scenario (assuming no financial aid) is spending $84,000 and four years of hard work on college, likely not learning relevant job skills, in order to qualify for, apply for, and get hired to work 40+ hours a week for 52 weeks in order to earn $50,000 after taxes to pay off your loans (and you might not even like this job). The worst case scenario is that you spend $200k in loans to attend college and end up at a job you could have gotten straight out of high school.
Am I missing something or are the numbers not adding up on this investment?

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8 Ways Being Single Can Help a Woman's Career

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Being single seems like it would be an impediment to advancing in your career. For instance, a significant other can halve your chores and expenses and provide advice and support – clear benefits. For me though, being single helped advance my career. It turns out that my experience is typical for highly educated women professionals. Here are 8 ways being single can help a women’s career (or how being married/coupled can hurt it) and my experience navigating these obstacles.

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A Lawyer Defines Terms: Emergency Funds

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My tweet earlier this week got me thinking about emergency funds:

Screen Shot 2019-12-18 at 6.36.15 PM

What counts as an emergency?

According to Vanguard, an emergency fund is a stash of money set aside to cover the financial surprises life throws your way.  A number of people commented that one shouldn’t use an emergency fund to attend a wedding because a wedding “obviously did not fit the definition of emergency.” But, as a lawyer, I have to say, it depends.

According to Merriam-Webster, an emergency is:

an unforeseen combination of circumstances or the resulting state that calls for immediate action

So does a last minute destination wedding count as an emergency? Some people say a wedding is not unforeseen or does not require immediate action. But this year, I’ve attended four weddings, three were destination weddings and all four occurred between three to eight months after the engagement. For a destination wedding, given that kind of notice, I needed to buy a plane ticket quickly. It’s hard to start saving money for a significant purchase in a few weeks (especially assuming you couldn’t save prior to knowing about the wedding).

[As a side note, my comments section asked what jerks have short-notice destination weddings. My friends are wonderful thoughtful people. As people get older, they want to get the wedding done ASAP and their friends and family can’t necessarily plan a year in advance. The weddings were in the most convenient locations for the most relatives, particularly the elderly ones. So though it’s a destination wedding for the bride and groom and for me, it’s the closest one for a majority of the guests. And finally, it’s an invitation, not a subpoena! I have the choice to say no. I chose to go.]

So I think last minute destination weddings can meet the definition of “emergency.” But what does that matter if you value having the money in your account more than going to a last minute destination wedding?

Your Definition of Emergency Will Vary (And It’s Ok)

A number of commenters noted that they prefer to have separate savings accounts for unexpected good things. I mean, yeah, if you have a wedding fund, take the money out of that instead of the emergency fund. Duh. But let’s say you only have one batch of savings and you call it emergency savings. If there’s enough money to carve out a section for wedding savings, that’s the same thing as having a separate wedding fund. So there’s no real reason to get angry at someone for dipping into their emergency funds when there’s enough money to get everything done.

If all your savings in the whole world equals the amount you would spend on this wedding, then yes, that’s a risky idea. But you are entitled to make that risky choice. And it might be a rational choice. As much as personal finance bloggers talk a big deal about preparing for once-in-a-lifetime doom and gloom moments, sometimes once-in-a-lifetime happy events turn up on your doorstep. I think, for most people, unexpected happy events are more likely to occur than the worst case scenarios.

There is a chance that you will lose your job and your life will collapse all at the same time. There is also a chance that you will miss out on all sorts of fun events and the worst never happens. And even if the worst happens, it’s ok to believe that you’ll be ok and find a way that doesn’t mean your life is an utter disaster.

But if you prefer to have the money in your emergency fund and never use it, you are entitled to make that choice too! When we think of emergency funds, we have to think of what we value, the odds that the worst will happen, and most importantly, what we are most comfortable with.

My Emergency Fund

I don’t have an emergency fund anymore. When I had just started working, I squirreled money away in case of an emergency. And that money started to accumulate until I had saved the recommended 3 months. 6 months. 9 months. That was quite a bit of money sitting in a savings account. And not that I was complaining, but I barely dipped into it.

I was steadily employed. My car was 13 years old, and lasted for 5 years after that, and then I went car-free for 3 years after that. My laptop was 4 years old, but lasted another 3 years, and actually buying another laptop wasn’t that expensive. I had an unexpected medical emergency but that didn’t cost as much as I expected it to. So I just had a bunch of money sitting around.

Meanwhile, I was also saving in my 401k and my Roth IRA. I had paid off my loans. And I got to thinking, let’s say I lost my job. I wouldn’t need all of the money immediately – I would only spend it one month at a time. If I lost my job, I would get a 0% interest credit card to float me for a year, and even if I lost my job during a recession, I would have that year to liquidate a month or a few months of stocks assuming I didn’t get another job for over a year. And I don’t have any dependents or a mortgage, so worse to worse, I could drastically reduce my lifestyle rather quickly. And there’s also the possibility that I wouldn’t lose my job and that I would have missed out on all the dividends and growth from keeping my tends of thousands earning 1% in a savings account for years.

So I started moving money from my emergency fund into my investment accounts and I haven’t looked back. This is a bit of a moot point now because I quit my job in February without pre-planning. The stock market is booming and I’m happy that I’ve let my money grow over the years. That was the choice that I was the most comfortable with.

Conclusion

What’s an emergency fund? It’s the savings you have to give yourself peace of mind in light of the existence of unexpected events. It can be any amount, and it can go up or down. You can dip into it for any kind of unexpected event and you shouldn’t have to answer to anyone else about what constitutes an “emergency.”

Also check out J. Money‘s great post about this topic!