“No, no, no! I’m not buying Smith’s Potato Chips this week. They’re not on sale, $3.00 for one bag this week. Crazy thing.”
So says my mum every time I finish the snacks at home and want more. She hardly buys toilet paper, detergent, chocolate and other necessary household items unless they are on sale. You can call her thrifty. Frugal. Stingy. A penny-pincher.
I used to laugh at my mum counting her coins when she came home from buying groceries, making sure no cashiers had shortchanged her and that she didn’t drop a single cent on the way back. I laughed and clapped my hands like a seal until one day last year when I was in between jobs, my mum stopped giving me pocket money. I realised then my parents and many Asian generations before me work hard for their money and save for a number of reasons.
When my family and I lived in Malaysia, I remembered my white-collar worker dad always worked on Saturdays. Very rarely did we dine out at eateries where the tables had fancy tablecloths and the walls artsy decor; we usually ate at home. When we went shopping and I picked out a shirt that was not on sale, my mum would go, “So expensive. Stay close!” and dragged me by the hand to the bargain section. When we moved to Australia, time and time she would sternly say, “Your dad works very hard to pay the bills.”
Up until today, hardships are commonly faced by many in developing parts of Asia such as India, China and the Philippines. Although there are CBDs, high rise buildings and the latest technologies in these regions, truth be told, life is financially and socially difficult here – the cost of living is usually at a moderate or high level, corruption and bribery are often rife and people here have to look over their shoulders to keep an eye on their safety. Those living away from these areas tend to have it difficult too. In isolated towns, people frequently make a living working in sweatshops, are paid single figures by the hour, live in non-air conditioned cramped shop houses and struggle to prepare a full dinner most evenings.
People here – and even Asians living in sub-par suburbs in the Western world – want a better quality of life, especially for their kids, and saving allows them to dream for better basic necessities or permanent moves overseas that will almost guarantee more financially and socially stable livelihoods. And when they do manage to live a more cushy lifestyle, like my parents, they remember the hardships that they faced and reckon it pays to save and so continue to save.
Another reason why Asians are tight with their money can be put down to the fact that many Asians are insistent on “having face”, a “rich face” to show-off to family and relatives. Many Asians hold the mentality that owning pricey goods and living lavish lifestyles are prestigious and admirable. So perhaps they save and save to afford luxurious items and show them off like they are kings of the world.
Investing hard earned dough on stocks, shares and properties is very popular among many Asians all over the world. That’s yet another feasible reason why they skimp on spending. They simply can’t spend much – their earnings are stashed away for investment purposes. My money-minded brother surrenders most of his money to the banks for the purpose of collecting interest and evilly laughs at me for not putting more into my term deposit.
Of course, sometimes such investments bring about good returns. Sometimes extremely good returns that tempt one to buy lots of fancy things and appear well-to-do.
There is the possibility that some Asians, especially the younger generation, seem well-off and rich not because they strategically manage their money well, but because they like to spend. It has been suggested that this demographic sees being cheap as rather distasteful and so spend lavishly. However, this may or may not be the case with all of them. Research has shown some Chinese students feel “guilty about using future money” and retain the frugal attitudes of their parents and grandparents.
My parents’ stinginess has rubbed off on me. Before buying a shirt or a video game, I always wait a few days to see if I really want or need it. Sometimes I order the cheapest item on the menu just because, well, it saves me money. And the cheapest dish on offer can be just as filling as the most expensive one.
I guess it’s because I like having plans and being prepared if I have no source of income flowing into my pockets. In the instance I suddenly find myself trudging through a rainy day, it would be nice to have savings to fall back on. And it only makes the sun shine brighter on these days.