“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.”
So says my mum every time I finish the snacks when I lived 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 when I was in between jobs, I needed 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!” and dragged me by the hand to the bargain section.
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 certain suburbs in the Western world, want a better quality of life, especially for their kids. Saving allows them to dream for better basic necessities or permanent moves overseas that will almost guarantee more financially and socially stable livelihoods. 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.
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 something, 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. 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. It only makes the sun shine brighter on these days.
My dad always waits for discounted items in supermarkets and whe he sees them, he will buy them in batch and keep them as a stock at my home. If something is used up such as potato chip and I want to eat it, he will always tell me to wait until the next sale available.
Actually, I also tend to buy things in discounting especially branded items. And if I buy gadgets, I will buy it and pay monthly.
I don’t know this comes from me being Asian or me being economy. 😉
Your dad is the same as my mum! My mum always stocks up on toilet paper when they are on sale. We tend to have over 100 rolls of toilet paper rolls stored in our toilet everyday. Maybe it’s an Asian thing after all 🙂
Great post! There is nothing wrong with watching your money carefully. I too often wait a few days to see if I really need or want something. I need to be even more careful with my money, but it is hard… Great post, Mabel! Have you ever thought about writing one on how Asians like to take photos, too? I have a Taiwanese friend here who, although he was born and raised in the States, still pinches pennies in the way that you mention, and takes a gazillion photos everywhere we go, too!
Thanks, Jess. I need to be very careful with my money too – things in Australia are very expensive! And being a writer does not pay all that well… That’s an excellent suggestion and thank you for it! I will write a post about it in the future! It’s very true that Asians like to take photos wherever they go, taking photos especially of food and themselves (selfies, #Asianselfies). I’ve seen non-Asians do this too, but looking at my Asian and non-Asian friends who take photos, I do personally think Asians tend to be the ones doing it much more. I’ve been guilty of this last year, but then stopped doing this because I think it’s just so much more worthwhile living in the moment and taking your surroundings all in 🙂
I’d agree with that! Pics are important — I take a ton — but so is just enjoying being where you are! Glad you liked the idea… And living the States — especially in California — is expensive, too.
While travelling in Kaifeng a couple of years ago, my tour guide said that the locals there preferred to spend their money on food and entertainment. Apparently, the long history of flooding in the city has resulted in its citizens preferred ephemeral joys rather than following the stereotypical Asian path of having a fancy home and other material possessions.
That’s very interesting to hear, Sam. Many in Asia/China cities are spending it up in recent years and leading lives surrounded by luxurious goods and foods (especially the younger generation with their designer clothes and gadgets). This could be partly due to their parents, parents who want their kids to have a cushy, comfortable modern lives and not experience the suffering that they did bending over in paddy fields sowing rice.
I was born in the states one year after my parents arrived from Cambodia. I remember my mom used to make all kinds of different dishes each week, and at the time I thought it was so great. It was only later when I paid more careful attention that my mom was actually buying more of whatever raw ingredients happen to be on sale that week. Frugality ended up turning into variety and fun.
I think it’s the habits from tough times that make Asians much stronger. It’s been known that Chinese have a history of surviving some of the harshest conditions. These kind of habits pay dividends in the long run!
Yes, many older Asian generations are known to have survived harsh conditions. For instance, there have been an increasing number of Asians taking perilous journeys by boat to start new lives in new countries, all the while saving every penny.
That’s very creative of your mum to use mainly “sale” raw ingredients to whip up dishes at home. I hope she has saved up quite a bit after all these years and nowadays allows herself to buy some groceries not on sale 🙂 Thank you for reading and stopping by, BLT.
I’m so honored that you replied to my comment! My name is Brian.
Hi Brian. Thanks for taking the time to read and leave a comment. Much appreciated!
Mabel, I belong to the older generation (b 1944). I like most of the ideas that you write about here about being thrifty. I suppose some people will consider me very stingy e.g. I do not own a mobile phone, no ipad, ipod or lap top. I am using an old desk top to write here. Why? I am a blog addict!
Thanks, David. Perhaps you don’t own many electronic gadgets because you ARE stingy. Or perhaps you just like having little gadgets around you. Whichever one it is, it’s nice to see that it’s not letting you stop blogging! Keep blogging.
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i learned my lesson the hard way…i used to hang out a lot with “friends” and socialize… until it came to a point that i have to deal with a lot of financial problems… i lost my house due to high interest… learned how friends, relatives and even the closest you know would be totally useless in times of financial troubles (moral support can’t solve a thing)… i decided to cut ties and re-focus on my priorities…after a few months, i got two new houses and a few small land properties in the suburban area… and from then on to now, there’s no turning back…
The frigging Koreans by me, who moved into the neighborhood in force and erected McMansions galore everywhere–think I’m out to steal from them! If I walk by their god-given McMansions they call the police on me!
Thanks Mabel for sharing this insight, I don’t often get the chance to hear about Chinese perspective, even from my Chinese friend.
I used to be mystified by the Chinese culture, with herbal medicine, acupuncture, amazing kung fu, and its amazing history. But since living with two chinese people, I began to think of them as stingy, all work and no play. I hope someone can help change my mind. Even reading this article it makes me wonder – don’t some people (chinese or not), realise that enjoying life is as important as finding a bargain?? I mean if my son wants ice cream the only reason I won’t buy it for him is for healthy diet, NOT to save a few bucks.
Not to mention, spending on things puts wealth back into the economy, supports local businesses, and job growth. Where I live is a suburb with a large proportion of chinese people. Most of the cafes are staffed with Chinese / Asian young people.
So, there are nice restaurants near the water, that they all closed down, four of them. Maybe the food quality /service was not the best for all four, maybe not. But I’d bet dollars to donuts its because :
a) chinese people would rather save money and eat at home then go out to restaurant
b) it wasn’t a chinese restaurant
Having said all this I don’t want to be racist and want some help to be open minded. But it does make me sad to see people move to another country, and then only invest in their own products / interests, and deprive the local economy. So my question to you Mabel is why don’t Chinese mingle with other cultures but generally keep to themselves in foreign countries??
It is interesting to read how you became acquainted with Chinese culture, Chris. It is als interesting to hear that the two Chinese people you live with come across as working hard for the money and saving for a rainy day. Or perhaps they are the kind who see it as valuing hard work and saving for future investments, and they have a different definition of enjoying life. That said, I do agree with you there is more to life than just working and saving all the time – no harm in having a treat every now and then. Personally, I don’t take pride in spending that much as most material things don’t bring me satisfaction at the end of the day.
I do find that a lot of my Chinese friends are big on eating, and wouldn’t shy away from spending when eating out. That said, I do know quite a few Chinese who like eating Chinese when eating out, and have come across those who like to stick with those of the same background and the same country. It’s probably a comfort thing, mingling with individuals of the same race as there’s the likelihood of everyone having similar problems and experienced – and there is a common understanding amongst one another, and you don’t have to explain yourself.
I spend what I can and save very little to enjoy my life to the fullest after all when I die I can’t take it with me.
That is a good point. Life your life as you want it and enjoy.
Being cheap makes the people you buy services from feel that you’re taking advantage of them and that you do not appreciate them. And yes, cheap people do take advantage of nice people and they do not value what they got for dirt cheap. If you have good values and are in a service business, stop selling to people who only value your price, and who have no eye for your hard work nor the quality. They can’t see it. They pay just as little to someone who didn’t put in half the time and didn’t care at all. All a cheap person cares about is the price. If you care about quality and being paid fairly, do not sell your services or products to cheap people. It’s not a match.
No one wants to be taken advantaged of, and even when something is cheap, no one really wants something of poor quality. Personally I am a cheap person but will always look for quality and value, and look out for sales. These days so many shops markup their prices only to mark them down ever so often.