The Huge Financial Privilege No One Talks About

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When we think of the haves vs. the have-nots, we assume that the “haves” hold all the financial advantages. Obviously tons of money is a huge financial privilege, but having money is no guarantee for proper management. There is no amount of money that is so large that it cannot be lost. See, e.g. pro athletes, lottery winners, MC Hammer.

People who succeed in careers often have good mentors; people who succeed in finance often have good role models. So while I did not grow up with a trust fund, I did have a huge financial privilege that set me up for financial success:

I had the privilege of being raised by financially responsible parents.
My parents didn’t have a lot of money when they came to this country but I grew up in a middle class family.  In the years between when my parents emigrated and when they had children, they saved every penny to give their children a more comfortable life, and they continued to model this behavior as we grew up.

What did this mean for me?

Lifestyle inflation is a foreign concept.

Before going car-free two years ago, I drove an 18-year old Honda Accord. I also used a 7-year old laptop. This was a few years after I had started working as an attorney with a six-figure salary and after I had paid off my law school debt. Someone asked me once why I didn’t upgrade and I honestly thought, you CAN’T buy something new until the old thing falls apart.

When you’re raised by immigrants, you never let things go to waste. My parents kept the same threadbare artificial Christmas tree for 20 years. My nephews sleep in the bunk bed that I slept in until I was 22. I still sleep with the same comforter I received when I was 8.  This idea of upgrading for upgrading’s sake is new to me and it honestly seems like too much work.

In fact, lifestyle inflation makes even less sense when you have judge-y immigrant parents. People talk a lot about peer pressure to spend. In my family, it was peer pressure to save. My parents routinely criticize me for spending on some pretty “normal” things, but they never encouraged me to buy more than I need to. Thrift is next to godliness.

They taught me that money is not love.

My parents never gave us gifts for Christmas or birthdays. While it would have been nice to have some new gadgets and gizmos, I never felt less loved. And my parents weren’t stressed about buying my love through gifts.

There’s obviously nothing wrong with gifts but I think some families really do get caught up in buying gifts, thinking that without spending $X on their kids, then they would have failed. But what’s more detrimental to children is being raised by stressed parents and learning that bigger gifts mean bigger love.

Money is an important tool but it’s not a cure-all.  Money is money and love is love. Confusing the two can only lead to disasters for your financial accounts and your heart.

They taught me that money isn’t shame.

My parents, they weren’t perfect (let me tell you!). But they never used money as a bargaining chip. They’d always ask if I needed money when I went out in high school (In fact, they still ask. They know I don’t carry cash). And they’d just give it to me. There was no “what are you going to use it for” or “didn’t you already get a new sweater?”

As a kid, if I needed money, they just gave it to me, no questions asked. I mean, they’re lucky I wasn’t into drugs or big shopping sprees, but maybe I wasn’t into those things because I didn’t grow up ashamed of needing money or of having needs.

I know some other people are raised to think that earning a lot of money is shameful. I obviously wasn’t raised that way and, well, obviously earning a lot of money is a lot easier than getting by on very little. It’s also easier to save when you aren’t ashamed of having money. I would argue that shame is the biggest obstacle to proper money management. (Maybe in a later post.)

They make me optimistic about my future.

Everyday there are countless articles/tweets/memes written by Americans throwing America under the bus. And yes, I know there are a ton of problems in this country. I don’t want to get all patriotic on you (but I’m not afraid to) but I love America. I was raised to love America.

Were my parents lucky? Sure. There’s an element of luck. Did they also make a lifetime of hard choices that had a high probability of success? Yes.

My dad served in the Navy and then studied accounting, a very stable career. My mother worked at the supermarket and various fast food restaurants to pay for her degree in math. They took English classes at night. We moved when they got better jobs. They commuted an hour each way to get to work. They drove their cars to the ground. They packed their lunches. We rarely went out to eat, and when we did, we went to a Chinese restaurant, which is not as expensive as many other kinds of restaurant. We would vacation wherever we could drive to (which explains why I’ve been to so many U.S. states). When my mom got fired (she was probably the fourth Asian person in a row to get fired), she picked herself up and refashioned herself as a computer programmer in her 50s.

And though my parents’ life hasn’t been that easy, and they get frustrated with certain things, they are incredibly proud of the life they have made for themselves. America is their home and they wouldn’t have been able to have this life where they once lived. They never speak ill of America and neither do I.

I know the “privilege” police would disagree, but I honestly think my life is the easiest life anyone could live. The hardest things in my life were minor medical problems, doing well in school and paying off my law school debt. And whenever I’ve thought even for a second “woe is me,” I just look at my parents’ life and think, this will work out. I’ll just work harder. So what if I eat ramen a few nights? My mom used to eat rice and soy sauce. (I also flippin’ love ramen and rice and soy sauce.) If my parents could be optimistic for so long, then what excuse do I have not to be? If my parents can make it, I can and will too.

Were you raised by financially responsible parents?

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