4 Money Lessons From Growing up Vietnamese-American That Didn’t Stick

Insider’s experts choose the best products and services to help make smart decisions with your money (here’s how). In some cases, we receive a commission from our partners, however, our opinions are our own. Terms apply to offers listed on this page.

  • Growing up as a first-generation Vietnamese-American, I learned the value of working and saving.
  • But I also learned lessons that didn’t fit my adult life — so I’ve changed them to suit me better.
  • I save with purpose, take breaks from work, set up a family fund, and adopt an abundance mentality.

When I was in college, I told my mom that I wanted to make a living as a writer. She gently suggested that I write “for fun,” and instead to consider more lucrative, steady, and realistic career paths such as being a lawyer, therapist, or pharmacist.

Could you blame here? Having left her motherland of Vietnam in the ’70s with nothing but the clothes on her back and very little money in her pocket, my mom wanted nothing but to plant roots in a new country and raise a traditional, Catholic family.

Growing up as a first-generation Vietnamese-American, I was taught by my parents that nobody likes their jobs and that you should always save … but paradoxically, you should always give to your family, especially if you have “extra.”

While I did learn the value of a dollar and have developed a strong work ethic, these money lessons I learned being raised in a Vietnamese-American household didn’t serve me well. Here are some lessons that didn’t stick, and what I do instead to improve my finances:

1. Save every dollar you can

Instead: I’m intentional about my savings

While it’s important to stash cash into a savings account for a rainy day, going as hard as possible with your savings is deeply rooted in scarcity mentality. Plus, I’ve found hoarding money without any true purpose to lack meaning.

Instead of saving for the pure sake of stockpiling money, I save with a specific goal in mind. This can be anything from a new laptop or vacation, to a new car or opportunity fund. Besides naming my savings goals, and creating separate accounts for each goal, I’ll come up with a rough amount for each, along with a target date. This not only adds a layer of specificity, but also keeps me motivated.

2. Always push yourself to earn more

Instead: I take breaks for my mental health

Another money lesson I learned from my family is that being busy with work means you’re making money, and once you stop working, you die. In other words, you should always be industrious and push yourself to earn more.

As a self-employed freelance writer, I’ve soon realized that not all money is good money, and saying “yes” to any and all assignments, and working to the detriment of my emotional, physical, and mental health wasn’t benefitting me in the long run. Instead of income goals, I set an income minimum I want to hit. After I meet that goal, I don’t put pressure on myself to do more.

This past year, I’ve taken breaks — anywhere from a few days to a month-long freelance sabbatical — to recover from burnout or to focus on side projects, such as completing my AFC® financial coaching certification, launching my coaching business, and working on a draft of a book to help freelancers with their finances.

3. Give to your family, especially any ‘extra’

Instead: I set up a separate family fund

Instead of thinking that I always need to give to my loved ones, which include family members and my cat, I’ve set up a family fund that’s designated just for them. Should something unexpected pop up, or they are in need of some funds, I can lend them a helping hand.

The beauty of a family fund is that it sets limits as to how much I can give. Once the balance hits zero, I won’t be able to offer assistance until that fund gets replenished. That way, I can balance giving with my own savings goals.

4. Don’t spend any money you don’t have to

Instead: I’ve adopted an abundance mentality

Long gone are the days where I spent an hour quibbling over whether to spend $45 on a pair of boots on clearance sale. For many years, I penny pinched, never bought anything nice for myself, and was hyper-focused on saving every cent I earned.

While I was regarded as being “good” with money, these super-saving ways can be chalked up to the fact that I suffered from a scarcity mentality. I feared not having enough, and not having money should I fall on hard times. It continues to be a work in progress, but I’ve since embraced the idea that I am resourceful, capable, and that there will be plenty of opportunities to earn money and build wealth.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *