A black and white family photo with over 30 people posing for a group shot. The ages range from young children to older adults. The photo is captured in a living room setting. There are windows and curtains in the background. Some children are sitting crossed-legged or kneeling in the front, other family members are sitting on chairs in the middle, and many are standing in the back.

​​​What My Family Taught Me About Money

​​A diversity of experience and wealth of knowledge is reflected in BECU employee stories and money wisdom passed down through generations.​

Portrait of Lora Shinn

Lora Shinn
Published May 6, 2024 in: Advancing Equity

Read time: 10 minutes

As a demographic group, Asian Americans appear stronger on economic well-being measures than the U.S. population, according to research from the Pew Center. However, these statistics vary broadly among different Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (ANHPI) groups.

For example, Mongolian families in the U.S. are much more likely to live in poverty, while Indian families are less likely. Homeownership is increasing nationally, but Asian Americans have a lower homeownership rate than the U.S. average.

According to Census research, 20.6 million people in the U.S. identify as Asian, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander. The Pew Foundation notes that Asian Americans trace their roots to more than 30 Southeast Asian, East Asian and Indian subcontinent nations. Nearly half of U.S. Asians live in the Western U.S. (including Washington state), followed by the South.

Many are immigrants or the children of immigrants — 71% of Asian American adults were born in another country. Asian Americans are projected to be the U.S.'s largest immigrant group by 2055.

This diversity of cultural and economic experiences creates different perspectives on how to manage money. Some families don't talk much about finances, while others lead by example.

Five BECU employees share their favorite financial lessons passed down through generations.

Work Hard and Advocate for Yourself

Member Consultant Lead Tony L. grew up as the child of middle-class Chinese workers who immigrated to the U.S. in the mid-1980s without much money. Tony's parents also grew up in large families without a lot of disposable income, so they could apply those lessons to their new U.S.-based household.

The couple needed to be frugal and cautious with finances while raising Tony.

"I was always into shoes and being stylish. I always had the essentials, but I was never able to get the coolest sneakers, like Jordans," he said.

"They made a lot of sacrifices to move halfway across the world and start a new life," Tony said. "They did not know the culture, the language, or how to become successful. My parents worked incredibly hard to pursue the 'American Dream,' including a home, a family, and a way to be safe from a war-torn country."

From his parents, Tony learned early to manage finances and work extremely hard. For Tony, "living within your means" relies on budgeting as an essential skill for daily life and big purchases. As is stashing emergency savings of six months, if possible.

"Any large purchase needs a realistic plan and timeline," he said — like a home.

Sometimes, learning new strategies for today's career world may be necessary, too. Tony's hard-working factory-employed parents were "the type of people to not make noise."

But contemporary U.S. professional success, such as getting promoted, often requires making a little noise through self-advocacy, he noted. Otherwise, "your hard work and any results you produce will often be overshadowed by someone who has the ability to advocate for themselves."

A headshot of BECU employee Tony L. He is wearing a suit with a purple tie.
BECU employee Tony L.

Saving Consistently Adds Up

Angela G.'s 3-year-old daughter is learning about saving and banking. "She knows to give me any cash she receives from family members so that she can have money in her "Uwy savus" (Early Savers) bank account," said Angela, a Contact Center Business Specialist.

Together, Angela and her daughter check Online Banking and say the numbers out loud from her balance. "Then she looks at me and goes, 'Wowww.'"

Angela hopes that means her daughter will want to learn more as she grows.

Angela's grandparents immigrated to America from Fiji to offer their children and grandchildren more opportunities.

"I think that says a lot as to limitations they may have experienced and what they did not want us to go through," she said.

Her grandparents taught her that consistently adding money to her savings — even if it's a small amount — quickly adds up and that patience is key.

As an adult, Angela realized how her parents' frugality influenced their purchases — and her future decision-making. "Dad always said no. Mom always said, 'Maybe next week,' for a new toy or shoes that I may have thrown a tantrum over in the middle of the store."

But even as a child, Angela knew those shoes or toys would likely be wrapped and received on a future Christmas or birthday.

Now, Angela's money knowledge results from what her parents taught. Her dad taught her not to buy things impulsively, just because she wants them at that moment. "He taught me how to save."

This is a headshot of BECU employee Angela G. She is sitting on a white chair and is wearing a black long sleeve cardigan with a maroon top.
BECU employee Angela G.

If Angela loses sleep over wanting a purchase, she uses her mom's budgeting strategy to see if she has 'fun money' to spend.

"My mother taught me to budget and determine my wants versus needs," she said. "It's up to me to put in the work and take responsibility for achieving my goals."

Until recently, Angela felt wary of credit — her parents always saved for purchases and never borrowed.

"I just didn't know enough. But credit isn't a bad thing. It's like a game," she said.

She plans to tell her child when she's older: "Try to get as high of a credit limit that you can but only spend what you can pay back every month. Throw these loan-shark offers into the shredder and do your due diligence before choosing what credit product you need. Credit opens more doors than you know."

Angela recommends future generations save as much as possible: "Even sending a dollar to a hidden savings account in online banking can make a huge difference when you remember it's there." She suggests looking beyond simple checking and savings accounts for high-interest options and checking CD rates often.

She also recommends paying down debt. If a debt's balance gets out of control, she suggests paying more than the minimum amount due, even if it's $10 extra.

Eventually, the balance will decrease, and what was an "overwhelming balance becomes manageable, allowing for more available credit to use for other things," she said. "The sense of accomplishment that comes with that is overwhelming, and you can dream big again."

Prepare for Tough Times

Senior Mortgage Advisor Rudy D. has helped BECU members buy homes for seven years. Rudy is Chamorro, the indigenous people of the Mariana Islands, located in the South Pacific.

Rudy's professional and personal money insights are partly a gift from his mother. After a long career in banking, Rudy's mother became Guam's governmental treasurer for more than 20 years until her retirement.

"She always made us aware of the importance of budgeting and trying to live within our means," Rudy said. "Not to overspend but save for those rainy days that can and do come up."

Rudy's mother was the most influential figure in the family, he noted. "She was diligent in her financial affairs and was often sought for advice by her siblings, nieces and nephews about their financial concerns."

Rudy notes that even mistakes learned from family experiences can be helpful if considered in the right light. "The mistakes of our past enhanced our abilities to continually grow, persevere and overcome any adversity."

Difficult times can also be instructive. Rudy's family lived through three years of Japanese occupation during World War II.

"They know what it is to survive on the bare necessities and know that preparation is a key factor to survival," Rudy said. "Reliance on each other to survive any situation is all about preparation. The life lessons I learned from our elders is something that is never taken for granted. It's how we live and what keeps our culture alive."

For future generations, Rudy suggests, "Don't overspend and do not get emotionally attached to material things. Be willing to let go if a choice has to be made. It's not about status, it's more about living well and being humble and true."

A headshot of BECU employee Rudy D. He is wearing a red BECU zip up coat.
BECU employee Rudy D.
Black and white capture of the first Guam legislature. There are 25 people standing for the group photo. They are in a courtroom setting. In the background are two flags and wooden windows. There is a podium in the center.
The first legislative body in Guam. Rudy D's mother was the executive secretary, pictured on the left.

Save and Invest for Big Goals

A BECU Regional Support Lead, Jom G., was born and raised in the Philippines before moving to the United States six years ago. He recently received U.S. citizenship.

Jom learned about money from his parents, and today, he frequently discusses finances with his wife and 8-year-old son, including wise management by avoiding overspending.

The family doesn't spend more than they make and focuses on making ends meet while prioritizing necessities.

"Because of our previous experiences in a less-than-comfortable society, we strive to cherish and carefully spend the money we earn. Any excess money we have is then transferred to our savings account or used to find ways to expand the money," Jom said. "We save at least 20% of each salary so that we will have money set aside for emergencies."

Jom's parents taught him how to budget effectively, save consistently, and prepare financially for the future. After filling a piggy bank as a child, he opened a "Happy Savers Club account" at a local bank.

"I am so glad for this principle taught to me by my parents because, to this day, I make sure to set aside money from my salary, no matter how small or large," he said.

For example, Jom and his wife lived with his wife's parents when they were new to the U.S., without their own place.

"We were able to save enough money from not paying rent to purchase our first property 2 1/2 years earlier than we planned and cover a portion of the house's down payment," he said. "We have tight family links that helped us when we were first starting out, and for that, I am incredibly grateful."

BECU employee Jom G smiles as he holds up a certificate as he receives U.S. citizenship. In the background is an American flag, the Homeland Security logo and a citizenship backdrop. He is holding up a small American flag.
BECU employee Jom G. receiving his U.S. citizenship.

Jom said his parents invested money for their kids' schooling. "Growing up in a country that values education, they made the decision to save money so that we could attend university and earn our degrees," he said.

Jom holds a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, Philippines, and later taught at the university in the College of Business Administration.

"They told me education is the only inheritance we can give you, and it will serve as your gateway to the rest of the world," he said.

As a parent, Jom intends to invest in a 529 plan, or Washington's GET (Guaranteed Education Tuition) plan for his child. "It's like carrying on my parents' legacy."

Talk To Your Kids About Money

A BECU Regional Support Lead, MJ V. was born in the Philippines, and although he only lived there for five years (on two separate occasions), he can speak two Filipino languages, Ilocano and Tagalog. MJ's family didn't talk about money often, other than saying it was "hard to earn."

Likewise, while his parents verbally encouraged MJ to save, he wasn't taught how to budget or create a savings plan. He didn't get his first bank account until age 18. 

"I wish my parents started my first bank account at a younger age," he said.

MJ saw how some relatives' gambling at casinos led to gambling addictions. "I avoid gambling altogether and am also conservative with investing," he said.

But his family encouraged buying a home as soon as possible to build wealth through the home equity earned through ownership. "Culturally, it is important to have an education and get a good-paying job to allow for home ownership and financial stability," he said.

A headshot of BECU employee MJ V. He is wearing a blue collared shirt.
BECU employee MJ V.

MJ has a bachelor's degree in communication, with an emphasis in journalism and a minor in English. "My degree has helped me be an effective communicator, particularly with writing, while also valuing accuracy, which is important to my career today."

Education, financial wellness and homeownership have all been useful, he said. "I hope to pass these values on to my child and future generations."

He hopes to teach future generations more of the nitty-gritty on how to budget and create a savings plan — and to get children a bank account for saving ASAP." Give your children guidance on how to save and spend their money," MJ said.

The Takeaway: ANHPI Financial Experiences and Attitudes Vary

While Asians, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are often grouped together to celebrate elements of shared heritage and history and for statistical reporting in the U.S., they are not a monolith.

Their varied cultures and range of experiences influence their financial decisions and the financial lessons passed down through generations.

The above article is intended to provide generalized financial information designed to educate a broad segment of the public; it does not give personalized financial, tax, investment, legal, or other business and professional advice. Before taking any action, you should always seek the assistance of a professional who knows your particular situation when making financial, legal, tax, investment, or any other business and professional decisions that affect you and/or your business.

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Portrait of Lora Shinn

Lora Shinn

Lora specializes in personal finance topics for BECU, and has also written for regional and national publications such as The Balance, U.S. News and World Report, LendingTree, GoodRx, CNN Money, Bankrate, The Seattle Times, Redbook and Assurance IQ.