Chinese Money Habits - How My Culture Influences My Attitudes Toward Money

By Xin Lu on 5 March 2008 62 comments

I moved to the United States when I was a child from Yangzhou, China. After sixteen years, I could easily pass as an American because I speak English without an accent, and I am well versed with the popular culture. However, if you ever examined my attitudes toward money you will see that I am undeniably Chinese. Here are some of the principles I grew up with.

1. Being frugal is a virtue - Being frugal did not start as communist propaganda. Actually it is a concept that has been taught for thousands of years. The classic Chinese text Dao De Jing states that the three greatest treasures one can have are love, frugality, and generosity. Frugality is really a integral part of the Chinese culture

2. Save as much as possible - The personal savings rate in China is incredibly high compared to the United States. According to this 2006 CNN article , the personal savings rate of Chinese households is 30% while Americans dipped into their savings that year. I know that my Chinese relatives regularly save 50 to 60% of their income and it feels normal to me that I save as much as them.

3. Pay for things in cash - Credit cards are still fairly rare in China and most people pay for everything in cash. What really impressed me is that many ordinary Chinese people were able to pay cash for their homes when the government allowed homeownership recently. The houses are not cheap, and it is amazing to see teachers and factory workers pull out savings equivalent to ten to twenty times of their regular salaries. Chinese people are wary of debt, and I think that is a good thing.

4. Always look for a bargain - In China, haggling is a way of life. If you ever visit China you have to ask at least 50 to 75% off in stores. This has been changing lately as high end stores are switching to the model of "no haggling allowed". However you will still find plenty of vendors willing to negotiate. I think in America this particular bargain seeking behavior earned the Chinese the cheapskate stereotype.


5. Your salary is not a secret - If you ask a Chinese person in China how much money he or she makes, odds are that person will tell you. Discussing one's income is not always a matter of bragging because not everyone is rich. Most of the time I see Chinese people do this as a way of getting to know another person. Once you speak to people and find out their income they tell you more about how they live. It is not a rude or bad thing in my culture to talk about money, and sometimes good comes out of it. For example, my dad helped his friend secure a 20% raise after he found out that man's salary.

6. Cash gifts are the best - On every new year or birthday, Chinese children usually get cash gifts that they end up saving. This sounds pretty sad, but I remember being quite excited about visiting all the relatives and receiving red envelopes with cash in them. Red envelopes are the standard gift for any celebration, and they are considered the best gifts because the recipient can do anything with the money. In America it seems that cash is a less common gift because it is considered to be less thoughtful. Instead, cash is converted to gift cards or useless trinkets that are probably less appreciated by the recipient.

China has changed dramatically in the sixteen years I have been in America, but a lot of these money habits still remain. I know that the great influx of wealth in China is changing things, but I hope the country as a whole still advocates saving for the future. The biggest negative attitude towards money that I see in China is greed, but I do not think that is uniquely Chinese. Do you have any cultural specific money habits?

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Guest's picture

This is really interesting. For curiosity's sake, what is the average tax rate in China?

I've given gift cards to family for the last several years -- always to stores they frequent. But after reading about Sharper Image going bankrupt, and their gift cards being worthless, I'm seriously leaning toward cash. I love the idea of the red envelopes.


Linsey Knerl's picture

You know that I need more sleep when I got all the way to the second paragraph before realizing that it was about Chinese "Money" habits... not Chinese "Monkey" habits...

This is what having babies will do to a person...


Guest's picture

Money and monkey?Intresting!

Guest's picture

Except for items number 5 and 6, I think we could be related.

If I do have culture-specific financial habits, I'm not aware of them. Most of them weren't good, so I tried to avoid them like the plague.

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

When I lived in China there was no income tax because everybody worked for the government.  These days there is a graduated income scale similar to that of the US.  I heard that some rich folks can pay 40% or more in taxes.

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Guest's picture

thanks, very interesting article.

Guest's picture

Here's an illustration: Last year, there was a bit on local TV about a group of workers who bought lottery tickets together and won a fairly large amount of money. They showed three of the people and interviewed them about what they were going to do with the money. The first one said he was going to buy a new car and pay bills. The second one said she was going to remodel the house and buy some things for the grandchildren. The third, a Chinese man, was asked what he planned to buy. He answered "Nothing. I will put it into my children's education, because that investment will pay off when I'm old." I've told a lot of people about that, but many don't appreciate it.

Guest's picture

Good one, Ginny. He was a very wise man.

Myscha Theriault's picture

I love cross cultural pieces. This was very interesting.

Guest's picture

This was a really interesting article! Most of the points you made fit really well with my money habits (haggling would take a lot of getting used to though).

I always ask for cash for my birthday/etc, but my aunts and grandma always want to get us things we can "unwrap." Slowly but surely they're coming around, but maybe this article would help =P

What's strange is though I love getting cash as a gift, I still would feel guilty giving others cash for a gift (unless it's what they've asked for). I am pretty particular about getting gifts, I really try as hard as I can to get something I know the person will love. Now that I think of that, maybe I'm forcing them to be frugal in a way--giving them something that I know they'll use.

Catherine Shaffer's picture

I enjoyed this very much. Some of these habits, such as the frugality, savings, and cash-only purchasing are also American cultural values that have been lost quite recently. Even going back only 30 years, to my childhood, it was very uncommon for people to buy things on credit, and it was to some extent frowned upon.

My son has a birthday coming up, and I think I will suggest to his relatives that he would like money. It really is his favorite gift, and he has enough toys. What he really wants is to save up for big ticket items like game systems and computers. (We make him save a goodly portion of it, too.)

Catherine Shaffer

Wise Bread Contributor

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Yes, because my parents grew up during the Depression, my husband and I save most of our money (at least I was when I had a job; will get another.... ) I was pleased to read your story. Cash really is king. People don't discuss money, salary...that is to our detriment.

This is my favorite website. Everyone helps me a lot.

Guest's picture

Being in the US for 10 years, I missed bargaining the most. Every visit to India, I make up for it. If you don't bargain, there's no fun in buying.Also,the vendor usually thinks you're dumb if you pay the 'list' price,since bargaining is expected.

I miss the cash gifts too.We still give our daughter cash gifts here for birthdays, and she loves to save them.
Thanks for the wonderful memories.


Guest's picture

Italians, too, give money gifts quite frequently. I received very few items for my wedding, and most of those items were from friends, not my Italian relatives. Even when I was five years old going to friend's birthday parties, my mother would hand me a card with $10 in it.

At the time it seemed like I was an outcast since so many kids gave each other toys, but now it seems sensible. I invested much of the money I received from my wedding, and bought furniture with the rest (which isn't something most people give as a wedding gift).

Julie Rains's picture

Interesting post Xin. I wonder how much of the habits are inborn and what the impact of outside influences and public policy have been (for example communism, availability of financial systems/banks to the general population, corruption - which exists everywhere) -- I can see how possibly the more prevalent use of cash and sharing of salary stems from those influences. It is interesting to learn about all, but those 2 strike me as the most dissimilar to my USA southern culture.

Guest's picture

This was a very different perspective than you read on most blogs - I really liked it. This speaks volumes towards the potential for China to become an even bigger powerhouse in the future of global financial markets.

Guest's picture

I was born in Taipei and moved to the United States when I was eight-months-old. I'm only half-Chinese, but my mother taught me all the values you described. As I read your article, I sat here and thought "that's me" ~ "that's me" :)

Guest's picture

These are good ideas but not practical in capitalism countries.

1. Decades before, most Chinese lived in small villages. Most small villages provided public kitchens, public TV rooms, public bathrooms, and public dining rooms. If there were no public facilities, families would shared kitchens, televisions, refrigerators, automobile, gardening tools and other household items. This was one reason why most Chinese believes the virtue of buy less and share more.

2. Decades before Communist China open its country to foreign investors; there weren’t efficient banking and saving systems and property rights were not existed. With no places to allocate their hard earned money, these issues forced most Chinese to save for themselves. Many put their money in tin cans, in cookies jars, under the beds, in bags behind closets and other hidden places.

3. With reason # 2, this lead to reason #3 where it was possible and common for Chinese to buy properties and personal items with lump sum payment. As of today, I can’t imagine people carry million of dollars in their backpacks. Walk around town with million of cash will gets government attention.

- Thanks for the posting and advices.

Guest's picture

Yes it is so true about Italians giving money! My family always gives money for gifts-weddings are a biggie. It's so funny when I got married to my hubby, his family all gave us gifts and it was stuff I would never use in a million years and my family gave money. Actually enough to pay for the wedding and honeymoon.

My Step-Grandmother was visiting for the first time for Christmas and gave my son a card with $10. My In-laws kept asking him what he was going to spend it on and we all told him to save it. So far, so good he has saved it.

I am really trying to teach him to not spend his money gifts on foolish things and to save, save save.

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

Cool!  I didn't know Italians gave cash gifts too.  I married a Filipino guy and at our wedding we wrote on our invitation "Red envelopes are always welcome" so most of his family gave us checks and cash, too.  It really wastes a lot less wrapping paper!

Guest's picture

@comment 17.

These habits are just as practical and useful in capitalist countries.

Saving doesn't mean you put your money in a cookie jar, it just means not spending your money. You can do that with modern banks just like you could do it before banks.

Same goes for sharing. You'd be surprised how much money sharing can save you. That applies to everything from sharing hardware to sharing car rides. The concept might be applied differently but it's still the same basic ideas. Unless you use all of your resources 100% of the time, then you might find that sharing has great financial benefits.

I grew up in Israel, where most of these habits are also common place. I find them to be incredibly useful in my day to day life and in my financial planning.


Guest's picture

I have to say I learn how to save and ignore useless stuff by hanging around foreigners.

I think the reason why it's so hard for Americans to save is because of the media and TV of advertising things you think you need. Being constantly bombarded with advertisers it's hard to stay discipline. America is a capitalist society so that can be good and bad.

rstlne's picture

That's the way things were in Malaysia too, where I grew up. It's been 17 years since I left the old country so I don't know if those practices still remain. I hear credit cards are more common there now.

Guest's picture

We're Jewish and most of our family gives money as gifts. For the holidays, sometimes we also get gift cards to stores that we frequent (Trader Joe's is popular...everyone needs food). For our wedding, we got mostly money. The gifts came at the shower.

I don't like the idea of sharing salaries. Even our parents and siblings don't know our exact salaries!! It's no one's business, really. Occasionally we share this information with friends who might be in the same field as us, because it's relevant, especially for companies that have pretty "set" salary's always nice to know what to expect in terms of salary if you switch companies.

To me, sharing salaries invites opinions and/or expectations, especially since we like to save and so many others like to spend. How many times have you heard someone gripe about feeling that someone is stingy on a gift or just doesn't like to spend their money? Just the other day I was reading an advice column with a woman ("little sis") complaining about how generous she'd been with her nephew, but her "big sister" gives inexpensive gifts even though big sis's family is "well off". So maybe the "well off" sister feels it's more important to save, but she's judged for not giving expensive gifts, since the other sister deems her "able to afford it". If little sis didn't know big sis's salary, she might just assume that's all big sis could afford and then maybe even adjust her own giving accordingly, right?

My husband's coworkers used to call him "moldy money" because he wasn't in the habit of eating out at lunch (unless it was a birthday or special occasion) and he drove a 7 year old car. One of the higher ups atually commented, "We pay you enough. Why don't you get a new car?" even though his car only broke down once while working there and he had reliable back up transportation (my car) so it didn't interfere with his job duties.

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It may be a sobering reminder that the ethnic minorities that are rated most wealthy in American capitalist society are: Jewish-, Japanese-, Polish-, Chinese-, Indian- and Italian-Americans, in that order. Look around the expensive neighborhoods and private clubs, or top academic institutions. All my interactions with these subcultures identify the above habits, and the Jewish to an even more disciplined focus. These are worldwide habits toward money that have made them targets of ridicule, and even persecution, but the accumulation of individual wealth when not hindered by a corrupt and repressive system.

I'll add another:

HEALTHY TO BORDERLINE OBSESSIVE CONVERSATIONS ABOUT MONEY OVER TIGHT-KNIT FAMILY GATHERINGS. Many American subcultures find this crass but as young children, we are often told to earn pocket-money rather than accept allowances, made to understand long-term investments and pay-offs (education in a profession, training, running a business,) discussing about property and real estate, and driven to compete with one another. Sometimes it could be funny, as Chinese people hoard those little ketchup packets or napkins by the drawer-full, but carefully choose a single big-ticket status symbol like a McMansion, haggled wisely of course. By junior high, I found that compared to most peers, my Chinese-American friends were more sophisticated in understanding tax breaks, deductibles, insurance benefits, refurbished items, and the value-added concept, even if they were studying to be professionals and not merchants. It's not "cool" but there you have it.

I had a neighbor whose parents indulged him with every new toy, whether or not we had the same thing. (My parents told us to invite him over often and share his toy.) Another neighbor who lavished snacks of every variety. (My parents made us plant fruit trees and eat from it...and then sell the extra fruits to the neighbors.) When we went to their friends' home, we kids had to help wash their cars, hoe the garden, clean their home for free... and their kids helped us paint the fence, walk the dog, etc. With close friends, we traded board games, shared carpools, and swapped books to reduce our costs. With strangers, we sold what they wanted: sold sandwiches at school, sold ice-pops, sold recycled bottles. It took me twenty years to realize that in fact our house was the most expensive one on the block and my parents were well-off, it certainly didn't feel like it!!

NEVER OVERBURDEN YOUR CIRCLE OF TRUST, REAL MONEY COMES FROM OUTSIDE. Chinese modesty does not allow children to simply accept money from a family member without much protest, insistence that we do not deserve it, and an offer to reciprocate or pay-back the generosity with a promise to wisely put that money away for a real need. Borrowed money absolutely must be returned, sometimes with the concept of interest (though the lender-family/friend should be modest to wave away such a thought.) The idea is that legitimate money is earned not from parents/own friends but from the "outside" world. This seems ethnocentric, but it seems that Chinese culture is quite open to befriending those who have similar money habits (note: Jewish, Indian, etc.)

There's rarely a traditional Chinese family that will not stress academic achievement, particularly competence in the sciences, engineering, and maths. Unlike convention, Chinese subculture sees its mastery as a product of discipline and dogged effort, not a "inborn talent." Actually, besides a sharpened logic process, facility with numbers results in a culture that is more likely to tackle savings, complex tax break-downs, informed financial investments, and payback more shrewdly than the math flunk-out who never liked hard, real data to begin with.

...I guess it's no surprise. A disproportionate number of us deftly find friends who share the same values. By my own admittance for the sake of this blog, my best friends will be Jewish-Russian, Jewish-Mexican, Japanese-Chinese, Indian, Polish-American... it just turned out this way.

PS. nowadays salary isn't as much of a casual conversation topic in the most capitalist zones of China, as the wealth gap becomes more apparent that info causes resentment or envy. Word gets around though. Within one's own family, however, it becomes a point of reference and competition marker.

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

Wow that's a long comment. I do have a Jewish friend who is way cheaper than me, and he's richer too. We do discuss salary and career and retirement issues. I know what you mean by this "HEALTHY TO BORDERLINE OBSESSIVE CONVERSATIONS ABOUT MONEY OVER TIGHT-KNIT FAMILY GATHERINGS." My husband can't stand it when my parents and I talk about taxes and investments because he thinks it's boring. My parents are accountants so money is sort of their job. There is also the competition thing, which can be quite annoying.

Maggie Wells's picture

And it reminded me of my very Mexican-American mother who saves her money and--like her immigrant parents--almost always only pays in cash.


Margaret Garcia-Couoh

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Taiwan, Korea, and Japan are all captialist societies and they all follow these 6 habits.

Guest's picture

"I do have a Jewish friend who is way cheaper than me, and he's richer too." (from comment 25)

Yes, and there's probably a direct correlation at work there!

I'm not saying this is what you meant by this comment, but this comment did get me thinking...

Very often it seems like a person who has less money is critical of someone who has more money but is "cheaper" than them. They seem to think that since this person has more money, they should spend it more freely (and usually on the "poorer" friends & family). But the funny thing is, if they spent their money just as freely, they wouldn't have more money than you!

I just find it rather interesting that these people criticize rather than emulate. These people who feel poor and get resentful of their family/friends who "have more" don't seem to realize that there are still more Chinese or Jewish or whatever people out there who are making even less than they are but still manage to live below their means. For these "oh poor me" people, I think it's an attitude thing...they'll never have enough to be satisfied. I think for people in some of these other cultures, where savings is promoted...we're more likely to be grateful for what we have, better able to live within or below our means, and less prone to confusing needs and wants.

Guest's picture

Many Asian countries share similar values about money, stemming from their shared Confucian teachings, which include thrift. I'm Chinese American and was raised on such values.

Guest's picture

Many Asian countries share similar values about money, stemming from their shared Confucian teachings, which include thrift. I'm Chinese American and was raised on such values.

Guest's picture
El Cheapo

Thank you for posting this. My current sweetie is Chinese and she embraces A LOT of these values and views about money. Even when we hang out with her 2nd generation Asian friends... they're talking about saving/spending money and investments. All the time!!!

Guest's picture

I live in a multi-cultural neighborhood, and work in an extremely diverse office. My immediate neighbors, and the ones I have the closest relationships with are Chinese immigrants and Chinese-Americans. I noticed that they work hard, save money, and get by on living below their means. I give their children and grandchildren red envelopes during Ginger and Egg parties, birthdays, and Chinese New Year. On the other hand my recent immigrant Chinese co-workers (we all work in IT) earn more money than my neighbors, and they spend money much more frequently than I and my neighbors do. I also noticed that they are very brand conscious, and will spend more money on a "sale" item because of the label. For example, my closest co-worker told me how she went to Macy's at lunch to buy 3 Ralph Lauren shirts for $49 each to send back home to her brother in China. Another co-work purchased $700 worth of make-up to give to his sister-in-law for his trip back to China. The reason they gave for doing this is, because the same items cost more in China. (They buy these brands for themselves, too, and say that it's not considered good quality unless there is a well publicized name on the product). Many Mondays, they will talk about how they got such a great bargain at an outlet or department store. I am pretty sure they pay the bill off every month, but to me that is ridiculous!

My husband is from a small Caribbean island, and almost everything has be to imported, and thus costs are higher than here in the States. When we go down there or send stuff, I visit the local Dollar Tree, and spend about $300 liquid cleaners, lotion, toothpaste, shampoo, etc. The household items I get will last for at least a year for our numerous relatives, and they don't care what brand it is just as long as the stuff works! Very similarly to Chinese culture, Caribbean people save large portions of their income, and pay for most homes and cars with cash. Except for my teenage relatives, I have never received a request for a named brand item, and they don't turn up their noses to generic goods, or question an item's quality.

By the way, the two co-workers I mentioned are my best friends at work, and they often tease me about my frugality. Often, they say I act very Chinese (I am Black) with my money, and tell me that I should just buy an item when we discuss my dilemma over some purchase decisions. My point is that many cultures instill frugality and good money management, but there are several factions from within those same cultures that are significant driving forces within the consumerist economy.

Guest's picture

This is a very interesting post. I'm an American and have moved to Hong Kong for business about 2 years ago. One of the really interesting things you mentioned is the open talk about your income and finances. This is not true amongst Indians but I have found it to be completely true amongst the Chinese and other East Asians. At first I thought it was a bit rude, obviously in America it is considered rude to ask someone what they make, or how much they paid for their home, or what they have in savings, etc. However I have come to learn just how much better it is out here with people being open about such things. In the States we don't talk about these things and on a personal level we have the worst finances amongst the developed world. In America over 75% of people live paycheck to paycheck or very close to that. Perhaps if people talked more about their money they'd be more conscious of being responsible with it. It is also true as you said that people here talk about money not to brag about it but really to just inform and discuss, maybe offer advice. The same as we might talk about our diets in America.

However, I do think there is a major cultural shift happening here as well. Because Asia is becoming so wealthy the divide between the rich and everyone else is becoming bigger and bigger. Consumerism is becoming a big thing. People do like to show off with the million dollar apartments and six-figure cars. Especially here in Hong Kong and down in Singapore which has more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the world.

Guest's picture

It's also worth noting that Asian-Americans are the wealthiest group of people of people in American when broken down by race/ethnicity. In terms of both net worth and income. The median income for an Asian American is over $70k while for caucasians it is under $50k - a very big difference.

Sarah Baughman's picture

I lived in China from 2004-2006, and from what I saw there, your list still applies. Plus, of course, the plethora of knockoff products at various street markets made #4 easy!

Guest's picture

I spent some time in Asia and saw a lot of the same behavior you describe. I have to admit ignorance in that I used to stereotype Asians as greedy but over the years i've come to realize that the culture places a high value on common sense.

Guest's picture

I come from the Philippines where Chinese are now economically dominant and thus all-too-often the object of much envy and resentment.

Money matters: There's always fear of social or business repercussions or embarrassment to you or the other person when discussing money with non-family members. It's viewed as a private matter.

Filipino ideal traits of hospitality, generosity, and a 'work to live (and enjoy!)' attitude often produce an environment which does not encourage those habits.

Co-workers who rarely attend company parties or refuse to throw birthday bashes eventually earn a reputation as a cheapskate and becomes the running joke when such occasion come. People who win a contest are cajoled into sharing some of the prize and people who got promoted are joked into giving a treat. People who'd rather work or spend time alone would be considered as people who don't know how to relax, worse, told that 'you can't bring your riches to the grave', etc. In typical Filipino fashion, the proper response to these jokes, or attitudes, is to joke back. Parents and housewives take pride in their ability to provide the best for their children and be excellent hosts at the same time.

For me, no wonder many find that being an overseas worker is necessary for some for a comfortable life here. Too much social baggage and status to maintain.

I hope at least some of these good habits such as these rub off on the general population here and diminish the stereotypes on Chinese (and Filipinos who don't fit the mold) here.


Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

Hey there, my husband is actually Filipino.  You're right about the difference, though.  Filipinos do see money as a private matter and having lots of parties and giving lots of random gifts is encouraged.  I am not really used to that yet because I never had a huge family before.   I think Filipinos are more westernized because of a heavy Spanish/Catholic influence so they are sort of different from the Chinese.  My in-laws are sorta more spendy than my parents, too.  It's pretty interesting, but we get along pretty well. 

Guest's picture

1. Piggy Banking (Best Habit) - Make it a habit to put atleast $2 in the piggy bank everyday. If you are concerned about how to implant this habit – Thumb rule says, repeat the action for 21 days consecutively and it will result into a habit
2. Lend it as an expense – Whenever you friends/relatives need money, lend it to them and psychologically consider it as an expense. Any person will have a set monthly target of saving x% of salary, when you have lent it and treated as an expense, you will restrict yourself on spending it on a luxury/not-an- urgent item for that month
3. Term Deposit – Whenever your friend returns your money, deposit it in a bank for a long term
4. The “C” in cash – Cash expenses creates more awareness in total spending and type of spending. It will instigate new ideas of saving or maximum utilization of spend and avoid nonessential spending.

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E. Slasher

It took me a while to de-programm myself and now I do all these habits - except 5. Your salary is not a secret :) It's a thing here where I live not to talk about it, top secret, shush.

Guest's picture

@Svet, I certainly disagree to that, and generalizing the Filipinos on that sense. It maybe yes, but not all. Being jolly people we filipinos are, it's cultural and normal for us to celebrate and to enjoy an accomplishment, and take pride for it no matter how big or small it is. I hate to say this but you got it explained a different way around. It's nothing wrong on what we are, it's actually depending on how you see through our culture.

Guest's picture

I am married to a woman whose parents are filipino immigrants to the United States. After reading about the Chinese values on money, I admire and value the emphasis that the Chinese on place on saving and living within means.

My in-laws are the polar opposite of what the author talks about. They like to live beyond their means, throw parties, and ask their relatives to bail them out as a first option instead of finding ways to cut cost and live within their means.

Recently, my father-in-law asked me to buy a plane ticket for his brother-in-law to come to America and spend the Holidays with the family. Instead of saving up money a little bit at a time over the last year, he called everyone he knew and begged for money 2 weeks before the holiday season started. Needless to say, I told him no.

My inlaws are friendly, fun-loving people, but they could learn from the Chinese when it comes to money management.

Guest's picture

The Chinese are also the least generous of all Asian cultures and tightest when it comes to money. Also, Chinese business people run rampant tax fraud and insist on hiding cash under the table from Uncle Sam. Compound this with government handouts (ie. Section 8 Housing)... come to several Asian neighborhoods in LA and you'll see families driving Mercedes cars yet living in Section 8 housing.

Call me racist if you so desire but I am Asian and have seen many more Chinese bilk the system than garner envy for having superior money management skills. Its a mix of the good and the bad if you ask me.

Guest's picture

I have been married to a Chinese/Filipino and enjoy the differences of both. Filipinos are generous and compassionate people., and if they are not as cautious as the Chinese...

To me the Chinese culture is so money obsessed, so not generous and in fact, I have relatives that I brought over here that are doctors and engineers that collect pensions in China and live here in Section 8 housing.

My niece tells everyone that if her aunt was Chinese that she would never had come to America. That is so true!

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Jim Leigh

I have a website (, in which I would like to link to this article. I believe my intended audience will really benefit from this article! Thanks for your insight!

-Jim L.

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biz vizion

I can't help to be annoyed on how insensitive some chinese people can be to others in regards to money. The golden rule does not apply to this culture, What happened to "The do unto others as you would like done unto you". I apologize to those Chinese persons that are clearly not a part of this behavior. I realize the importance and the value of being frugal and the respect for money but why is it that the other person always has to give them the deal and not the other way around or why can it not be a win win scenario. This is my week for anti chinese money behavior. My son goes to a private high school where we have to purchase him his books. I asked him to ask an older classe mate for his last years books and he was offered someone's upperclassman's books. The older classmate apparently, only gave him three of the cheap books and kept the expensive hard back cover books and when we though we were getting the package and he charged him for double the market value of the three books. My son being a bit naive and trusting did not question it, I happened to notice this when I was checking the value of these books online. I could not help to ask what ethnicity this nice upperclassman happened to be and I am sad to say that this kid happened to be chinese american. It made me ill to my stomach that this behavior is passed on to the new generations. I was so upset that I called the parent of this student and complained that his son grossly overcharged my son for his books and he didn't seem apologetic at all. It was a lesson learned for my son on beeing keen on what you are purchasing and on not being so trusting, but it is unfortunate, nonetheless, in a religous school to boot. I have other examples of poor over the top obsessive money behavior from my own business experiences where I had to fire these clients but I will end with just this example and hope someone will shed me some light on this and prove me wrong. I want to respect Chinese people on this subject. Help me out!

Guest's picture

i have noticed that some people have no idea how much cheaper text books are online, so perhaps he wasn't aware. Books online (and text books) can be like $3.00 for a book that retails for $25.00 brand new.

Guest's picture

Why in the world would you ask what ethnicity the student was? Evidently, you are racist.

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samuel welsh

Cheers ,we need to create more understanding between chinnese and no chinnese this can certany break the sterotype.

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samuel welsh

the more we can learn from each other the better.

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Ernest S.

I always seem to wait until the last minute to send/pay my car registration. I think it is because they send out the notices so early (3 months before the sticker expires). I sit on it for months, then realize that I need to pay for it ASAP or else I will be driving around without valid stickers.

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Enjoyed your view on being Chinese, but American. What is your view of the role of the Chinese wife in the family with regards to money. Does the wife control the purse? What is the husband's role? What is the wife's responsibility with regard to money? How do you feel about the wife's typical role in Chinese society compared the western wife's role re family finances?

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I am a Chinese English teacher.I hope my students can get something useful from your article. Thank you very much.

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Wonderful a kid, I too saved all the money I got on birthdays and from small household chores I did. And as i grew up I started investing the same in various schemes and other investments. It was like I was getting regular income without a job right from school days!

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Thank you for your article. I from a part of America where money is a VERY private matter- I do not even know how much my parents make! I am travelling in Hong Kong and a man asked my Mom how much she paid for her watch- we were shocked! But I think he was just making conversation.
Can you write a little more about money small talk?

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is the chinese culture on money the same as japanese culture the same. like asking a jp person how much they make? and doing a career based on money and dating someone based on money?
just curious

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I think most of the Chinese money habits stems from the belief that you want the next generation to be better off than the current one. My mom always talk about sacrificing so us kids can have a better life. And now with my toddler, my mom is talking about how I need to save to education my daughter so she can have a better life. Even my spendthrift sister saves money, albeit a small percentage than the rest of us.

And yes, while I notice a lot of Chinese people are not very generous by American standards towards charity, they are often extremely generous within their families. Having a big wedding? More than 30%-50% would be covered by cash gifts from the family. An elderly grandmother that can't pay her bills? Her children and grandchildren will take turns helping the grandmother out. Just had a new baby? Here is some lucky money to start that college fund.

There is always the expectation that when my parents are older, I would have to "pay back." I know it sounds mercenary on print, this is why you don't see too many elderly Chinese people languishing at nursing homes with children visiting only once or two a year. My mom knows there is always a spare room in my house for the day when she cannot live on her own anymore. It's just a different mindset.

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When i was a kid the moment i was most enjoyed in my life when i receive cash gift from my relative and collecting it as much as i can. That was really fun. Until now i still receive it in chinese new year even i am already working now lol. But the amount is not as much as i received when i was a kid.

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Thrifty Writer

I am Indian-American, and a lot of Indians have similar traits, though it took me a while to develop them myself. Big emphasis on education and being frugal on lots of other things.

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In Chinese culture is it considered okay to buy used furniture(like from a thrift store or craigslist) or brand new only? I want to buy used couches and tables to save money but my husband says its dirty and gross and insists on brand new, which I think is a HUGE waste of money. We are not in a position to spend money like crazy right now. I apologize for my spelling errors.