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