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Pet Sins July 2001

Culture clashes over frugal lifestyle - whites condemn Asian thrift as deprivation and degradation

I once got into a discussion with some white acquaintances about family upbringing and its impact on an adult's financial conduct. I narrated how my parents were fiscally very conservative, and while I certainly never starved as a child, I was never really full either. I carried my childhood habits into my adult life by foregoing a car purchase until my school loan was nearly paid off, and putting as much into paying off my loans as possible by not eating out and buying the lowest-priced food at the supermarket. And it came out later that these white women who pay lip service to "cultural diversity" by paying me compliments over my "Asian jacket" had been bad mouthing my upbringing and my family behind my back. The responsible financial management practiced by my lower-middle-class family who lived within the means of their income, is seen by these white women as unhealthy deprivation and hence "lack of nurturing".

I was so insulted. Frugality is something that is valued in my family, and these white women interpreted my family values as signs of deficient mental health. (One of them actually told me I "needed help" because my family wasn't nice enough to me, in her view.)

So I asked that white woman what her opinion was on what I should do to show her that I'm treating myself nice? Buy myself a Ferrari? She said she had nothing "tangible" to say, but still insisted that my upbringing and lifestyle were negative. So I've managed to pull myself out of debt by paying off my school loans and car loan and she is still the typical debt-ridden consumer - what's so negative about my frugality?

My parents may have scrimped and saved, dressed me in hand-me-downs, hardly ever eating out, and avoided expensive gifts. But they also spent more than 50 000 dollars to attempt to fix a non-critical, minor physical defect I had. They spent another 100 000 dollars on my private college education. Do they sound like poor parents who deprived their children? They simply made the decision to spend their money on more important things like healthcare and education. And by some perverse logic, such a choice is interpreted as sickness in the twisted minds of some white Americans.


Comment from 'Y.R.'

Our prosperity has created a society in which convenience/immediate gratification is prized over what is personally or environmentally responsible. Little wonder that we are among the top carbon dioxide emitters per capita. Self-gratification is not just considered normal by many, but seen as the only right way to live, to the point that healthy self-denial and necessary self-discipline are regarded as "uncool" and even harmful to one's self-esteem.

No wonder we have an obesity epidemic and an appalling personal savings rate compared to the rest of the world. It's only a matter of time before we as a nation start reaping what we sow. And I shudder to think of that day.

Comment from 'W.E.'
I don't think "prosperity" is a good excuse for a culture of over-consumption, credit card debt and waste. Americans don't just compare unfavorably to people from so-called 'Third World' countries when it comes to saving money and reusing/recycling things. We don't stack up that well against citizens of some other First World countries too.

One of my friends has visited a number of European countries and she said that she is amazed by some Europeans' restraint (relative to Americans) when it comes to generating waste like disposal plastic bottles. She is also impressed by the more healthy lifestyle of the residents of some European countries.