6 Financial Expectations In Asian Families

I recently wrote a post about how Mr. FAF and I bought a house in Washington DC.

I brought up the fact that my in-laws helped us with the down payment as they considered it their responsibility to help their son, Mr. FAF, buy a house for his family.

One of the readers was kind enough to point out that she had never heard of this financial expectation before and asked if there are others.

In this post, I will discuss six main financial expectations in familes in China and Vietnam (referred to as Asia for short) that are not common in America.

I realized these are broad generalizations. But I think the patterns are applicable to many families in Asia and are worth discussing.

The analysis below is based on my experience of

(1) living in Vietnam for 18 years,

(2) being married to a husband born and raised in China, and

(3) living in America for 12 years.

1. Parents to pay for their children’s wedding

In America, the bride’s parents are expected to pay for the one wedding for her and the groom.

However, in Asia, the bride’s and groom’s families will have two separate weddings for their own guests, and both sets of parents pay for their own child’s wedding.

A wedding in Asia is an occasion where the parents can showcase their wealth, connection, and influence, so they want to make it as big as they can possibly afford.

Wedding gifts are usually money put in an envelope. The amount varies depending on the venue, the parents’ socioeconomic status, and how close their relationships are with the guests. Parents can use the money to offset the costs of the wedding.

Our experience

We had two weddings: one in China and one in Vietnam. We were in the US prior to the ceremonies, so our parents prepared everything. Our main job was to show up at the wedding and to thank the guests.

Our parents kept the money we received from the guests. I know Mr. FAF parents’ spent more than what they got, while mine got just enough to pay for the whole wedding.

2. Parents to buy a house for their son

If you’re a man in Asia and want to get married, you are expected to own a house. If a man has no property, he’s considered less marriage-material and thus less likely to find a wife. Given the gender imbalance in China (118 boys to every 100 girls), the competition for a wife is fierce.

If a man can’t get married for whatever reason, especially after they’re past 35, it is considered a shame for his parents. In other words, people think there might be something wrong with him since no woman is willing to marry him.

Parents therefore are under pressure to find a good match for their son in order to save face and to carry on the family tree. They are expected to either own a house to leave their offspring after they pass or to buy a separate house for their son and his future wife.

It is not uncommon for a guy to go on a first date and get asked by the girl “How many properties do you or your parents own?” Don’t be surprised if the guy gets a disappointing look from the girl when he says “One.”

Our experience

After Mr. FAF and I got married, we were still in grad school in America, not knowing where we would end up. It was an unspoken topic, but my parents expected Mr. FAF to have a house for me and our future children.

My parents liked Mr. FAF and didn’t mention the house. But Mr. FAF’s parents were culturally aware of the elephant in the room and promised my parents they would help us buy a house when we knew for sure where we would live after our graduation.

Property is crucial to marriage in Asia. 

3. Paternal grandparents to take care of their grandchildren

Besides buying a house, the husband’s parents are also expected to take care of their grandchildren free of charge. If a couple has kids in Asia, the children are considered to be the “official” members of the husband’s family.

In other words, the husband’s parents are the “real” grandparents who take on the duty of caring for their grandchildren. The wife’s parents can choose to help out, but it’s not their main responsibility.

Our experience

When Mr. FAF and I had Baby FAF, my in-laws came all the way from China to help us. They didn’t get any sort of compensation for doing that. In fact, they helped us out financially as well and never asked for anything in return.

Sometimes we (gratefully) joke that Mr. FAF’s parents retired from their jobs and paid a big sum to get new full-time unpaid babysitting jobs with us.

4. The husband and his wife to live with his parents

You might start to think that it’s so unfair that the man’s parents have to take on so many responsibilities. But their efforts are supposed to be rewarded. The husband and his wife are expected to live with his parents to take care of them.

In modern days, many young couples can choose to live on their own. However, some couples still can’t afford to buy a home or don’t have the husband’s parents buy them a house, so they live with the parents.

Our experience

Our parents are currently in Asia. But Mr. FAF and I have discussed having both sets of parents living with us in the future so that we can take care of them when they’re older.

5. Adult children to support their parents financially

When someone goes to college in Vietnam and China, their parents are expected to support them throughout their 4 years in school.

Young people can choose to get a part-time job and try to get a scholarship, but it’s still considered the parents’ responsibility to pay for their children’s education.

However, once they graduate from college and start working, they are expected to give a portion of their salaries back to their parents. This payment serves two main purposes:

(1) To thank the parents for their hard work and upbringing

(2) To contribute to family expenses since many adults live with their parents even after they turn 18, go to college, or get married.

Our experience

Our parents don’t expect Mr. FAF and me to support them financially. They have a pension and have worked hard all their lives to save up for their retirement.

But we still plan to give them a certain amount of money each month as a token of our gratitude and to give them extra income when they’re retired.

6. A man to provide for his family, his parents, and possibly his wife’s parents

Partly due to the one child policy in China, many parents have only one daughter and thus expect the best husband for her and the best son-in-law for themselves.

A financially secure son-in-law is a source of not only pride but also financial support for the wife’s parents. There are cases where the husband is the only one working to support himself, his wife, their kid, his parents, and his in-laws (7 people).

Our experience

My parents don’t expect any financial support from us. But I know it makes them feel proud and happy knowing that we care about them more than just emotionally.

Conclusion

These are just broad strokes of the family culture in Vietnam and China. It’s not entirely true for every family. But if you sample enough families and observe their behavior, you will see the patterns mentioned above.

Mr. FAF and I are fortunate enough to build our family in America. But we will keep some of the Asian values that we hold dear to our hearts such as taking care of our parents when they’re old both emotionally and financially.

What Baby FAF decides to do in the future is totally up to him. We just know that we are not planning to depend on him for financial support. That’s why we will try to build a strong retirement account and make investment that can yield us a good return when we’re old.

We will provide for Baby FAF until he finishes college. But after that, we will set him free on his path, watch him from a distance, and will catch him if he falls.

Related:

How Frugality Brought Us Together As A Couple

When Marrying For Love (And Not Money) Just Isn’t Enough

How Mr. FAF and I Handle Our Finances As A Couple

Why We Sent Our Baby To China

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26 thoughts on “6 Financial Expectations In Asian Families”

  • Thanks for the insight. As my neighborhood becomes more and more ethnically diverse, I am seeing many multigenerational households more in. It’s nice to know a bit of the tradition behind that.

    • I’m glad you find the post helpful in a way. I know it might seem a bit odd to Westerners how so many people in an Asian family live together under the same roof. I can tell you that not many people, especially the youngsters in Asia, are fond of that idea. But they realized it’s something they have/need to do because of what society or their parents expect of them. =)

    • Thank you! We indeed feel very fortunate for our parents. Dave Ramsey talks about a couple changing the family tree when they pay off their debt and start investing in their children’s future. I really believe in that notion.

      I told Mr. FAF I’m more than happy to give our children everything we own and will ever own in the future. But I’d be hesitant to do that if our kids didn’t try hard in their lives and relied on us for everything.

      Funny story: after we closed on our new house, I told my husband that it was Baby FAF’s house, and that I would try to pay off every cent on the mortgage so that he could own it free and clear. If he’s a good kid, I will give him the world. If not, he will be on his own.

  • Heyyy this post really speaks to me. I wonder why…?

    My parents wanted very badly to contribute money to our house down payment. I’m Americanized…so I thought. ..why would I take money from my broke, elderly parents? But to them it’s suppose to be a symbolic blessing of sorts.

    Yes Asians cram a lot of people under one roof haha. If you include my BnB, it’s a full house with 8 people at all times lol. It’ll be 9 next year when my mom moves in too. Lol! Party.

    • Hi Lily, I’m glad you can relate to the post. Uhm maybe it’s because we both have Asian parents? haha j/k (but really :p ).

      I agree with you on the blessing. I think they want to show us that they care and want to contribute to our future. It’s very thoughtful of you to think about them. I actually had the same thought about my in-laws, but Mr. FAF said we would take care of them in the future, so it’s ok. We’re all in this together.

      It’s amazing how you can have 8 (and 9 in the future) in one house! I know you’re doing AirBnb, but I didn’t know you hosted so many people. No wonder at one point you said your husband wanted to save hot water for the guests. Oh my I can’t wait to read more about your AirBnB experience!! ^.^

  • This is super interesting considering my in-laws are Chinese from Vietnam. I actually did notice a lot of grad students at UCSD have their parents taking care of their children at the parks It was really common. Wouldn’t mind it one bit if both our parents wanted to help watch their future grandkids. 🙂

    • HI Oliver, that’s an interesting observation. It’s also very common in China and Vietnam. I don’t mind our parents helping out with the kids either as long as they’re ok with it. ^.^

    • Thank you for the nice comment! I’m always interested in knowing the financial expectations in different cultures. I’ve actually seen your name in a couple of blogs but ever thought I’d see you here. =)

  • A lot of these financial expectations are similar to financial expectations in Latin America! My husband tells my kids all the time that they should expect us to live with them when they’re old (he’s only partly kidding). Also, since kids live with their parents in college and beyond, it’s fairly common for children to give their parents a portion of their salaries. But the idea of the paternal grandparents taking care of the grandkids is different–the maternal grandparents have a lot more “weight” in Latin America. So cool that your in-laws were able to come and help you after the baby was born!

    • Wow I didn’t know we had so many cultural similarities. I wonder why maternal grandparents have more “weight” in Latin America. That’s such an interesting concept and tradition!

      Sometimes Mr. FAF and I also joke about living with Baby FAF. But Mr. FAF is pretty adamant about not relying on our children on we’re old. I think I’m fine either day. I don’t want to be a burden to our children, but I also like the idea of living with my future grandchildren to see them grow. 😀

  • What an interesting read, thanks for writing more on the topic! I was surprised that girls will ask about housing on the first date. It seems the paternal grandparents take on more responsibilities and have a closer connection to the family than the maternal grandparents. I know we have a lot of discussions about trying to keep things fair for both sides, alternating which family we see on the holidays. I like how everybody lends the support that they are able to give. The grandparents have time to save up for a house for their son, then later the family has the means and energy to take them in to live with them.

    • Thank you, Cheryl! Some girls also ask about salaries, cars, and other material things as well. They want to gauge whether the guy is financially secure enough for them to date and marry.

      I want to keep things fair for both sides too, that’s why I was hesitant to accept my in-laws’ generous help. But sometimes it’s not easy to go against tradition, and I’m forever grateful for their help when we were in need. ^.^

  • As an Asian-American I can related to some of these expectations especially to the first three you mentioned. Both of our parents did not fully pay for our wedding but did contributed a good amount of it. It was their way of helping us making our wedding day less stressful financially and wanted us to just enjoy one of the best days of our lives. Secondly, since we are currently looking for a home my in-laws and more than happy to pitch in when we find one. Anything will help and having them contribute is very grateful. Lastly, when our son was born last year my in-laws, who are retired, volunteered to take care of him full time and since they live five minutes from us it was easy for us to drop him off before we head to work. They are still taking care of him but we plan to take him to daycare later this summer to take the burden off them and want our son to start interacting with other babies at daycare. Having one year of babysitting free of charge was more than what we could have asked for and me and my wife are happy not just for that but also the bonding between him and his grandparents. That’s what it makes it stand out. Our parents wanted us to be better off and these contributions more than helped us. We plan to do the same with our son and if we have another baby, we will be more than happy to help out.

    • Hi Kris, I’m glad to know that you can relate to the post! =)

      We can also relate to you as well. Mr. FAF and I are going to send Baby FAF to daycare so that he can learn new things and interact with other kids. It’s been wonderful of my in-laws to help us take care of him. But we also think he’s been a bit spoiled since his grandparents wait on him from the moment he wakes up until he goes to bed (in China). Baby FAF is two now, but he can’t feed himself. I know a lot of babies who are younger than one can feed themselves really well. That’s something we will need to work with him on. 🙂

  • Wow this is incredibly fascinating. I didn’t know all these social norms in Asian families. Seems like it would breed very close knit families.

    A woman that I use to work with said that it was expected that when she graduated from college that she was expected to pay for her parents. So she use to give them $1k a month along with her three brothers. That’s 4k a month tax free.

    Interesting how different cultures handle things. Thanks for sharing!!!

    • I’m glad you found it useful! 😀 For some reason, I thought almost everyone knew these social norms (probably because I’m so used to them) until I mentioned it to my non-Asian friends/neighbors/colleagues. I actually talked to a neighbor before writing this post, and she was super surprised to hear about all these norms.

      $1k sounds about right haha. That’s exactly the amount we have in mind for our parents (probably split in half for each set of parents since we’re still paying off the mortgage). It will probably increase in the future once we’re more financially secure. I think that’s one reason why Asian parents want their kids to have stable jobs. It’s a sort of social security for them when they’re retired.

      Thanks for your great comment! =)

  • I found this post very interesting being an Asian American. While I was born here and my parents have lived here for many years, they still often some traditional Asian ideas. When I started working, I continued living at home but I did give my parents money. It was needed since they had just stopped working around that time. When I got married, my wife and I lived there for a year and I continued paying “rent” to my parents. Living together can be tough…have you ever watched “Everybody Loves Raymond.” I think the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship often has the most tension. We moved to an apartment and rented which was a big no no. “Rent is flushing money down the drain!” (No it’s not). My parents weren’t able to financially help me with a down payment and it’s expensive here in NYC…nor would I want their help since they lived so frugally as it is. When we had kids, my parents helped a lot with childcare since my mother-in-law was ill, but with baby #2, they split the duties. We do give them money though. It is a big help but can also cause tension as my mom and my wife sometimes have different thoughts when it comes to childcare! *Sigh* Sorry for venting…it is my biggest source of stress right now =)

    • I’m so sorry the issue has been causing so much stress for you. But I think I know what you mean. My mother-in-law is a wonderful person. But when she was here to help me take care of Baby FAF, there was also some tension in our relationship. I think it also stressed Mr. FAF out since he was stuck in the middle. He tried to talk to me and his mom and was great at reconciling our differences. But it didn’t always go perfectly.
      When Baby FAF was born, I do think I had post-partum depression and was unhappy with everyone around me.

      You don’t need to apologize for sharing your thoughts. I’m sure a lot of people have the same problems but just don’t share their experiences. I want to take care of my in-laws, but I also think it’s best we keep somewhat of a physical distance to avoid tension and problems. 😉

  • Financially we are quite un-Asian in our family – and I can’t see any way for me to be in a position to support my parents later on, as they are much more financially secure than I would ever expect to be myself! They did assist me with a down payment as a loan, which I’m very grateful for.

    • It’s great to know that your parents are financially secure, and that they helped you out with the down payment as a loan. I think that some values in Asian culture are great, but they definitely don’t apply to everyone. Everyone has a story and a method that works better for their situations. ^.^

  • Absolutely fascinating post, a real eye opener for me and has answered a few questions that I had, after reading some of your other blog entries. There is a lot to respect and digest here and I just wish that I had read something like this when I was in my late teens and twenties; it would certainly have made me a better individual. I can see now why the Far East is becoming such an attractive proposition for many of us disillusioned Westerners!

    • Thank you, Templeton! I think we all have to learn from one another. I love Asia since that’s where I’m from. But I know for a fact that we have a lot to learn from the West too! ^.^

  • I cannot wait to teach excellent financial principles to my black-latino children. Unfortunately, there is a great history of financial discrimination against and lack of literacy in both communities, which makes it hard to get ahead. The more we educate family by family, we build out and extend to communities. That’s what I hope to do. Great job by your families and now you both!

    • Thank you so much, Heather! I totally agree with you that racial discrimination prevents so many people from getting ahead in their lives. I wonder when all this can change so that we can all be equal in pursuing our dreams and great opportunity!

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