As a Vietnamese American Woman, I Save Money for Myself Plus Relatives

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  • As a Vietnamese American woman, I’m expected to help my aging family members financially.
  • I consider the costs I help them cover part of my budget and plan accordingly.
  • I don’t expect an inheritance, so I prioritize saving for my retirement and goals.
  • This article is part of Women of Means, a series about women taking charge of their finances.

A few years ago, when I was at lunch with my older brother and mom, I asked my mom why she decided to have kids. She responded half-jokingly, saying she wanted to have someone to love her unconditionally and take care of her in her old age.

While it was a cheeky response, it was one that contained a kernel of truth. When you’re growing up Vietnamese American, there are cultural expectations to help out aging family members. I’ve witnessed extended family help out their parents with everything from mortgages and car payments to everyday living expenses.

And as receiving an inheritance isn’t a given — and is an alien concept in some ways — I’ve reached the understanding that working toward my own financial goals and helping family members who might need a financial boost down the line are a bit of a balancing act. Here’s how I aim to do both:

I fold my family’s living expenses into my budget

My mom has never put pressure on me or my brother to help her financially. But there have been times when she could use some assistance. My mom is a nurse who works in convalescent care. And at the beginning of the pandemic, my mom was faced with unsafe working conditions. She experienced heightened anxiety and ended up needing to take a break from her job.

I started to proactively help her financially when I could and offered to help pay for a couple of her bills. Instead of an additional expense, I incorporate those bills as part of my monthly budget and plan accordingly.

I set up a separate ‘family fund’

It’s an unwritten rule that if your family hasn’t asked for financial help, when they get older, there will come a time when they will. To avoid being blindsided, I started a separate savings account and automated savings for every month.

Just like how I have a pet fund for my cat and separate savings accounts for a “splurge fund” and a “new laptop fund,” I have a place where I can squirrel away some funds in case I need to help out my family.

I continue to autosave as much as possible

Besides helping my family when I can, I set up autosavings for most of my goals. Like many people whose parents were immigrants, I can’t count on a windfall from an inheritance nor can I expect a cash gift to put toward my down payment.

And as an unmarried woman who keeps her finances entirely separate from her partner’s, I’m solely responsible for my retirement and goals. Whether it’s throwing a party for my cousin’s upcoming wedding or a down payment on a home, I employ the “pay myself first” method where I tuck away money regularly.

My favorite savings tools are Qapital, where I squirrel away weekly savings for all my goals, and Digit, which uses an algorithm to figure out how much you can safely save and does it for you automatically.

I make saving for retirement a priority

While it can be easy for a self-employed freelancer such as myself to put saving for retirement on the back burner, I’ve committed to autosaving enough so I contribute the max on both my individual retirement account and my health savings account. I also put money into my Solo 401(k) when I can. Sometimes it’s monthly, sometimes it’s every quarter, and sometimes it’s a few times a year.

My system will never be perfect, as expectations, familial dynamics, and emotions will also be at play, but recognizing that my financial planning involves saving for my short- and long-term goals and saving to help my family — should the situation or set of circumstances arise—helps make sure I’m making steady progress toward my goals.