I came to America as an 8-year old refugee from the Vietnam War, along with my five brothers, my parents, and my grandmother. My parents were broken in spirit, but still retained enough pride to refuse food stamps and welfare assistance from our new homeland. They reminded us often that we have the benefit of our two hands, our work ethic, and our intelligence; and with our hunger (both literally and figuratively) as a powerful motivator, we can build a new life for ourselves and allow those less fortunate to benefit from government assistance. That was my parents’ first gift in guiding us toward financial responsibility.
My parents quietly and diligently went to work in our new home, carefully socking their money away into 401Ks and IRAs, even as we struggled financially to get by during our first 10 years in America. They helped finance 13 degrees among their 6 children, but they never touched their retirement funds. They intended to save those funds as their legacies for their grandchildren.
They had a different mindset on retirement, steeped in their Asian culture. While their colleagues and friends stressed and agonized over how to finance their retirement years when the paychecks must come to a stop, my parents relied on the Asian philosophy that pays deferential respect to the elderly: it is the filial duty and coveted privilege of the eldest son to financially care for and emotionally nurture their parents in their old age. But what about their six American children? Are we expected to just go along with this Asian philosophy?
My brothers and I ranged from 2 to 17 years old when we came to America. My parents were adamant that they raise us as Americans, with appreciation for Capitalism and Democracy, with gratitude for freedom and free will, with a healthy balance of enjoyment and responsibility. But they also raised us to foster a deep and private respect for our heritage.
So, although we are very typical Americans, with our own retirement accounts, we do still deeply believe in the Asian way of retirement when our parents are concerned. They gave us their all in raising us, and one by one, as we each eliminated our educational loans, we convinced our parents to retire 10 years early, to move in with one of their six adult kids, and to enjoy their retirement hanging out with their 13 grandchildren. The great source of disagreement and jealousy among our tribe of 6 siblings now stems from “fighting” for the right and the privilege to house our parents.
Do we expect the same in our old age?
We all know the answer is a resounding “no” as we get back to the routine tasks of keeping focus on 401k contributions, company matches and vesting schedules, meeting with our financial advisors and tax accountants, and fretting about politics and the economy.
Unfortunately, for most Americans, this is the new reality. We will not be able to count on the financial assistance of our family members. This reality requires that we need to focus on planning for this reality. The “Asian” philosophy of family members caring for elder family members is not as widespread in my new homeland. Make sure that you will have the means to support yourself in dignity and independence when you are no longer able to work. Crimmins Wealth Management can help with this pursuit.
Written on behalf of Crimmins Wealth Management by Thao Groenewald
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