Reader Case: My Irresponsible Parents Are Destroying My FI Plans!

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“Hi guys,

I am one of your Asian readers from Hong Kong and have just finished your book and most of the content on your blog! Very inspiring and thanks for letting me know the concept of FIRE at a relatively young age.

One of my biggest struggle to FIRE, and also the reason for writing to you guys, is that in Asia we have a culture of giving ‘家用’ (housekeeping money), which I believe Kristy must know well LOL. Especially because I grew up in a poor family, my parents are 100% dependent on me and my younger sister after they retire as they don’t have any investment or cash to sustain their living (they save little to non every month). That would put a lot of pressure on us and significantly affect my savings rate. I can only expect my housekeeping money and medical expenses for my parents to increase in the future for at least 30 years ahead.

So I would really appreciate if you guys can help me a bit on how I can manage my situation and better plan for FIRE! Below are my finances:

Age: 24-year-old female, graduated last year, single

Income: Gross HKD 336,000 annually; HKD 315,968 annually after tax and MPF* (mandatory retirement account contribution)

Debts: no debts or loans

Rents: $0 as I live with my family (mum, dad & younger sister)

Monthly expenses: HKD 16,000 ($8K as my expenses and another $8K as housekeeping money)

Insurance: don’t have any yet, expected to be HKD 2,000 per month starting next month

Net savings: HKD 8,330 per month, saving rate of 32%

Savings account: HKD 150,000

Notes:

*Monthly MPF contributions: HKD 1,400 (cap at HKD 1,500 when annual gross income >= HKD 360,000)

Our MPF contributions can only be withdrawn at 65. If you want to withdraw earlier, you must be at least 60 and have ceased all employment and self-employment. Withdrawals are exempted from being taxed.

I don’t have any investments right now but planning to start with US and global ETFs. I would like to achieve FIRE in 20 years and also planning to start some online retail business to expand my income sources because I know my current saving rate is far too low.

I also expect my monthly expenses to increase even if I try to spend less, because housekeeping money is an item I cannot avoid. Indeed it will only go up when my parents need more medical and travel expenses after they retire. My dad will retire in 5 years and my mum’s only working part-time occasionally, salary quite negligible. They are now 60 and 54 years old.

I don’t mean to blame my parents for not saving any money and planning their retirement, but this situation really frustrates me when I have to maintain expenses for the three of us while not having a high-paying salary.

So when I calculate using the 4% rule, unlikely many others, it’s difficult for me to estimate my yearly expenses because I don’t know how much I need to spare for my parents who will be 100% dependent on me (or at least 50% when my sister starts working too). I think Kristy is really lucky, because although you grew up in a poor family, your parents worked hard to sustain a living and managed to pay themselves well for retirement. My parents don’t have that ability and now the responsibility all falls on me and my sis.

My parent’s monthly expenses’ roughly HKD 23,000, I guess that will be split evenly among me and my sis after 5 years when my dad retires. (but of course I would like to provide them better living standards after they retire) Their combined MPF contribution’s roughly HKD 300,000.

How would you advise provided my situation above? I am really stressed out because of this. I want this negativity to go away and achieve more to make up for my family situation. Thanks for reading this long email and hope my case would resonate with other Asian youngsters out there. Many thanks!

Hongkonger”

Hi HKer, first of all, my condolences to you for having shit parents. While that may sound harsh, as Asian kids, we get called “shit daughter/son” or “stupid little shit” all the time. But never do our parents ever stop to consider that it can go both ways. In this case, you have a severe case of shitty-ass-parents-syndrome, and we need to jump on this fast because, left untreated, it can seriously destroy your health and your life.

We don’t get to choose our parents, but we do get to choose how to respond to them.

This reader case isn’t so much about numbers as curing your shitty-ass-parents-syndrome. I can immediately see that based on your parents’ monthly spending, it’ll take up close to your entire salary to support them, so there’s no way you can become financially independent if you go down this path. Not only that, their idea of using you as their retirement plan is incredibly stupid.

Why?

Because as everyone knows, your kids can’t possibly ever get laid off from a job, get sick and not be able to work, or get hit by a bus, right? It’s a bullet proof plan!

I’m staring at the back of my skull right now because that’s how hard I rolled my eyes.

Okay, let’s collectively take a deep breath, and then repeat after me.

“I am not responsible for my parents’ financial failings.”

The fact that your parents don’t have any money saved for retirement is not your fault. They made that choice, you didn’t.

Now, you might accuse me of being a shit daughter and say things like “but but but, what about filial piety (孝道),”?

For everyone else out there who isn’t Chinese, “filial piety” (孝道), means absolute devotion to ones’ parents, no matter what their failings or how much they mistreat you, because as their child, you owe your parents everything.

Believe me, I get it. It’s because of this long held cultural belief that I went home to visit my parents every weekend before I retired, despite the constant fights I had with my mom and the anxiety attacks I got every time. I was a completely masochist and couldn’t stop myself. Unless you’ve grown up in our culture, it’s nearly impossible to understand the concept of 孝道 and why we continue torturing ourselves no matter how badly we are treated.

But you know what the crazy thing is? It wasn’t until I set boundaries and put an ocean between myself and my parents that I finally learned how to stand up for myself. Only then did they see that this relationship is two sided and it isn’t just “parents are always right”.

You are not alone in this struggle. There are other people, just like you, who are fighting to take back their power and set boundaries so that their parents don’t continue to take advantage of them.

Now that we’ve gotten the issue out in the open, how do we resolve this?

I’m not going to insult your intelligence by giving you condescending advice like “just talk to your parents and tell them how you feel.” Growing up, whenever my non-Asian friends told me that, I responded by laughing so hard I fell down. Our parents don’t give a shit about how we feel. They don’t care about us feeling happy. They want us to be USEFUL. The more useful you are, the happier you’ll feel. That’s my parents’ motto.

Well, the good news about that is because we’ve learned how to be logical and useful, instead of being emotional and helpless, we can approach this pragmatically.

 

Step 1: Become Independent

In order to set boundaries, you need to be independent first. If you’re living with them they own your ass.

So, the first step is to stop relying on them financially. You have to be able to stand on your own two feet and interact with them from a position of strength. 

You might think you’re saving money by saving rent, but it’ll cost you way more money (and sanity) in the long run.

Either move out or pay them rent.  

 

Step 2: Set Expectations

One of the reasons I kept going home and making myself miserable is because I thought if I was “a good daughter” my mom would be grateful and treat me better.

HA!

Stop and get that delusion out of your head right the hell now. No matter how much you do for them, shitty parents will always want more from you.  Think about it. If you spoil a child, they don’t become nicer to you. They just get even more entitled. It’s the same for parents.

Let me give you an example. One of my Chinese friends, we’ll call her ‘Leslie’, has a life philosophy of “surrendering unconditionally” to her parents.

When Leslie turned 30 years and wasn’t married, she began to panic. Worried about being disowned, she and a guy friend made a pact to marry each other to appease their parents.

Who needs to marry for love when you have your parents’ respect and approval, right?

And guess what? After she did exact what they wanted, soon afterwards, her parents gave them their approval, loved them unconditionally, and they lived happily ever after.

Bwahahaha. Yeah right. Nope. Less than a year after their marriage, Leslie’s mom started pestering her about “where are the kids? All my friends have grandchildren, when am I getting one?”

So, being the obedient devoted daughter, she got pregnant and had a kid.

You’d think her mom would be overjoyed and go over to see her grandchild all the time right?

WRONG.

In the year after her kid was born, her mom visited her a grand total of….

…one time.

Soon after that visit, Leslie got a call. It was her dad on the phone. “Your mom wants me to tell you something.”

“What is it?” Leslie asked, thinking her mom wanted to tell her how proud she was of her and her grandchild.

 “She’s very disappointed in you.”

Leslie’s heart dropped. “What? Why? What did I do?”

“Why aren’t you a manager at work yet? It’s embarrassing. All your mom’s friends’ kids are managers or directors. Your mom is very disappointed in you.”

If want to follow Leslie’s “surrender unconditionally” method, go ahead. But just know that obeying your parents isn’t going to make them love you more. It just makes them more controlling and demanding.

Believe me, I tried. I got the good grades. I became an engineer. I became a millionaire. Didn’t matter. They still wanted more out of me. Kids, house, promotions at work. It never ends.

Stop deluding yourself into thinking you can appease them. You can’t. So, stop trying.

 

Step 3: Set Boundaries

This is a tough one, I have to admit. It took me years to do this. I still have trouble with it but it’s the most important step.

You need to set boundaries so that your parents don’t take advantage of you. For me that was a physical boundary. Instead of letting my mom treat me like crap, I simply put distance between us so she physically couldn’t. And if she ever starts being abusive again, I just leave. I couldn’t do that as a teen because I relied on her, but once I became independent, I was free.

It wasn’t easy, but it was necessary.

You will feel guilt. You will worry. And the words “shit daughter/son” will ricochet around your head a lot.  All of that is normal. But if you don’t set boundaries, your parents will continue taking advantage of you, you will grudgingly accept it out of guilt, and then eventually it will all blow up when your volcano of resentment erupts, spewing rage lava all over them.

So, for you, a boundary might be, you pay a fair price for rent to them monthly, buy your own groceries, and they can use the rent towards their retirement. Once that money is gone, they don’t get any more money from you to fund their unlimited retirement budget.

 

Step 4: Lie Your Pants Off

You might think I’m joking about this, but I’m dead serious.

Your parents are living in an alternate reality from generations ago, where just because they are older, it means they are automatically right and get to control your finances. We don’t live in that time period anymore.

As a result, I’d like to propose a highly effective, tried and tested strategy I like to call “Web of Lies.”

No matter what you say, your parents will simply assume you are young and naive and as your elders, they will always know more than you, so using logic and truth won’t work on them.

Trust me I’ve tried. Even though my dad is also an engineer, trying to explain the 4% rule and financial independence to him using logic and math was like teaching a cat to do my taxes.  Because of the cultural hierarchy, you parents will always assume they know more than you because they are older.

So instead, I lied and told them we were taking a gap year by travelling and would eventually come back to find work. And then after the year was over, I simply continued travelling and proving that FI works by not needing a job or any support from them.

In your case, whatever you do, DO NOT tell them how much money you have. Construct an elaborate alternate reality where you are not able to help them financially. Say you have a bad credit score. Say your money is locked away by your company. Hell, make up a story where you are indebted to the Yakuza if you have to.

The truth is not your friend. But a well thought out and properly constructed Web of Lies can set you free.

 

Step 5: Secretly Set Money Aside

I know all this is easier said than done. Asian parents have a PHD in guilty tripping, so you are no match for the tsunami of guilt that will wash over you when they inevitably ask for financial help.

This is why you set aside a fixed amount of money each month for them for medical emergencies. They can always scale down their cost of living in retirement, but health is not something they can choose. Whatever that figure is, it depends on you. But don’t tell them about it! Otherwise, they’ll just find a way to spend it. Set this aside and add it to your FI number when you calculate your time to retirement.

 

Step 6: Emotional Help Over Financial Help

A friend of mine taught me that financial help isn’t the only type of help you can give your parents. You can support them in other ways. Buy them groceries, help them find a good health insurance provider, a cheaper place to live, create a budget, etc. Find ways to help them without letting them destroy you financially. Spend time with them instead of giving them handouts.

When it comes to family members who rely on you financially, realize that you are not alone. When I was little, my mom constantly asked me “how much money are you going to give me when you grow up?” Luckily, my Dad is able to take care of her. But some of my friends are not so lucky and they have the same struggle as you.

What they’ve realized is that you can’t make your parents happy or grateful by continuously giving into their every need. It just causes them to constantly hit you up for money and help. Everyone needs to set healthy boundaries.

The good news is that you are still very young (only 24! WOW!) and you have a lot of time ahead of you to build up wealth. Just make sure your parents don’t find out about it.

Remember, when in doubt, Lie Your Ass Off.

All right that’s enough yelling from me. Merry F*cking Christmas everyone!

What do you think of HKer’s situation? Would you give your parents money to fund their retirement? Why or why not?


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64 thoughts on “Reader Case: My Irresponsible Parents Are Destroying My FI Plans!”

  1. I’m just some white dude whose dad has a cushier pension than my investments will ever provide. I feel entirely unqualified to even try to be helpful here. All I’ve got is

    YIKES

    BON COURAGE

  2. As the first college graduate in my family, I can tell you that poor families expectations reach far beyond Asian family culture and that you are not alone. I tried to get the good job, have a family and all that for my family’s approval, which did not work to say the least. Now, I am divorced but much happier and I bought my own house and agreed to let my mom and grandma move in. This ended up much better as I had proved my independence to myself and did not strive for their approval in a self-destructive way anymore. You definitely need to “put on your oxygen mask first” as they recommend in the airplane safety lecture. It may also help if you can coordinate with your sister so that you feel less alone and have a possible mediator between you and your parents. You have done well for yourself and I am sure that you will reach FIRE.

  3. Yeah…most parents suck for various reasons. I estimate that only about 25% of parents actually deserve visits in the nursing home when they’re old…

    ..But, I’m also fair in this assessment. Of the 25% of parents that do deserve visits, only 25% of their children deserve any inheritance.

  4. The housekeeping money sounds like rent to me. The reader has an out. She’s female. If her parents are so traditional, why does she have to support them? Daughters don’t have that responsibility, traditionally.

    Why is she paying so much in housekeeping money? $8 HKD/month sounds really high. Just give them less and tell them to keep working or work part-time. Tell them once she gets married she will stop contributing or give less. That’s expected, right? Tell the parent to move somewhere cheaper.

    Anyway, I’m sending $500 to my parent every month. That’s not bad because I have 2 brothers to help and we can afford it. They live in Thailand so it’s not that expensive. Just budget it in. I’m not going to let my parent become homeless.

  5. I totally understand how Hker feels. My parents are like that (both parents are from Hong Kong too). Mom is still working and dad is retired. I would not fund my parents’ retirement entirely. But, the way I give ‘家用’ is I pay for the car’s expenses, my mom’s credit card and miscellaneous expenses. But, I do set an amount to how much I pay each month. If they go over the limit, I tell them they need to spend less next month.

  6. Oh, man. I can’t relate to the cultural pressures, but I agree with another poster that this is common among those who have been poor. Plenty of professional athletes have had to cut ties with their families because they expected too many handouts. My parents are a much, much milder version, but I know I’m still their fallback plan, and I’ve had to do many of the things discussed. I definitely hide my income and net worth, I embellish my student loan payments, and I never tell them about any international vacations (camping trips only!) I also tell my kids that, although they better not count on me to leave them an inheritance or pay for their college, they will not have to provide me any financial support, in any way, shape, or form, when I am old. I might send them this post to impress upon them how big of a deal that is.

  7. Yikes!

    I can’t totally relate (as a middle class white person) but my in-laws have basically 0 retirement savings and are around 50 years old & are now just realizing that they will be screwed when they retire.
    Now that I have come into their life (as a finance nerd) I have tried very hard to educate them about money. So now they are trying to pay off their enormous amount of debt faster, at least. They also don’t believe in leaving any money to their kids and want to spend everything, which is fine, it’s their money, but I do not want to give them any handouts.
    My husband and I have worked and planned way too hard to get to where we are at to just give money to people who have made poor financial choices (that we have warned them about). I will gladly give them all the financial tools & advice they need to be successful, but if they choose not to use them and waste their six-figure household income, that is on them and I’m not going to be their expensive parachute.

    Sorry not sorry.

    1. Ugh !! ‘Sucks ! Generally speaking, except for extraordinary circumstances (extremely rare), I have a zero tolerance policy towards boomers who didn’t plan for retirement…

      1. I think it is fair to say this is not only a boomer problem. Yes, I am a boomer and don’t have this issue. Neither did my hard working parents. It’s a personal issue that has been experienced throughout time.

    2. +1 *insert gif of homer simpson retracting into the hedges*

      my parents are the stereotypical asian parents firecracker describe above (i.e. will not be satisfied by any achievements forever), but at least they had the decency to amass an arsenal of real estate so they won’t ask me for financial support. i have still been spinning my web of lies though, just in case.

      my partner’s parents, on the other hand… horrendous money practices and deluded ‘i’m going to work forever!’ types. doesn’t help that they’ve also been pretty shitty parents to my partner. one at least has equity in a home but that’s about it. the other is much more of a mess and has made veiled comments like, ‘hope there is an in-law at your next house!’ um, even if there is you won’t be living in it! it is going to be a nightmare in the coming years. my partner is a really caring person and i’m probably going to have to be the person to drag him far away from those pits of doom.

  8. Kristy, subtly leave stories lying around where your parents can find them about how in Canada parents are left on ice flows in their old age.

    Then every so often suggest going on a ‘family vacation’ to Newfoundland & Labrador to see the icebergs.

  9. I have Asian inlaws and every Euro we send them, I view as charitable giving rather than an obligation. If you rephrase it this way, it may help set boundaries, because if it’s an obligation, they can make you give as much as THEY want. If you view it as charity, you give as much as YOU want and are able to while still reaching your FI goals.

    However, I guess for the moment you are stuck. 8k for (presumably) food and accomodation in HK doesn’t sound too bad and you probably had to spend more living elsewhere. I would expect the real problems to start once you move out, because you would need to pay for your own housing and theirs. Maybe you can try mentioning the idea of moving to them so they realize that the 8k “rent money” they get every month has an expiration date and they may want to prepare for that (eg by your mum getting a proper job as long as she is still healthy) to be reduced in the future.

    Also, how about discussing with your parents to move to a LCOL country? They can live pretty comfortably for 8000 HKD in Malaysia (check out Penang – low cost of living, huge Chinese community and the “Malaysia my second home” retirement visa) and health care costs are very affordable as well. If you split the costs with your sister you will be left with 4k per month- still a lot, but much better than 8k plus unknow medical costs.

    Either way the amount you are prepared to spend on them should be calculated into your FI number. So the question is if you are prepared to work longer so that your parents can retire earlier?

  10. Best reader case EVER! One point though. Filial piety – that ain’t just an asian thing. I completely relate to this. Kristy is right. Lie! If you don’t, this will destroy you. Save yourself!

  11. I can highly recommend the nuclear option of cutting off all contact with emotionally and financially abusive parents. Without such parents around, life becomes relatively stress-free, joyful and fully under your control. One owes nothing to parents who are abusive and made no plans for their own retirement (deciding to not save for their own retirement was a mechanism they consciously engineered to financially burden their children).

  12. Best reader’s case ever! I am suffering from familial piety myself. However, instead of a financial burden, it is an emotional burden. My parents are so controlling and so good at guilt tripping. It is true that they have that old mindset of always being right. It’s not an Asian thing, but more of an old person thing. I know my American friends have the same issue.

  13. THIS is the post I didnt knew I needed.

    I am a white latino dude and let me tell you, everything you are saying about asians parents/sons relationships is exactly THE SAME for us latinos.

    It’s so overwhelming I really dont know if I can keep on… I need to find strength and courage to finally leave my home (on which I currently pay about 70% of rent/services) and rent something alone, and whatever happen with my parents in the older house HAPPENS. (my worry is that they might not have enough money to pay rent because they blew all their savings long time ago 🙁 )

    This post might have helped me find the boost I needed.

    Thank you guys… I will keep you posted.

    Kindest Regards,

    1. Even if you don’t move out of your city, you could get a new job in ‘another city’ as your reason for moving out. UPS boxes let you put the word Apartment instead of box as your address. I totally agree with lying to abusive people. They don’t need to know your business. The more they know, the more potential they have to hurt you. You really do have to take care of yourself. They need to earn the right to the truth if they’re acting like that.

  14. I totally get HKer’s position and I am so jealous that she is just 24 – so much time ahead to work a strong plan. I’m not Chinese, but even in our Irish-American household, we still have many types of financial and emotional “家用”. Putting my parents on our cell phone family plan is an easy way for me to cover a utility they get a lot of enjoyment out of (FaceTiming with my brothers’ kids, for example, or texting or playing Words with Friends with their peeps). I also pay for their car so they don’t have to worry about transportation and have the mobility to go wherever they want. One thing I would say to “Joe,” above, is that the expectation is definitely not only on sons. Especially for HKer – no sons in that family, so as the eldest she is probably expected to be her parents’ caregiver. Nevertheless, I think the advice from Kristy is spot-on. Get independent, define for yourself what level of financial and emotional support you can provide while still leading a happy life for yourself, and putting away a little money each month as a “parent emergency fund” to hedge against healthcare catastrophes (they most definitely do happen)! Great advice.

  15. Counterpoint from a parent (myself) who is in the mid-50s… Please read the details below before commenting.

    Fortunately, I and my wife have a solid retirement nest egg and won’t have to depend on our daughters for support. In fact, we plan to leave an inheritance when we die.

    Now that out of the way.

    My own mother literally worked 16 hour days, 7 days a week, stress filled physical and mentally tiring work, running a small business, her entire life to raise me (this description doesn’t even give 1 % justice to what she did for me). My wife’s mother also lived very frugally to raise her with a good education etc. My mother also lived frugally and saved enough to support herself in retirement so I don’t have to support her and she refuses to let me send her any money. I try hard and do it once in a while but she scolds me every time. I feel like a miserable son for not able to use part of my earnings so that my mom can live a bit more comfortable life in her retirement.

    I and my wife also live/d frugally so that we can give our daughters the best education and some of the better things in life. I don’t think they owe us anything in return because what we did was our responsibility as parents.

    Now with this use case/facts…

    Do you think if my mother and/or we were unable to save for our retirement in spite of the best of the efforts, their children should support “us” in retirement (not the wants but the basic needs (food, shelter, clothing)? Shall the children be willing to delay their retirement date and/or retirement lifestyle to do so? What about the grandchildren? Do they have any responsibility towards grandparents?

    I am very curious to know the readers’ views.

    1. i think a lot of these anecdotes contain the assumptions that the parents are using children as their financial backup plan (faulty line of thinking being, i gave birth to you therefore you owe me care in my old age, period) and are otherwise emotionally abusive as well. if i had your parent i would want to give back, care for her, cash her out and generally give her a really great quality of life. she would definitely be welcome in my theoretical in-law unit (see my other comment for context)!

    2. I always remember this phrase: “All animals love their children, but only humans, can love their parents”.
      My point is not to sacrifice our lives for our parents. Good/reasonable parents do not expect that either. But to remember, that life is not always a simple cause-effect relationship as it may seem. They may find themselves in their current situation not necessarily because of selfishness and carelessness, but because their lack of opportunity, knowledge, freedom, and technology. Then, it’s up to us whether we want to show our human side.

    3. There should be no obligation to support the parents and parents should most certainly not demand any money for raising their own children (it was their own choice to bring children into this world). If the child is financially stable and is willing to give money to the parent – which should be the case if the parent did a good job in raising their child – then they can of course support them.
      However, the parent should try whatever possible to not depend on their own child’s money.

      It’s just funny how so much in Asia and especially China is about saving face. But no one finds it disgraceful to beg their own children for money. I’m German and some of the older generation here didn’t even take social security (which they were entitled to) because they found it disgraceful to take the government’s money. I don’t think that’s happening anymore, but I believe asking anyone for money should only be done if there really aren’t any other options (and only working part-time like the mum in the reader case means they still have options).

    4. Even in this case, I don’t think there’s any obligation on the children, let alone the grandchildren, to provide care – children have a right to be cared for, they owe nothing for that. But children raised by parents who give all they can and ask nothing in return will surely feel great love and gratitude towards their parents and will probably want to care for their parents, which is very different to being obligated to (just as working because you’re passionate about it is very different to working because you have no other way of paying the bills)

  16. As a HK born, US raised daughter of working class family, I understand fully your pain. Know that whenever you feel upset and weak, come read these comments so you can build your resolve. And to know you have many people supporting you!

    I have so many stories to share but frankly, one of the worse but best thing I did to show my mom I’m not her slave is let her electricity get cut off (I didn’t plan it on purpose, long story). She needed a wake up call and I gave her one. I didn’t know I was enslaved myself!! Remember that if we can’t stand up for ourselves, we are not teaching out next generation what self respect is. Stand firm.

    We are not our parents or family. You are valuable just for the mere fact of being alive. Find value in that with anyone!! You can do it!! How I wish I gained this wisdom at 24! I have 20 years on you friend! Add oil la!!

  17. I’m not Asian, but the next-closest thing: Jewish. Asian parents are direct, whereas Jewish parents use guilt and shame. Same result!

    I’m struggling with a similar situation with my ageing parents. The major difference is that I do feel an immense debt of gratitude for their sacrifices that helped my brother and I graduate debt free.

    The problem is that our parents are being rather opaque with their finances and goals: I have a ballpark figures of what they’ve saved (and what they’ve invested in), spend, and earn. They don’t have clear expectations of what retirement looks like for them and avoid the topic when pressed. If I’m going to shell out, I need to know how much, what for, when, and most importantly WHY.

    I’m starting to demand and get answers to these questions. I’m finding it helpful to emphasize that I’m demanding transparency, not control. The moment you (try to) take control from parents, they will lash out and shut down.

    Another thing OP can do is dig through local laws (or hire a fee-only financial planner) to maximize any benefits their parents are entitled to. My parents didn’t properly account for all of this and were going to leave money on the table.

    Also, I’m not sure about OP’s parents’ housing situation, but if they do own and are the beneficiaries of HK’s massive price appreciation, they should consider financing their retirement by borrowing against their equity. I’d rather have zero inheritance down the road than have to shell out money every month during my prime earning and compounding years. Heck, even if my parents’ money ran out well into retirement, the benefits of compounding for an extra 10-20 years would make the burden a lot lighter.

    1. This is really good advice!

      I earn about ~850K/year and ended up agreeing to give my parents 24K/year. I give these numbers to highlight that it looks like a relatively small amount, but was the figure I was comfortable with after sitting them down to look through their monthly expenses and budget. This number also doesn’t impede on my FIRE plans. I made it clear that I didn’t want to financially support certain things (like the fact that my dad drinks $150/month of beer, or that my mom spends $200/month in skincare despite having no savings). This is because they know my profession has big earnings and were getting increasingly demanding, making statements like “you should buy us a condo” etc. I’ve gotten really good at saying no and being Teflon to their guilt-tripping.

  18. How much would it cost to rent a flat instead of living with your parents?
    How much does it cost to have a private coach + private chef + private driver + private cleaning lady + private reception service? Maybe not now, but 20+ years back… Did you know that you should learn reading, writing?
    I know that everyone has a story about bad parents and miserable kids, and apparently I fully support the OP to try standing your own feet.

  19. Wow you have an unfettered ability to spill hot tea! Kudos. I do agree with all of this though it seems harsh (perhaps I am being overly culturally sensitive as an outsider here).

    I am Australia based and quite active on some FIRE blogs and forums here and I am often quite surprised with how long FIRE enthusiasts here are willing to delay retiring so that they can set their kids up. I’ve seen some say they won’t consider retirement until their dividends will cover private education, college educations and houses for each of their kids! I am always scratching my head and telling them that gifting children with your own Financial Independence is more than enough! I know so many people who have dependent parents which act as a ball and chain on their finances who can often live until their kids are at retirement age. Being FI is already gifting your children with the invaluable peace that comes with knowing that they only ever need earn their own way in life.

    I would hope a few more would read the reality of this reader’s story before condemning themselves to pointless years in the office to give their kids further headstarts they do not need.

  20. I’m not Asian but grew up in an abusive family so I recognize the guilt and shame dynamics here well. I’m so sorry you have to deal with that, it’s 100% unfair and yet, as you can see from the comments and Kristy’s take, not at all rare. In addition to Kristy’s advice (which is totally right on) I’d recommend: 1) a 2-part episode of the “Dear Sugars” podcast called ‘The power of no’ about Oprah and how she dealt over the years with all the people (mostly family) who wanted money from her, and 2) never forget that a child owes *nothing* to their parents. You didn’t choose to be born, they did, and as such *they* also chose to be responsible for your care and wellbeing, not the other way around. The fact that they can’t is their fault 100%, not yours, and hopefully knowing that will help you survive the guilt and shame they’re trying to ensnare you with. And trust me, I know fully well how hard that is, way harder to do than to say. Hang in there, it gets easier with time, and if you need to cut off ties for a while (or forever) know that your first duty is above all to yourself and your survival. Best of luck 🤗

  21. I can definitely relate to this blog. I was born and raised in Mexico. We moved to Canada when I was 15. My mom didn’t save a penny for retirement (in Mexico kids typically look after their parents when they get old) and my husband and I are now forced to take care of her. We have rentals so she lives in one of our units and we pay for her car insurance. I’ve gone through the painful process of setting boundaries with my mom and ensuring she doesn’t take advantage of me. It has been a tough road but I am grateful to have enough to be able to at least put a roof over her head. I think of it as my charitable contribution to this world.

  22. I agree with most of what Kristy and other readers have suggested – setting a boundary or a limit on how much you would be giving to your parents. But if they really have ZERO in their retirement savings, how are you gonna set the boundary? If you don’t give enough you’re literally gonna make them starve, and it’s not possible asking them to work again if they approach their 60s.

    1. My dad is 71 and still working. Unless they have major health issues then there’s no reason for them to retire with no savings before their health forces them to. And they won’t like it but if they have to move for her to afford to support them then they move. There’s no reason for them to stop working before they have to. She should not have to pay for travel either. That’s ridiculous.

  23. My mom leans on all my 4 siblings. I have only offered help with medical. My siblings have bought her 3 cars and she lied about having them insured. She totaled last new car with no insurance. I say she’s irresponsible but I’ll be damned if she is naked, starving and without shelter. She’s the best mom ever but not perfect. I’m glad I can ignore her drama and I only focus on NEED. I will make sure she has what she needs. She can want all she wants. I want too but have all I need.

  24. Wow, that was really a lot to process. I really like that crazy ass advice. I have always had issues with my mother. As an Asian Canadian she would try to do these guilt trips on me as well. She has my father on a leash, which is really sad in my opinion. I just stopped talking to her and left my own ways when I graduated. I went to US to work for a few years. Back to Canada and now in China. But I don’t really like the current political environment here in China and my kids need to goto school so I’ll head back to Canada next year. But I won’t contact her or let her know. I can rent a place myself and buy a car myself so I don’t need any help from her anyways. Anyways, a really good read.

  25. Hi there,

    I think you might benefit of looking at the positive aspects of your situation.
    To me, it actually sounds fine. You are paying only 8k for living expenses and would probably have to pay more if living elsewhere. There are not enough details in your story but it seems that when you went to school you did not have to provide the housekeeping money, only after you graduated. You are only 24 with an ok starting salary with plenty of years to save and your parents have, at least some money saved. If they own the house you are in an even better position as you and your sister might inherit that. It does sound like your parents have made some sacrifices for their family.
    Now is up to you to plan and make the best out of your situation. I think you have decent conditions to make it work and you are even lucky enough to live in a developed place with opportunities. I suggest you use your energy to come up with a good strategy, save and invest.

  26. I like to keep at least an 8 hour flight between my mother and myself – preferably an ocean or significant continent – since I left the UK for Asia/U.S.A (quite a few years ago) our relationship has improved. Agree with the comment to move out (despite the high costs in HK) at least in the interim – Longer-term, I’d suggest moving country (post COVID)…IMHO living in a different country builds core F.I.R.E skills

    1. Yes to this. As an Asian (Filipino) I can relate to all of it. To move out of the house also meant moving out of the country for me.

      I want to experience independence and cultures. It’s one of the best decision I make.

      It’s costly living on your own but it’s worth it in exchange for peace and sanity.

      Fortunately, I was taught to be frugal yet I learned to treat myself reasonably.

  27. I completely agree with Kristie’s advice – although the reader doesn’t explicitly accuse her parents of treating her badly, they clearly are by standing in the way of her dreams and by not taking due care to avoid being a burden to her, she owes them nothing (I don’t think any child owes their parents anything, but particularly so in this case). Standing up to your parents isn’t easy, but it gets easier with practice, and much easier once you move out and thus are no longer dependent on them in any way. The good news for the reader is that she’s seen the light at a very young age (24! I was such a mess at 24, I could barely hold it together enough to stay employed!), I think her chances of achieving her dreams are very high.
    To commentors asking ‘well, should she just leave her parents to starve? I say yes – my parents try to tell me that I’m lucky that I don’t have to support them, I tell them that it’s they who are lucky, if they didn’t have savings (accumulated during times of opportunity that aren’t available to Millennials like me) they’d be out on the street!

    1. @bac , @Chuck, @Anna, @C – Thank you all for sharing your thoughts.

      Based on your response and other comments, I see the situation/response falling into a few categories, I have listed three that I can think of.

      1) Extremely irresponsible and abusive parents who didn’t invest their resources in helping the kids have a good and solid foundation during their growing years – Screw the parents, tit for tat. I can see the logic here and my brain agrees with this.

      2) Somewhat ignorant parents who didn’t save for retirement and who also didn’t do a good job parenting their kids (FIRE community, you don’t know how fortunate you are to have easy access to the unbiased and easy to understand/consume “practical financial education” through blogs like this and books, both were very difficult/expensive to produce without modern technology) – Screw the parents because they didn’t invest in their kids, no investment/no returns. My brain agrees but my heart is still not sure.

      3) Parents who tried but couldn’t save for retirement because they used their resources to help their kids have a good education/life etc. while they were growing. I believe these parents need to be rewarded with compassion, love, and financial support for their needs (not wants) even if that means the kids have to compromise some of their own comforts.

      Yes, kids are parents’ responsibilities because they chose to bring them into this world but they also had other choices like abortion.

      This topic is too broad to accommodate in a comment, especially with my limited writing skills. I respect everyone’s view and thankful to be able to share mine.

      1. I’d suggest that all parents do the best within the scope of their abilities. For example, one would probably consider my mother in law to fall into category #1, but when you see that she grew up in abject poverty, was subjected to severe emotional abuse by her own mother, and was treated as disposable as compared to her siblings, you can see how the problems trickle down the family tree.

        Despite this, I think that parents never have an absolute moral claim to their children and the wealth that they produce, not matter how hard they worked and how much they may have helped their children. Your children can’t enter into this contract willingly (ie: to trade their own existence for a financial claim on their future earnings), making it immoral.

        From a personal standpoint, one has to evaluate the trade offs to make a decision. Would I help my own parents? Yes, probably. Do we help my mother in law, despite how ungrateful she is? Yes, because we are easily able to do so and because it’s an important part of recognizing the deeper issues involved. Would we do so if it placed an undue burden on us (and indirectly on our kids – it’s easy to forget that kids feel a lot of the stress their parents have)? Probably not.

    2. It is not so simple as many cultures there are longstanding emotional and legal reasons that require children to support their parents. Where I live adult children are required by law to support their parents who are past the legal age of retirement; even deadbeat Dads!

  28. Wow,
    I am a Canadian born to Dutch parents who lived through the depression and the second World War. To say that this article and all of the comments has been an education for me is an understatement of biblical proportions. I think the frugality and financial responsibility patterns of those who starved in Holland during the war was somehow incorporated into our DNA. Even my kids exhibit this trait.
    I thoroughly enjoyed the article and everyone’s comments and find there is a lot of sound advice happening here. Firecracker, your writing style keeps me coming back for more.
    As a last comment, I read about Hong Kong in our news and wonder how difficult it would be for every Hong Kong citizen to immigrate out of China’s reach.

  29. This article really hit close to home. I’m a Vietnamese American and going through the same. My parent in-laws are useless leechers to put it bluntly. They decided to retire early 8 years ago with no savings! They were relatively young and able bodied in their late 50’s and perfectly able to work! Two of their children actually encouraged them to do so without input from the other two! (they have 4 kids). For the past 8 years my wife and I have been on the hook for $500 a month to support their pathetic lives. Sorry for sounding so angry but the honest truth is that I am! My parents on the other hand ran their own business for 27 years and recently retired 3 years ago but with millions in the bank and able to care for themselves. My parents don’t rely on us for money but we have our own set of issues (guilt, shaming, judging). We have two children ourselves and we decided the day they were born that we never want to put them through what our parents are putting us through. All I want my for children is for them to lead happy, fulfilling lives and never needing a dime from us nor us needing help from them. We want them to able to stand on their own two feet and support their families. They didn’t choose to be brought into this world and they owe us NOTHING. Our job as parents is to raise them right and prepare them for this hard cruel world. All I want from them is to maintain a healthy loving relationship, kick the grandkids to us for babysitting once in a while, and occasionally vacation together. We want to be a part of their lives, not rule their lives. I don’t think I can ever get over my in-laws and will probably have to support them until the grave. I have to keep telling myself it’s an extra tax that I am forced to pay. Only way I can keep myself sane.

    1. Good on you for breaking the cycle with your children; I understand your situation as my circumstances are virtually identical. The only thing I would add is that you should try to find a way to help you deal with the resentment that you understandably feel; I have been there too, and sometimes go back!

      For us the solution was to become de facto head of the family; it took time and we did so by giving our dependents choices: we will do X if you do Y, if you don’t want X then don’t do Y and if you don’t do Y we won’t do X. I think this works for us due to the subconscious human need for us exert control.

  30. Wow, you really made me appreciate my own parents. Not only did they pay for 100% of my college but they never needed a penny of support from me. My whole life they told me how proud they were of me. They loved my wife like she was their own daughter. And when they did pass away after long and happy lives they left me and my brother a million dollars each. I can’t imagine parents having an entitled attitude toward their kids finances or expecting to have a say in their career or family choices. I know American culture and family life is often criticized, but it sounds like it has some solid benefits when it comes to parent/child relationships.

    1. ^^ this is White Privilege right here.

      *Children of Immigrants don’t have that privilege.
      **Children of immigrants get guilt-tripped about how parents left everything behind to give kids opportunity in North America.
      ***Children of immigrants get guilt-tripped about how parents scarified everything to give kids a better life.

      -White privileged kids don’t know about these dynamics.

      Kids of native boomer parents, who have the big suburban house and gold-plated pensions with government or loaded 401K don’t know how good they have it.

  31. This hit really close to home. I’m from Hong Kong living in Canada. I was extremely stressed and frustrated after graduating and moving back home because I wasn’t able to save anything after paying off my student loans and paying rent to my parents. Plus I was having daily arguments with my mom about how much I could contribute and my mental health suffered a lot. I finally moved out almost two years ago and my mental and financial health are so much better. I did have one big argument before moving out where my mom tried to guilt trip me by saying that she knew I wasn’t going to pay her after she retired and I didn’t deny it. Glad that happened so that boundary is there. Having read Firecracker’s advice, I have to agree that you should definitely strive to set some boundaries. I really hope things work out for you. It’s an incredibly shitty situation to be in. Best of luck.

  32. That happens a bit here in northern China, but not so much as there are good pensions where we are etc … though parents and their grown up kids are generally generous towards each other from what I have seen in my extended family … We live in Beijing and my parent in laws are both retired from universities …. so their pensions are super good … we have taken them or helped them go to Singapore, Korea, Canada, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong … now they are old and their health is not good etc and so we often visit them, take them sometimes to doctors and other general stuff … they helped us a lot too but never put any obligation on us … a Canadian Laowai in Beijing, China … interesting side note … parents can though freeze their kids assets etc … if they don’t help take care of their ageing parents according to the law etc etc in China … by the law kids have an obligation to help them out as necessary etc etc etc …. or something like that – God Bless, Beijing, China 🙂

    1. Another reason to lie about your salary. Lol. Complain often about your debts and how you can never afford to buy assets bc you’re spending so much on them. Then periodically‘lose’ your job and stop their payments for a while. Get them used to it. Save like crazy when you’re not paying them. Let them think you’re a dead beat. They’re not going to be satisfied with your accomplishments anyway. May as well opt out of their game! 🙂

  33. Caribbean culture is similar in so many ways, which is why I know that this advice is so good.

    Moving out and becoming trully independent of her parents is the key; once that has been achieved only then can Hongkonger start the process of taking control of the situation, financially and emotionally. Of course, this does not mean it will be easy.

    We fully support 4 family members: father and mother separately, brother and nephew. It has been tough and has slowed down our FIRE journey. There has been some conflict, but now that we are now firmly in charge of finances and financial decisions we are at peace as the resentment has subsided significantly.

  34. This is a well-written article, and one that I imagine wasn’t that easy to write. It sparked lots of interesting comments, too.

    It reminds me of how lucky I am in my family; we come from a culture where the parents teach their kids self-reliance from early on and practice it themselves. My parents have made sure that they can take care of themselves through their golden years, and while they didn’t spoil their kids or themselves with luxuries when we were little, they provided us with all we needed while making sure we understood the value of work. More recently, in adulthood, they told us they fully intend to leave us an inheritance, just as their parents did for them.

    I suppose that if the OP’s parents also supported their own parents in old age, things come full circle to a net zero if their kids end up supporting them. Working in Canadian unionized environments it isn’t all that different: you pay your dues working crappy schedules/conditions for low wages when you’re junior so you can live the cushy life off the backs of juniors once you have seniority.

    Personally I prefer the idea of building and growing a family legacy, though. After all, that’s how you take advantage of compound interest.

    On my spouse’s side her parents have little in the way of material wealth, with her dad living only off OAS. However they’ve never asked or expected a dime from us, and in fact do everything they can to give a little something to their only daughter. They’re very good people and if they needed some help to get by, I wouldn’t hesitate to chip in if I could. I can barely imagine the idea of entitled parents mooching off of their kids, and definitely sympathize with the idea that you’d have to put up boundaries, possibly to the point of breaking contact .

  35. Fortunately, my parents were financially responsible so they do not depend on me for financial support. However, I did not get full respect from my parents until I moved out of their house and had my own residence. I suggest the person in the case study move out of their parents house and come to visit them as as needed.

  36. Oooh I agree, best reader case and Kristy, GREAT ADVICE! Love the practical take-no-prisoners approach 🙂 I can definitely relate to feeling tethered to my parents – until I moved out in my late 20s.

    I didn’t save money by moving out, but I saved my sanity and got an independent mindset out of it. I joke to people that if I hadn’t moved out, I would have spent that saved money on talk therapy to deal with the fallout of living with my parents…but I’m only half-joking when I say that.

    If nothing else, move out – that will help clear your mind to make better choices. Also, can the guilt. Approach your parents out of love for yourself and love for them, instead of guilt, and I think you will make choices that are better for both of you in the long term. Guilt is what leads parents to spoil their children. Love is what creates healthy boundaries. Good luck Hongkonger!

  37. Kiddo…at 32% saving rate, you will be FI in your mid 40’s assuming ROI 7%.

    Implement steps 1, 2 and 3 as suggested by Firecracker.

    Add the following step –
    4. Fall in love…build your own family with children and enjoy life. FI is not a genetic code that you must follow blindly.

    As far as your parents, do what you can once you have fulfill your family building mission. On the contrary of all the parents rants in this article, the things you could do for your parents from now to the end of their days earn you title as a “Human” being.

    Meaning, a dog, a cat or a monkey does not have conscious concept “Parents”. We “Humans” do, but it is not an instinctual obligation.

    It is a choice only a “Human” being has the ability to execute ONLY after you have fulfill your family building INSTINCTUAL obligation.

    Good luck kid!

  38. Your salary sounds pretty good for a 24 year old in HK. The 8k housekeeping money you pay your parents is not bad for now; you will probably pay the same if not more if you move out. So, financially there is no harm in staying. But emotionally? You are the only one who can tell. It sounds like unlike firecracker, you have a pretty good relationship with your parents and want to care for them.

    You are just starting out, but I suggest that you get more proactive about your career. Plan to get a new job at least 2 year or so if you are not getting significant raise from your current job. I had a friend (early 30s) who went from 40k to 60k per month after changing her job. Hide your money, build a portfolio, and lie to your parents about your raises (lots of people do it in case you don’t know) so you don’t have to pay them more than you need to. And of course, you can always change your mind down the road and cut off support for them if it becomes too much. Good luck!

  39. Dear HKer,
    I am also a HKer who recently relocated back from Canada to HK. It is a weird time but HK is still a place that swims with money, has low tax, and has tons material choices (but a shithole spirtually). I guess I am doing geo-arbitrage to other extreme…

    Back to your case, you don’t need to get too bogged down with negativity. I will cover the other side of the balance sheet for you, if it hasn’t been covered by others. First, remember, you are only 24 and your salary will increase tremendously over the next 10 years, given if you put enough effort and be smart enough to navigate through your career path. Being in HK, you need to be careful, however. HK has a skewed economic structure which means you need to be in the right industry (i.e. Finance) or you need to spend extra effort. Second, there will be increased emigration from HK over the next 3-5 years. If jobs and salary are still around, there will be more opportunities for you. My advise to you then: work hard and constantly look for opportunities – there are still tons of opportunities in HK, at least for now; know your position in the market and in the world – I won’t recommend emigrating to another country before you know what you sign up for – it is not as easy as it may sound

    Dear FIRECracker,
    I have been your reader for a while now. Thanks for introducing me to FIRE!! I had been actively saving and somehow 2/3/4 years ago I landed onto your page. Boom! then I am into FIRE, now getting quite close to retiring comfortably. I I never leave a single comment and I guess this is my chance to say hello. hello.
    P.S. I will come to the next Chautauqua when shit clears up. Look forward to seeing you in person! ^_^

  40. I know I’m late commenting on this post, but I just wanted to say this does not just happen with Asian families. Try growing up Catholic!!! We’re basically made to feel guilty for breathing. I’m 40, and my brother and I still have daily conversations about what rotten and spoiled children we were. The insults and guilt trips will never end. Now on the other hand, my Thai boyfriends grandmother gave him a lofty downpayment on a house, and his parents are buying up real estate so each “kid” has a home in Thailand once they pass. Ours is waiting for us in Chiang Mai. His sister has a cozy condo waiting in Bangkok.

  41. I see logics in Kristy’s 6-step approach to deal with Hongkonger’s parents. Although I agree with Kristy, I do not know if Hongkonger loves her parents nor wishes to support them. I do not know whether the parents provide social, emotional and financial support to Hongkonger throughout her childhood and teenage years. Although uncommon, some parents cultivate a nurturing environment for their children, gave them love and care, guide them through life. I have rarely seen this but I assume it must have happened. If I have such kind, loving, undemanding parents, I would support them emotionally and financially in their old age. Sadly or fortunately, I had abusive parents and disowned them 15 years ago. I think love and kindness mean a lot. One can make a lot of money, but one cannot buy love or kindness.

  42. I find the logic proposed in this post a little strange, at least.
    Will anyone here feel comfortable traveling the world, enjoying their FIRE life while their parents are living as poor?
    Did you not consider that your parents’ financial failure today is due to everything they have spent in the past to provide you all the things you needed to be where you are today?
    The plan seems to be very good to achieve your FIRE objective, but it seems to me quite selfish with your genitors.
    I believe that the best solution is a middle ground, helping them and also investing in your own financial future at the same time.

  43. I feel for HKer. Whichever path is taken, it’s going to be a rough ride. I have nothing else to add; just wanted to express my best wishes and pass on my hopes for them getting out of this mess.

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