Frugal Parents: Growing up in Fab Frugirl’s Family

(Photo source)

I mentioned before that I grew up poor.  My parents immigrated from Southeast Asia to escape war torn countries  and to give their future children a better life.  Life was not easy for my parents, and I think all too often I take for granted things that my parents have sacrificed and worked very hard to achieve.


My father has worked in various manual intensive jobs most of his life.  My mother stayed at home with my sisters and I, ran a home-daycare, and returned to the work force (also doing manual intensive jobs), when I was in grade 7.

Now that I am on my own, I can’t imagine how much my parents worked to stretch their dollars and pennies, but my sisters and I were always taken care of.  We always had healthy home-cooked meals, warm clothes and shoes, glasses, and we even got to go on school day trips.

Low Income, High-ish Networth

According to the data in Money Sense’s Guide to Retiring Wealthy (Ch. 8, p.125), my parents’ household income has always ranged between the poorest 20% and lower-middle 20% (annual gross income of $30,000 to $56,000).  But their current net worth is in the upper-middle 20% compared to other Canadians ($358,000 to $687,000).

I was completely blown away with a huge sense of pride and deeply humbled by my parents’ accomplishments.  I always knew that my parents were frugal and saved for the future, but I never had a measuring stick, so to speak.  I showed my dad, beaming, but I think he already knew.

The Secret

There is no secret to my parents’ success?

Like most immigrants, they have worked very hard their entire lives. They lived a simple life and they saved for a rainy day.  Their recipe may not be for everyone, but I try to apply my parents’ wisdom and frugality to my daily life.

I will share some of their frugal tips (and stories) in my “Frugal Parents” posts.  Some of them are simple and applicable, others are hilarious and crazy.  I hope you enjoy them as much I enjoy thinking back 🙂

Living Simply

My dad has a poster in our family room that had two Chinese characters, “to know” and “enough” (sorry, couldn’t find the Chinese characters).  Pretty self explanatory and simply, but also very powerful.

It’s easy to say, but it takes dedication to achieve.  It’s dedication that my parents have shown through how they live.  My parents drive a simple car (to the ground), rarely eat out, don’t go away on vacation (or at all), no brand name clothes, no movies, no buying coffee.  You get it.

My dad would always remind my sisters and I, that a greedy person can never be satisfied, no matter how much money or nice things they have; but a poor person can be satisfied because he does not long or lust after superficial things.  Although, my dad’s wise words didn’t really help when I couldn’t have the nice sneakers in high school, it’s something that I often think back and reflect on, now.

Saving for a Rainy Day

My dad worked as a book keeper in Hong Kong, and home, he is in charge of tracking my family’s expenses.  My dad didn’t use anything fancy, just a notebook to log purchases.  But he was really diligent about tracking every penny.  In fact, my dad showed me his spending for May 1999, and could tell me how much he spent that month on diapers!

Growing up, my dad’s pay cheque usually went to paying bills, including mortgage, utilities, groceries, insurance, car payments (if any), and any other day to day spending.  My mom’s pay cheque from her home daycare went towards saving.  From my parents’ combined savings, they were able to cover emergencies, such as, unexpected health care, a few semesters of tuition, and upgrade to a bigger house.

Frugal Parents “Series”

I thought it would be a neat idea to share random tips and stories about my parents’ frugality.  I met up with the lovely and talented FB of Fabulously Broke in the City and we had such a great time swapping stories, I thought my readers might also find them interesting (and sometimes, amusing).

I’ve also had a reader request to share some frugal tips that my parents have employed a while back.  I put together a mini-list of things I can think off the top of my head to start off, and I may elaborate on them later on in the series.

Growing up in my parents’ home:

  • There was no high-speed internet (up until June 2010)
  • We ate out only once a month (roughly)
  • We only had basic cable
  • We shared a family cell phone whenever someone went out
  • My dad has never bought a cup of coffee
  • My dad took us to the library every other week
  • My dad cut my sisters and my hair in the standard Asian bowl cut
  • My dad once used rope to keep our car together (long story)
  • My mom cooks almost everything from scratch (yummy!)
  • My mom has a food index “Rolodex” in her mind
  • My sisters and I wore hand-me-downs from parents’ friends’ sons (unfortunately, none had daughters)
  • My sisters and I got part-time jobs to help save for college and worked throughout college

I am really looking forward to sharing my parents’ frugal tips with my readers.  And, just because my parents are frugal, it doesn’t mean all their money saving tips work out. 😛

What are some of the frugal or different things your parents did growing up?



Filed under Frugal Parents

10 responses to “Frugal Parents: Growing up in Fab Frugirl’s Family

  1. Kay

    FF, So nice to read about your parents! I’d love to read more in this series as well.

  2. My parents are both immigrants as well and lots of things you mentioned I thought were normal growing up. My mom always cut my hair, even in university. One time my mom was picking me up from a friends house and our muffler fell off. I remember being SO embarassed when she made me go pick it up while my friend and her mom watched from their front window. They were able to instill in me the value of a dollar and they are the reason I am frugal today.

  3. I love reading about hard working parents that migrated here, it reminds me that nothing is impossible. My parents are immigrants as well and Mom really does work hard for what she has even if she didn’t really go down the route your parents took because she has the keeping up with the Joneses syndrome. Nonetheless Mom provided for us and we were never homeless or hungry so I’m grateful for her.

  4. Jen

    i don’t usually post to blogs – but can i just say that i -love- the fact that you shared a cell phone growing up?? i got my first cell phone when i started driving, in case i got lost / broke down / etc. i hate the fact that i see kids and teens running around now with iphones and smartphones. it’s so unnecessary. when you’re that age you don’t NEED that. you need a phone so your parents can keep track of you and so that you can call out from in case you get into trouble. i can’t imagine the kind of cell phone bills these kids parents are paying!

    i think sharing a phone amongst family / kids is such a great idea!

  5. I love your parents and I haven’t even met them.

    They and my parents, are so much alike in many ways.. although they are probably way more frugal 🙂 Mine are just.. hoarders. *LAUGH*

    We have to meet up again in Aug when I’m back.. I’m going to miss our chats 😦

  6. Yep, pretty much all of those! Lots of thrift shopping and never buying things at full price. No pay TV, heck we didn’t get a TV or DVD player for years.

  7. Hah, I had that type of hair cut (thanks to mommy dearest) for a long time until I was 11, when I rebelled and ended up growing my hair so long that it was so unruly!

  8. I enjoyed your posts. It reminded me a lot of my own mom trying to provide for my sister and I as a single mom. I think your dad’s words of wisdom struck me as most useful as I read your article. It really does ring true.

  9. Kim

    stories such as that of your parents really make me feel humble. My parents were like yours, but perhaps a little less frugal. To be honest I think I make twice my parents’ combined income now (accounting for inflation), and I only have to account for myself. Still I find myself thinking that my income is too low, and wanting more materialistic things. Your story reminds me that it is possible to be satisfied, and in the end, successful, on much less. It’ll be a great reminder for me and I look forward to reading your frugal parents series!

  10. I know it’s an oldie, but loved this post. I laughed about the keeping the car together with rope thing.. I think Dads in general tend to be very good at being frugal, and creatively so 😛

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