Let’s face it: The Crazy Rich Asians trope masks the lived experience of most Asian Americans who are struggling to overcome serious wealth gaps. The gaps that exist both in comparison to white Americans and as widening “internal” wealth gaps within different, specific Asian-American communities are well-documented. Social science researchers at the Pew Research Center point to immigration status as a major differentiator.
International economist Yew-Kwang Ng recently researched cultures on a country-by-country basis to identify why Asians save more. And despite statistics to the contrary, most people don’t think of the Su-Su savings clubs or the hours of number-crunching that many Asian-Americans employ to get a grip on their money.
That’s why AAPI personal finance trendsetters like the individuals below are so important: In the name of visibility, representation, and racial/financial equity, they’re sharing their money stories and dismantling “model minority” myths, one financial plan at a time.
At just 24 years old, Jennie is crushing her debt and making funny videos about it. By profession, she specializes in telemedicine for the State of Virginia, but by passion she’s paying off bills with a vengeance. She already knocked out $12,000 in just five months, and still manages a growing YouTube channel and a hilariously informative Instagram feed. As both a member of #teamlibra and the #debtfreecommunity, this proud Vietnamese American is also on #teamhumble.
“My mom inspired me. Legit, I’m not even trying to be funny,” she says. “Watching my mom hunched over, literally scrubbing feet all day (she owns a nail salon), makes me want to grind so hard that she never has to work again. This is the second year I maxed her Roth IRA. She has no clue what any of it means, but she will in 10 years. Asian immigrants (like my parents) associate time with money, and I’m here to break that generational mindset.”
Chris C. and his daughter Emilia are the best #girldad duo in personal finance. Baby Emilia will turn one this August and they’re set to celebrate the milestone in their newly purchased forever home. How do I know? Because Chris’ Everyday Millennial social media updates are baby-filled and financially informative. Covering everything from how to buy a house to how much to save for a new baby to a straightforward guide to “fat fire,” his simple courses on financial literacy are all focused on financial freedom for millennials (and hopefully whatever name we come up with for Emilia’s generation).
Folks come for the cuddly baby photos, but they stay for Chris’s very popular meal prep pictures that are mouthwateringly budget-conscious. For those who can’t get enough of this daddy-daughter finance team, Chris has a self-paced course packed with modules on money principles, pitfalls, and projections. And if you’re not yet ready to invest in a class, some of Chris’ IG Lives are among the best-kept secrets in free personal finance advice for young and growing families.
Bernadette Joy is a first-generation Filipino American who is focused on helping millennial women pay off debt and figure out their finances. During her childhood, she explains, there was a lot of “emphasis on making good money, buying nice houses, and fitting in the American dream. There was no discussion on investing, how to make money outside of a traditional 9-to-5 job, or how to be happy without material things. I’m fueled to not repeat history.” She and her husband paid off $300,000 worth of debt in three years, and now she has a trademarked system to teach you how to Crush Your Money Goals.
Her personal master plan is to reach financial independence and to relax from work when she hits her early 40s. For now, while she’s teaching others what they can achieve, she’s also teaching women to be empowered after years of feeling financially and professionally discouraged. “As an Asian American female, I’ve always been given the messaging to ‘know my place,'” she says. “And starting my career in two white male-dominated industries (financial services and tech), I never felt I quite fit in. I always thought there was something wrong with me. But I look back now and realize that me being different wasn’t wrong. I’ve spent the last five years forging my own path, but still untangling the decades of feeling like I wasn’t good enough.”
Shang achieved “work-optional” status at age 31. Since then, she has taught thousands of people to do the same through her blog Save My Cents, as well as courses and coaching available on her Instagram profile. Although her parents struggled to make sure that she had the best credentials, she was also taught not to boast about accomplishments and, as she puts it, “not to stick my neck out. This makes a lot of sense; because of where my parents came from, the risk of standing out is too high. However, I work in the corporate world, where I found that this held me back because I was told that I was shy in the boardroom and didn’t speak up, and that hindered my career progression. Over the years, I learned to speak up, self-advocate, and seek sponsors at work, in order to grow in my career.”
Now, the Chinese-American money expert has a seven-figure business and a new baby to boot. To manage it all, she draws a lot of inspiration from her parents who “left China with basically nothing and built everything from the ground up. They survived mass starvation in China and yet did not let that limit their mindset. I saw how hard my parents worked as immigrants to learn English, earn money, save and invest money, get me into good schools—and I was inspired to build on the foundation that they gave me and not take everything for granted.”
Last but not least, Hui-chin Chen, CFP is a first-generation Taiwanese-American immigrant. Drawing from her own experience of living in seven countries in the past 12 years, she specializes in working with globally mobile people who want to grow their money while globetrotting. Hui-chin owns Pavlov Financial Planning and breaks down complex global planning topics in everyday language on her blog Money Matters for Globetrotters. She is also the Founder of The CIGA Network, a network of independent advisors who work together to provide comprehensive financial advice for expats, nomads, and international clients.
What motivates her to run businesses that help others grow their wealth? “My parents were small business owners that came to define the soaring Asian economy in the 1980s,” she explains. “Growing up in a household supported by a small business means that business and family life were commingled. I never thought taking control of my own finances through self-employment would be difficult, but I was not ignorant about the sacrifices that I would need to make and the risks I had to take. Now that I’ve owned my first business for seven years and started a second one, I appreciate that my parents always exposed us to entrepreneurship ever since I was young.”
Now she offers that same perspective to individuals and families led by self-employed and geographically independent earners.