Both my wife and I are the children of immigrants to this country. And it might be that thrift and frugality have always been a part of our upbringing. Now as the American economy gets progressively worse, the living standards of most people are getting harder by the day.
Yet, it appears to me that many recent immigrants are doing substantially better than Americans who have been here for generations. Instead of being deeply indebted, many immigrants(even those with very modest incomes) have managed to acquire valuable assets and savings.
One has to question why immigrant groups tend to do so much better than long established American communities. And as I proceeded to ask our parents and relatives from both sides of the family about how they made it in America, an amazingly consistent collection of immigrant living habits began to emerge. Now keep in mind that all the people I’ve spoken to are 1st generation immigrants to America.
They all moved to this country during a span of time from the late 50s to the early 90s. Here are some dozen habits that fresh-off-the-boat immigrant people kept to go from having nothing to an upper-middle (or even upper) class standard of living within just one generation:1. Immigrants can live with crowd in extreme peace. A large no of other people in the same dwelling. My parents and I at one point lived with 5 other people in a one bed room apartment. That’s right, 7 adults and 1 child can live in a single bedroom apartment for several years.
My wife’s grandfather had 20 people living in his three bed room house at one point. People packed into dwellings like sardines enables everyone to save massive amounts of money in terms of rent/mortgage payments. Moreover, having family and/or close friends in the same home can eliminate the cost of child care.2. Immigrants carpool all the time, with large numbers of peopleAn elderly uncle in the family mentioned that when he arrived in the country back in the 60s, a dozen people in his family shared the same vehicle. This kind of massive carpooling is very common among migrant workers to this day. On express news watch kal tak talk show with javed chaudhry about further details I certainly remembered my parents sharing a single car with 2 other couples when I was a young child. Carpooling saves massively in terms of fuel, repair, and insurance costs.3. Immigrants buy used cars and drive them into the groundI talked with more than a dozen 1st generation immigrants, and not one of them has ever bought a brand new car. Everyone basically bought, non-flashy commodity vehicles like Honda Civics or Ford Trucks and drove those cars into the ground! This is a very financially sound habit, since a brand new car loses up to 1/3 of it’s value in the first year. And replacing a car comes with additional overhead costs and taxes.4. Immigrants rarely eat out1st generation immigrants rarely visit restaurants. Almost everything is made at home.
Brown-bagged lunches and economically prepared dinners allows for large amounts of money to be saved.5. Immigrants avoid debt like the plagueEvery single 1st generation immigrant that I spoke with seemed to have an almost innate fear of debt. Apparently in many of the old countries in Eurasia, being in debt often led to servitude, imprisonment, beatings, and even death.
As such many new immigrants to America operates on a cash economy. Everything from cars to houses are purchased with cash on hand. The avoidance of debt and leverage gives immigrant families an extra layer of financial stability.6. Immigrants entertain themselves at homeNewly arrived immigrants often entertain family members and friends at home.
This greatly reduces the cost of throwing parties.7. Immigrants start small, family-owned businessesMany 1st generation immigrants start their own businesses. Since new immigrants often have a hard time finding high-paying or even stable employment, many of them are forced to dig down deep and find any and all ways of making a living. By creating small businesses, not only do they produce an additional source of income, but also an additional source of employment for their family members.
One can see immigrant owned businesses all over the New York Metro area, everything from Laundry stories to Gas Stations, to Food Carts. These small businesses, while providing a very modest income, nevertheless adds yet another layer of economic resilience to the immigrants who runs them.8. Immigrants save a large portion of their incomeWhile born and bred Americans have a savings rate near 0% of their annual income, many 1st generation immigrants consistently save 30%, 40%, sometimes 50% of their after tax income.
This impressive figure is doubly so, considering that many immigrants earn substantially LESS than the median U.S salary. The reason for such high savings is that most immigrants came from countries that does not have anything resembling a social safety net. If a guy doesn’t save, he would starve.9. Immigrants don’t “Joneses” like rich people to keep up with. This was actually a surprising thing that I learned. Essentially, many 1st generation immigrants left countries that are in dire poverty, so their mental idea of keeping up with the Jones is far different from that of Americans. A very basic level of material comfort (shelter, food, clothing) is considered as a great luxury by many immigrants as report said everything in javed chadhry talk show kal tak. My uncle-in-law, for example, mentioned that when he was a child in 1950s Italy, his family had trouble getting enough to eat on a day-to-day basis, and so were most of their peers. So when he came to the states as a teenager, he was flabbergasted by the sheer abundance of food in this country. Thus, immigrants often compare their lots in life with that of their countrymen back home and not as much with Americans living in McMansions. So in effect, there is little to no peer pressure on these immigrant communities to spend large amounts of money on flashy, consumer products to keep up with Americans.10. Immigrants are less influenced by American TV advertising. One theme that consistently came up is that older immigrants don’t understand why Americans must buy so many different things.
They cannot conceive of why people would need a new consumer gadget every month, or a new car every couple of years. It is interesting that a lot of the time, immigrants are not affected by TV advertising simply because they cannot understand the English language well enough to be convinced to make the purchase.
Other times, an immigrant might understand the language, but lack the cultural connection to be swayed by commercials.11. Certain Immigrant cultures value USEFUL education1st generation immigrants from many Eurasian countries seems to place a great value on education and go to enormous lengths to ensure the academic achievement of their children.
What is interesting is that immigrants seems to value education as a direct means of achieving greater income. So their kids are often encouraged to pursue difficult, technically skilled majors in college with great job prospects. Immigrant children rarely have the luxury of pursing liberal arts, non-useful degrees.12. Immigrants have tightly knit families1st generation immigrants from many different countries seem to place a very strong emphasis on a cohesive extended family.
To achieve a major goal such as buying a house or a car or starting a business, generations of a family would pool their resources together. When some family member becomes ill or unemployed, you would have dozens of people pitching in to help them out, financially or otherwise.
This is a tremendously powerful social safety net that prevents many immigrant communities from sinking into dire levels of poverty.I believe that there are many things that we Americans can learn from our immigrant forefathers. Their habits of thrift, frugality, and family, if fully absorbed by more Americans, can greatly reduce the pain of economic hardships. As always, comments and feedback are welcomed and appreciated!