HomeA Tiger Cub and Her MomTiger Mom and Cub talk about money and frugalness

Tiger Mom and Cub talk about money and frugalness

By Bethany and Deb Liu

Tiger Cub:

The other day my brother, Jonathan, came home from an all-day offsite with two boxes of food. When we asked where he got it from, he said, “I asked two other kids who didn’t finish their lunch if I could pack it up and take them home.” We laughed together and then enjoyed the food. 

Honestly, the idea was rather nostalgic. I grew up with you bringing boxes of food home from your work events. Our tradition is to race to the front door when you get home so we can examine the leftovers. I was honestly bewildered when you mentioned that nobody else takes food home. For me, bringing food home from events is such an important part of family tradition.

Tiger Mom: 

I grew up with a lot of financial instability. My parents came to America with very little. My dad used to tell me stories about how he could only afford rice with milk for dinner in college. He never let us waste food because he knew what it meant to go hungry. Growing up, my parents lived through war, and there wasn’t enough food to go around when they were young. Hunger was something they never wanted to experience again so they made us finish our plates and always carefully packed away any leftovers. 

That’s why I never let any food go to waste. Your dad jokes that I keep food in ever smaller containers until there is an infinitesimal portion left that only our dog, Wonton, would want. 

Because of how little my parents had and how much money worried them, I am extremely frugal. I spent my childhood wondering if we could make the mortgage or what would happen if my Dad lost his job (he eventually did, which is a story for a later time). Your Dad, on the other hand, thinks I worry too much about money. He is also frugal, but that is because he can’t stand seeing a free cookie left behind. 

Tiger Cub:

I want to take this opportunity to thank you. You and dad have given me a really good life, one where we don’t really ever have to worry about money or about many of the things you concerned yourself with in your childhood. We’ve always been so privileged to have the opportunity to try food from different places you ate at, and there’s always food in our fridge. While we rarely eat out, there’s always delicious home-cooked (or from one of those Costco meal preps) food at home. 

Not to say that our lives are perfect. After all, what perfect world would have dad munching down on all of the cookies you bring home and pretending you didn’t bring us anything? Or Danielle hiding the best things so Jonathan doesn’t scarf them down before we get a shot at them? 

As much of a family tradition as taking home food is, my anxiety is the worst when you or dad ask me to request a takeout box from larger events. I enjoy the fruits of packing up food but don’t want to have to pack it myself because it makes me self-conscious. I wish I could feel as confident as Jonathan as he asked the other kids for their leftovers, but I am not sure I would have the courage to be the person to do that.  

Tiger Mom: 

You were always self-conscious, but I want to remind you that you don’t have to conform to everyone else’s expectations. 

I remember when you were about 6 and Jonathan was about 8. We were at a restaurant, and Jonathan pointed out how much it cost to order soda. He asked why people would pay for something to drink when water was free. You said, “I can just ask for a lemon and make lemonade.” Your dad and I smiled proudly at that moment that you understood the value of money. You have no problem standing out by not doing something, so I encourage you to stand out by choosing to do something others may not want to. 

A note on finances. Your Dad always cautioned me to not make all of you as anxious about finances as I was. He felt my parents did me a great disservice openly talking about their concerns about making ends meet because it caused me to have a difficult relationship with money. I don’t want that for you, but I also want you to know the hard work that it takes to make money. 

Tiger Cub: 

I’ve always thought that Jonathan has a healthier perspective on money than I do. To be completely honest, in some ways I think that my pretty ideal childhood has made me miss out on many important lessons on money. I think that my siblings and I are rather wasteful, especially when it comes to food. Even now as I write this, there are cherries molding in our fridge which we didn’t get to in time. I know it frustrates you and Dad. 

It’s a little bit ironic that I want to major in economics in college, and I don’t even really understand the value of a dollar. But I do understand the economics of taking home free food. And I certainly do enjoy munching down on some five-star restaurant food alongside my freezer-burned pork buns.

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