Parween Mander: How Cultural Narratives Are An Obstacle For South Asian Women Building Wealth

We are not empowered to think about financial independence, instead, we are often taught to be financially dependent on a future partner

Parween Mander
June 17, 2021 | 4.5 min. read | Opinion

It was a summer night, Bhangra music bumping in the background of my cousin’s Maiyaan celebration. An aunty came up to me and asked what I did for work. I had no idea who she was, but I was accustomed to random aunties and their random questions. 

So I told her about my business and my work in the finance industry. 

“You shouldn’t get too busy with your career, that’s what your husband will do. How can you manage a household and a business at the same time? Your responsibility is to become a good housewife,” she replied. 

It became clear to me that what I did was never of consequence. The fact that I worked outside the home and was in charge of my own money was already a problem in her eyes. 

Many women in South Asian cultures are groomed to believe their self-worth is tied to their ability to get married and run a home. We are not empowered to think about financial independence, instead, we are often taught to be financially dependent on a future partner. 

Cultural expectations and narratives play a big role in our ability as South Asian women to make different decisions, especially when it comes to our money and building wealth. 

It leads to overspending and little motivation to save our money in our twenties, as we perceive our future selves will be taken care of. 

In addition, a lot of our overspending habits stem from a desire for escapism. As daughters, growing up in strict households where we were given little freedom and perhaps witness to toxicity in our home environment, any opportunity to leave the house was welcomed. An ad hoc trip to HomeSense, Starbucks or to get food—our desire for escape led to overspending as a coping mechanism. 

This begins the unhealthy pattern of money avoidance—we avoid looking at our bank statements and past spending as we know we have overspent but it is too uncomfortable to hold ourselves accountable. Moreover, the narrative of a future husband providing for us financially prevents changes to our habits as there’s a safety net coming once we’re married. 

As daughters, we were constantly bombarded with messages of being ‘good’ and ‘honorable’ growing up. To be good, however, meant being of service to others no matter the cost or inconvenience it provided to us. 

This shows up with our finances by the way of financial enabling, which is a trauma response where we feel safe/worthy when others around us are taken care of financially. We use money as a way to people please, so whenever our parents ask us for money, or we are told to send money to a random relative back in India, even if it hurts us financially, we will comply. 

Giving away money, whether by choice or not, depletes our safety net for ourselves and prevents the creation of financial boundaries. 

Some of us may feel strongly about providing our parents with money as they have sacrificed a lot to build a life for us in another country. I feel this way too. A part of my journey to building my wealth is so that I can provide for myself and my parents without feeling overwhelmed. By age 26, I built a $100,000 CAD net worth.

But remember, we need to put on our own financial oxygen masks first—ensure you have adequate savings, that you are not constantly leveraging a credit card to make purchases, and are investing for your future. I recommend starting a specific savings goal, such as ‘Parent Fund’, where you can stash money for your family in case of emergency. This is a way to set a financial boundary so that you do not feel resentful or financially sabotaged if they ask you for money. 

South Asian culture is patriarchal at its core where son’s are seen as a parent’s future and a daughter is a liability who will move to her in-laws house to take care of them. I have witnessed sons be given money to invest in property but daughters are ignored because her future husband and his family will be taking care of her financially. 

When it is not our money, we lack choice. If all we had was our husband’s money, this is where we can get stuck in unhealthy situations. We need equality between both genders, so if a son is being helped with his financial future so should daughters. 

But, as I said, when it is not our money it is not our choice—so even if our parents gave us the money there is still a dependence factor here, we need to address. 

Educate yourself about investing. Open a retirement account and begin making monthly contributions or set a savings goal for a down payment. Take back control of your financial future through education and building your own wealth. 

It is important to understand cultural context and differences when it comes to our relationship with money. It is clear that South Asian culture is a patriarchal one, where women are not empowered to take control of their finances and build their own wealth. To begin breaking these barriers, we need to educate ourselves about money, begin saving/investing it and setting financial boundaries with those around us. And to remember, your money equals your choice. 

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Parween Mander is a South Asian money expert on a mission to provide honest and relatable financial coaching for women of color from immigrant upbringings through 1:1 coaching and mentoring. She's the founder of the Wealthy Wolfe, holds the Accredited Financial Counselor - Canada® designation, and is a certified Trauma of Money Facilitator. Connect with her on Instagram here.


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