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Unique Chinese Attitudes Toward Money


Compared to my friends, I am definitely more of a “saver” than a “spender.” I carefully track my monthly budget via Excel spreadsheets, debate over the necessity of any purchase over $50, and always pay off my credit cards on time.

My relationship with money is deeply influenced by my upbringing in China, where most people can be considered “savers.” The average Chinese household socks away 30% of income, compared to a mere 5% when it comes to American households.

However, with the recent economic boom, traditional Chinese values about money have been shaken up, and new vocabulary had to be developed to describe different attitudes toward consumerism and spending.

Today, we take a look at a few Chinese sub-cultures that highlight the newly emerged attitudes toward money.

1. 土豪 (tǔ háo) - “nouveau riche”

With the manufacturing, real estate, and tech booms over the past few decades, more money was made faster than ever throughout China. With that, a new class of people emerged who have way more money than taste.

The term “土豪 (tǔ háo)” roughly translates to “crass rich.” These are the people who dress head-to-toe in Louis Vuitton, cover the interiors of their cars in pure jade, and might even own a solid 24K gold toilet or two.

Their obscene wealth and garish tastes are treated with a mixture of envy and ridicule in China - similar to the Real Housewives of New Jersey in the United States.

For an additional peek into the 土豪 (tǔ háo) lifestyle, check out a reality series by GQ called the “Bling Dynasty,” which covers a group of 土豪 (tǔ háo) who are learning basic etiquette of the elite lifestyle they want to be a part of.

2. 啃老族 (Kěn lǎo zú) - “gnaw on the old tribe”

Whereas 土豪 (tǔ háo) have more money than they can spend, 啃老族 (kěn lǎo zú) don’t have much of it at all. In fact, they rely on their parents for financial assistance into their late twenties, thirties, even forties!

啃老族 (kěn lǎo zú) literally translates to “啃 (kěn) - to gnaw on or bite,” “老 (lǎo) - old/elders, 族 (zú) - tribe,” which paints a vivid picture of dependent adults to are still eating away at their parents’ resources and energy. They might still live at home after college, receive an allowance from their parents, and depend on them to buy food and pay bills.

Learn more about other Chinese social labels you should know here

3. 月光族 (yuè guāng zú) - “monthly empty tribe”


月光族 (yuè guāng zú) is a play on words: “月光 (yuè guāng) as a phrase means “moonlight,” but when we examine the characters individually in the context of “月光族” (yuè guāng zú) , the “月” (yuè) in this case means “month,” and 光 (guāng) means “empty.”

All together "月光族" (yuè guāng zú)" refers to workers who spend all of their monthly paycheck by the end of each month, leaving them with empty wallets.

In contrast to traditional Chinese values of frugality, 月光族 (yuè guāng zú) are typically more materialistic and crave immediate gratification. They need to have the latest gadgets, clothes, makeup, and fun experiences!

It might be due to their expensive spending habits, or a low monthly paycheck to start with, but this group of people have trouble building any savings at all.

4. 房奴 (fáng nú) - “slave to a home mortgage”


Compared to the freeloading 啃老族 (kěn lǎo zú) , and the spendy 月光族 (yuè guāng zú)房奴 (literally 房 (fáng) - house, 奴 (nú) - slave, or slave to the home mortgage)  might be considered the most traditionally successful. They worked hard, saved up for a down payment, and are now building their assets. Sounds great, right?

Not quite. With sky high home prices in China, paying for a mortgage creates immense financial pressure on the home owner. Often, they have to cut back significantly on other areas of life in order to afford their mortgage.

That means: no more nice restaurants, no more vacations, and no more happy hours with colleagues outside of work! A sad life indeed.

Mortgages aren’t the only thing creating this new class of “financial slaves” in China, other popular terms include “车奴 (chē nú)” - for people who owe debt on their cars, and “卡奴 (kǎ nú)” - for people living under credit card debt.

Learn more about China's Housing Crisis

Which of these Chinese consumer groups are most fascinating to you? Do you spend or save like any of these groups or tribes? Post your thoughts in the comment section below!