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Why do immigrants save so much more money than you?

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Why has “Raj,” an immigrant who’s lived in the USA for 10 years, saved $150,000 in cash, while few of us born here would ever be able to do the same?

I’m fascinated with the differences in how people around the world spend and save money. Having grown up around a lot of immigrants, I can tell you that their spending patterns are wildly different than people who were born and raised in America.

Passport immigration stamp

I was reminded of this a few days ago, when I got this email from an immigrant — let’s call him “Raj” — who’s been in the USA for 10 years.

“I live here in Fremont now and I have about $150K with me in my bank, most of it stored away like that for more than 1 year now because I needed it to buy a house. Now I have stopped thinking hard about the house, since I still dont know where I will settle down, especially after reading your book to avoid buying a house as an investment. I have started diverting most of the money to LifeCycle funds and I also opened an IRA.

In my case , as a Immigrant I still send a lot of money to India where somehow I have good contacts and usually earn much much more than 8% on my money. That is a strong reason I never bothered to learn about investing here. But now I am diversifying and investing both in the US and in India.”

This is extremely common, especially in the Bay Area: You get a single, highly skilled guy who moves from India to a well-paying job in the US. He works his ass off, lives in a small apartment, and sends some of his income back to his family in India. In a few years, he’s saved well into the 6 figures, at which point he either (1) goes back to India to find a bride and returns to continue working, or, less commonly, (2) moves back to India with a nice bit of cash.

This got me thinking. Why do immigrants save so much?

A few easy reasons come to mind:

  • They’re more educated (see the Wikipedia entry on Indian Americans)
  • They earn more (another Wikipedia link)
  • Their culture encourages higher savings rates (see this Atlantic Monthly article). Culture is also why some immigrants are stereotyped as being poor tippers…which is often very true.

I’m especially interested in the cultural factors that affect financial habits. Here’s a fascinating one I didn’t know about from University of Michigan Retirement Research Center (PDF link).

Data from the EBRI Retirement Confidence Survey indicate that Hispanic-Americans who immigrate to the U.S. exhibit different savings behavior than other Americans.

They tend to save more for short-term goals such as education or a home purchase rather than retirement, and are extremely risk averse, placing greater importance on safety than rate of return on investments, relative to others (Kamasaki and Arce, 2000). In addition, they are more than twice as likely as natives to have provided financial assistance to family members (both in and out of the U.S.) and they are more likely to expect their retirement years to be financed by income of other family members (Kamasaki and Arce, 2000)…for many households these intergenerational transfers may be a major component of retirement saving and planning.

If you can’t understand those words, please go find an immigrant and ask him to translate for you.

I’m sure there are several other reasons that are far more complex. We’ve read the New York Times article on how obesity can be contagious, and I’ve long since argued that personal-finance behaviors are contagious, too — suggesting that maybe you should spend time around immigrants so their financial habits rub off.

In your experience, how do spending patterns differ between immigrants and (native) Americans?

Personally, I remember growing up and taking roadtrips to LA. With six of us, lunch at even a fast-food place would be expensive, so my mom packed lunch and we’d stop somewhere to eat it. We never had a summer home — the whole concept was foreign to us. We never had the most fashionable clothes, but my parents would spend a LOT of money on activities for my siblings and me, and didn’t bat an eye at an SAT prep course that cost thousands of dollars.

Like I said, immigrants have incredibly different spending patterns than most of us. What’s your best example of the difference in financial behavior between immigrants and (native) Americans?

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128 Comments on "Why do immigrants save so much more money than you?"

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Matt E.
6 years 7 months ago

When I was in 6th grade, I found out that my friend from Pakistan had been paying the family bills and balancing the family checkbook for more than a year. His father said it was important that they learn to handle personal finances and how better than to learn by doing. I thought he was a bit crazy, but my friend handles his money much better than most of the people I know.

vlad
vlad
1 month 12 days ago

bullshit muthr fukr he was lying fuck you paki lover.god damn terrorist loving bastard.

Pam
6 years 7 months ago
As a first-generation Indian-American, I totally agree with the differences…and I can say one reason is that (not even kidding) my mother STILL mentally converts from dollars to rupees when determining whether or not to make a purchase!!! Despite living in the U.S. for nearly 30 years, she still does this! 🙂 Perhaps because immigrants often return home to visit their relatives and they’re reminded of the vast contrast between their home country and the U.S. We’ve all heard the “I came to this country with two suitcases and $100 in my pocket”, and luxuries such as vacation homes and… Read more »
Pam
6 years 7 months ago
I realize I didn’t really answer the question. One difference in financial behavior – and I’m generalizing here, I realize that there are exceptions – is that during the holidays, we don’t go crazy buying tons and tons of gifts. I remember being in middle school and feeling totally left out because all my friends had gotten gadgets and clothes AND hundreds of dollars of money! – and I probably got ONE gift from my parents, in the $20-$40 range, if that. It’s not that we couldn’t afford more, it’s just that it wasn’t seen as necessary. Even though I… Read more »
Ian
Ian
6 years 7 months ago

One factor you missed out is a lot of immigrants are used to a much lower standard of living in their home countries. While their income jumps quite a bit after they get to America, their standard of living adjusts much slower.

Pranav
Pranav
7 months 15 days ago

And what makes you say that? Back in India, I am used to living in a 4 bedroom bungalow for 3 people, 4 cars and staff to take care of every possible chore. Have to say my standard of living has gone down ever since I moved to the U.S (sharing a room in LA, no car etc). And yet, I save money and don’t buy unnecessarily because everyone else is. In addition, the concept of taking a loan for every thing is also an alien concept for us. Most of us believe in buying what we can afford.

joruva
joruva
6 years 7 months ago

My girlfriend was born in Hong Kong, and she wastes NOTHING. This includes washing plastic sandwich bags. Clothes are repaired before they are replaced. Food does not get thrown out (even chicken feet can be eaten)

Waste not, want not….

Matt SF
6 years 7 months ago
I think the most insidious reason for the savings divide is that American culture has steadily encouraged consumption vs. saving more and more each year. If you know what to look for, you can see this in the quality of the persuasive arguments embedded into the advertisements of today versus twenty years ago. I’m sure it’s more observable the further back one goes. Maybe I’m wrong, but when the President of the United States is tapped to become a spokesperson to save the travel and leisure industry (think post 9/11), I think the cultural divide between a savings based culture… Read more »
Sabrina
Sabrina
6 years 7 months ago

My grandmother saves babywipes.

No, not used ones of course. But you know, when you’re changing a kid and you accidentally pull out more wipes than you use? And then, without much thought, ball it all together and throw it out?

Somehow, someway, my grandmother (who just got to America 5 years ago), managed to save those extra wipes. And one day when I was tearing up the house finding some wipes to change my nephew, she pulled out a disposable glove, gave me her stock of wipes and saved the day.

I love this.

Marie
Marie
6 years 7 months ago

You might also mention that immigrants tend to put multiple generations of a family in the same house. 3 generations might live together which not only saves money on housing but also provides free child care (which is often super expensive).

Kumar
Kumar
5 months 17 days ago
The concept is to know parents and grand parents, their wisdom to learn and experience. This is not the point of savings that is a responsible to take care of parents when you are earning as we are taking care by parents when we are not earning. 3 generations in the same home will bring togetherness adjusting to each other, helping in problems and sharing experience and most importantly believing your family. staying as a nuclear family is nothing but you are not adjusted to those who born along with you and whose jeans are close to you. That is… Read more »
SP
SP
6 years 7 months ago
“we never had a summer home. . .” Sorry, this made me chuckle a little, as if most Americans DO have summer homes? That seems like a huge luxury that isn’t part of the discussion. Anyway. Back to your real point. I think that more people live in a smaller space when it comes to both roommates and family situations in roommates in immigrant communities. Sort of as others mentioned, the standard of living at home is much lower, so it feels (and is!) extremely wasteful to live in the large living spaces some native born Americans find normal. Housing… Read more »
Derek H
Derek H
6 years 7 months ago
Ramit, This particular phenomenon is discussed in the book “The Millionaire Next Door” which I see you have on your reading list. I am assuming that is where you came up with some of your initial reasons as to why this particular savings pattern occurs. Like you, I am very interested to see what other factors may contribute to savings habits of immigrants. One very interesting point that was made in the book, is that first generation immigrants often tend to be great savers, but the children of those immigrants tend to break away from the ridiculously hard working/living beneath… Read more »
A
A
6 years 7 months ago

Very true about saving/spending habits. In the ’80’s, my parents being refugees who immigrated here with absolutely no skills (no understanding of English either), they managed to save like $50,000 from welfare payments, recycling cans, and odd jobs that they were hired for in 10 years. Not the six-figures ‘Raj’ saved but still.

Eugen Sakhnenko
6 years 7 months ago

It seems we had a similar upbringing.

I was born in Ukraine (during the Soviet Union) and moved to North America when I was 6. Even though my family had little money, my brother and eye were always involved in some sort of activity, be it sports teams or camps. We hardly went out to eat, and always packed lunches (still do).

Just from my circle of friends I think immigrants (and others who grew up with little money) are much more financially conscious. This is reflected in day-to-day spending habits, long term financial planning, and just their general attitude towards money,

Cheers.

TF
TF
6 years 7 months ago
This is a good topic. I think part of it depends on the home country culture. I recently wrote a grad school paper on unbanked Mexican and Central American immigrants; members of these groups bring memories of bank runs and currency crises to the US and as a result avoid the formal banking sector. My first job after college was second shift in a testing lab for a drug company. The Indian immigrants worked there for the steady paycheck and health benefits, and ran small businesses during the day. They drove 10 yr old American cars. They didn’t need to… Read more »
NZ Immigrant
NZ Immigrant
6 years 7 months ago
I think that a huge part of this difference in attitudes may be due to what group we choose to compare ourselves to. People, once their basic needs are fulfilled, are happy or unhappy not because they have or have not, but because they have more or have less than others. For us immigrants the point of reference are people who stayed in the home country, or other immigrants who arrived recently (success is often judged by the answer to “how long have you been here?”), rather than locals. There are enough people who see me as rich in the… Read more »
Jules
6 years 7 months ago
I think it has more to do with the fact that the American Dream is still “work hard, save money, buy a house to stake claim of prosperity”. Most Americans that end up in debt forget about the work-hard-save-money bit and just shoot for the trappings of prosperity rather than the real thing (far less glamorous). Most of those who are debt-free probably have substantial savings. I’d also have to venture that most of your friends are probably young-ish, so they simply haven’t had the time to make the kind of money that would allow them to save up that… Read more »
Douglas
6 years 7 months ago

I agree with the article 100 percent. I know a few Indian immigrants and they are great savers, hard workers, and very smart.
Of course they are not raised with the mind set of get what you want no matter what the cost. Even if it will create debt Americans will get it. I know i went into debt over stupid things i could have waited for or not bought at all.

Jane
Jane
6 years 7 months ago

It is heavily influenced by family and culture. It’s not just a matter of being an immigrant vs being a (US) native. Try seeing how a Persian immigrant saves/spends compared to an Indian immigrant!

IRAH
IRAH
9 months 18 days ago

I agree it depnds a lot on the family and culture rather than demographics. Though in asia /India we find more people who saves a lot, within india we see pople from other region or some times cast hare better savers than us.

Ramakrishnan
6 years 7 months ago
This is really true. I have been in US for good amount of time and we used to see dollars as rupees. That would mean 1 dollar is 50 rupees. If a pack of bread is $3 (Rs.150), it costs Rs.15 to buy one in India. So do I spend 10 times more buy the bread. Certain basic things like food, clothing etc you can’t avoid. But for others this calculation prevails and I would not buy them even if I have a big bank balance. That is just on the currency difference. But there are far more cultural difference… Read more »
Kumar
Kumar
5 months 17 days ago
there is one thing I want to add, Even though i am here in USA for 10 years, my mind set is still in dilemma whether to settle here or in India. If I convert all my savings in Rupees i am rich where as if I consider all my earnings here in USA i can’t buy a big home without loan. with loan i never feel the life is stable and rich. but when it comes to food which goes inside my body, I never compromise but I buy where it is less price. My cousin told me that,… Read more »
Writer's Coin
6 years 7 months ago
Ramit, I’m from Guatemala and the same goes here: most Guatemalans in the US send money back home and are used to living well below their means and saving a chunk of their income. But one of the biggest differences I’ve noticed lies in real estate. Here it’s simply a house to most Americans. You buy one, you sell it, you buy another one. In Guatemala the land you buy is almost sacred. It’s yours and you don’t just flip it and sell it. Owning a piece of land is a big deal (our country’s history has something to do… Read more »
Snowballer
Snowballer
6 years 7 months ago

I’m very close to the Mexican American culture.

One thing I’ve noticed about this culture is these people do save a lot, much more so than their Anglicized counterparts. However, I question if it’s not all for nothing as they have a cultural distrust of banks, brokerages, etc.

Have you heard of the story from the personal finance book where the guy has $65000 in cash buried in a suitcase in his back yard? That’s basically what you get.

frugalscholar
6 years 7 months ago

Very illuminating post. See the opening of “A Wife’s Story” by an Indian-North American writer. The “Patels” don’t get sucked into buying land from real estate scammers and end up owning Hoboken! The narrator of the story is watching a David Mamet play in which the characters are maligning “Patels,” because they can’t con them.

christina
christina
6 years 7 months ago
I think that many immigrants have seen actual poverty while most people born in the US have not. I have seen what I thought was poverty here in the US, but that poverty includes things like cars, televisions, and refrigerators. I remember growing up and thinking that my family was poor, but we had all of these things and more. My parents were deeply in debt and we still had these things. The lessons that I learned from my family regarding money were not the value of saving the results of your hard work. I had to come to these… Read more »
Nisha
6 years 7 months ago
I think this is fascinating because it’s totally true. And we can speculate about a million different reasons why, but there aren’t any hard and fast rules. The biggest difference I can see between me and my parents (immigrants) is lifestyle choices. I’m more likely to go out to eat with friends a few times a week — something my parents don’t spend money on. I’ll buy lattes — my parents abhor Starbucks and think it’s the epitome of yuppiness. These kinds of little lifestyle choices, I think, are the biggest difference between those raised in America and those who… Read more »
Jon
6 years 7 months ago

In addition to being risk averse and encouraging a higher savings rate, I’ve noticed the immigrants I know have specific goals they are saving for, whereas most of my peers look off into all to distant, unspecific dreams of the future. For example, I wait tables part time and some of the cooks are saving plenty to start restaurants back in Mexico, and they already own plenty of land.

John Bardos - JetSetCitizen
6 years 7 months ago
I had a Ghanian friend in Japan, that used to live on about $100 per month here. As a school teacher in Ghana he only earned about $300, but as a waiter in Japan he could make close to $2000 per month. He lived in a company apartment, never ate out and always took scrap bones from the restaurant to make soups. He managed to save about $1900 per month on a $2000 income. After three years of living in Japan, he was able to send enough money back home to build a house and start several small businesses employing… Read more »
Marie
Marie
6 years 7 months ago
As the daughter of German immigrants – these are some things my parents would do: – Have a garden to reduce grocery bills. – Only buy (what they called) “luxury” foods for the holidays (cookies, cakes, etc) – I don’t do this having always felt it was Draconian. – Rarely ever eat out. – Rarely ever buy trendy toys, or trendy anything for that matter. – Make us kids wear hand-me-downs even when we had the money to buy expensive clothes. – Make us kids get a job as soon as we were able (babysitting, shoveling snow for neighbors) and… Read more »
Kumar
Kumar
5 months 17 days ago
Because we should not waste anything and we should know value of everything. if you have lot of money it doesn’t mean that you should waste it. buying more food and throw it left over, all well educated people here in USA using plastic spoon and plastic water bottles and not caring environment and not reusing anything and calling it as luxury and others are miser. All you need is comfortable, being a millionaire, don’t you think he is comfortable or not. buying in sale time means u are buying something at low price means, if you buy at regular… Read more »
Marina
Marina
6 years 7 months ago
A major difference I see between my parents (immigrants from Ukraine) and me (raised here) is how they socialize. I’m much more likely to go out for drinks, dinner, coffee, etc when I want to meet up with friends or out for a special night with my husband. My parents have lots of friends and always seem to be having a good time, but they always do it at each others’ houses, instead of out at expensive restaurants and bars. I don’t think this feels like much of a sacrifice, cause my parents are great cooks and hosts and so… Read more »
Kya
Kya
6 years 7 months ago
It is sad that this only last for 1st generation and gets lost later on. You mentioned retirment which is very true. My parents don’t have any retirment saving, but they were unskilled workers who had hard time making ends meeet until me and my brother started working. But we dont move out of home at 18 or after collage graduation. it is traditional for kids to stay with parents until they have family of their own (get married). This helps both out financially. Also when parents get old, it is traditional and expected, for the kids to take care… Read more »
Aurora
6 years 7 months ago
I grew up in Fremont actually =) and my parents are from China, and my dad especially grew up very poor. I’ve thought about this a lot and have never been able to figure out the exact reasoning behind their spending habits, but maybe somebody else will. They’ve done pretty well for themselves, but they’re incredibly thrifty in some areas and don’t mind spending a lot in others. My dad loves to wear T-shirts he got for free or under $10. They think $4 for coffee is outrageous. They don’t really accumulate “stuff” like books/movies or housewares. Yet they’ll drop… Read more »
bp
bp
6 years 7 months ago
i think there are many reasons why asian immigrants have different saving patterns than americans. my parents are chinese immigrants and have saved a lot of money. a big reason i think, and mentioned previously by someone else, is that they have experienced poverty. their fear of returning back to such an economic state is a reason for their compulsive saving. another big reason is for me, their children. it takes a certain type of person to move to an entirely different country with little knowledge of the language and culture. they want to make a better life for themselves… Read more »
Jesse
Jesse
6 years 7 months ago
First, congrats to all the posters on their stories of success! It’s great to see that each day, more and more people are realizing the “financial security” dream. Although, I think we’re skimming the surface on WHY immigrants are such good savers. Derek (#10) starts to get at the root and I’d like to add some more. I’m building my own personal finance blog and this was a topic I had planned to address. Everyone seems to be commenting on the cultural differences, but I believe there is a phenomenon that transcends: race, age, gender, and even financial acumen. Referring… Read more »
Moneymonk
6 years 7 months ago

As an American, I have learned several ways to save and become more discipline with my money from my immigrants friends than personal finance books. Proud to say now I too have a very healthy 6 figure net worth hopefully I can past that within 6 years

RJ
6 years 7 months ago

A portion of our low savings rates has to be related to social programs like social security, workers comp, disability, and unemployment.

We technically contribute 15% of our income just to social security and medicare. Since many other countries don’t have these programs, they are already accustomed to saving for retirement, unemployment, etc… on their own.

Oleg Mokhov
6 years 7 months ago
Huge difference between American-born and immigrants: allowances. Being a Russian immigrant, I was just expected to help out around the house and not talk back. If anything, my “allowance” was to have parents who provided food, shelter, and clothes. I was shocked–shocked–to see my American friends get $10, $20, sometimes $30 a WEEK just for existing. “Hey, you made it through another week without dying, here’s a few tenners.” Now, to be clear, I’m not criticizing, since each culture has their own practices and I’m completely cool with that. I was just surprised more than anything. And when there were… Read more »
R.V.
R.V.
6 years 7 months ago
Hi, Can’t agree more with Ramit here. My wife and I are immigrants living in NYC, and I can vouch for this through our own story. Like Ramit said, we are well educated – we are both MBAs. Like Ramit said, we have well paying jobs in the city. In the 3 years that we have been here, we have saved upwards of $175,000 in cash. Yes, in 3 years. Of course, a double-income-no-kid (DINK) setup helped. So, were we misers? No. were we frugal? Yes. Did we have big-ticket spends? Yes. So how did we save? Here are a… Read more »
hachi
hachi
1 year 9 days ago

Thanks to united states of America huh? USA is grand. Just love it.

Amy
Amy
6 years 7 months ago
Thank you for sharing, I have observed this in my community and in my life (am the daughter of Chinese immigrants) and I’m ashamed to say that I am caught up with the aggrandizing behaviour of my American counterparts. My parents had middle school education and their combined income in their first 5 years in the US (when I was in elementary school) is less than my current post-graduate training salary (about 50K pre-tax). They were saving 50% of their income and managed to start their own business within 10 years! They continue to chastise me for my non-frugal shopping… Read more »
JimE
JimE
6 years 7 months ago
Ian made an incredibly important point, most other cultures pack in the generations into one home. Most of this stems from agrarian household models where the “family farm” was where everyone lived. Taking care of the elderly and the young is just different than American (or post industrial revolution societies) I think another big point is that in America there is no idea of Familial wealth, people here lost the concept. In Italy or France a vineyard makes sense as a business venture because it’s meant to support a family for three to four generations (100-120 years minimum). I doubt… Read more »
Anand
Anand
6 years 7 months ago
As a first gen indian, I have observed this kind of saving first hand. When we got our first computer in 1993, my dad taught me everything about Quicken. He entered every single transaction into Quicken that we had. We had budgets. Saving money was a priority. Almost 20 years later, he still uses the exact same Quicken file. It probably is one of the largest files ever. From a broader view, it’s interesting that sacrificing lifestyle for savings doesn’t impact our happiness and self-esteem as much as it does for the instant gratification crowd. If we are confident that… Read more »
Erik
Erik
6 years 7 months ago
I am 32, but I am the youngest (by far) of four children. While most of my friends’ parents are baby boomers, my parents were both born in the 1930’s and raised in the 40’s. The impact of being raised in the post-Depression era by my grandparents, who were in their teens and early twenties during the Depression, is still apparent in both of my parents, particularly my mother. My parents habits, and the habits they passed on to me, are more in line with the “immigrant” habits outlined here than with the habits of my peers’ parents. I think… Read more »
Tim Zenchenko
6 years 7 months ago

i think it all boils down to community/family-based societies of the old world vs. the individualistic society of the new world. back in Russia and India, your retirement depends wholly on how well your kids/family will take care of you.

Since majority of immigrants (namely, my parents) have low earning potential when they come over, their retirement depends on their kids.

Marina
Marina
6 years 7 months ago

Amy,

As far as trying to revert back to our parents’ ways… I think the main thing is trying to recapture their values, not necessarily all of their super cheap behavior. I married a fellow immigrant, learned to cook and do lots of other stuff myself, and try to avoid watching too much TV. I’m with the other commenter who pointed out that the typical immigrant focus on always doing things the cheapest way possible can take away from enjoying life, so we need to find a balance.

aa
aa
6 years 7 months ago

For Chinese, “Wasting” is almost like a sin, and “Saving and Being frugal” is what can make parents worry free.

Bingo
Bingo
6 years 7 months ago
I would like to add – The same Indian who, when in US, saves like crazy might spend a lot in India just for show-off. E.g. Punjabi Indians are known for ostentatious spending. 2 reasons: 1. Whom would he show off to, when in US? Here, he does not have the extended family and acquaintances that he has in India. This is why second generation immigrants are much more “American” in their spending patterns: they at least have the targets to show-off to from an early age. 2. “A lot” in Indian currency is somewhat high spend in American currency,… Read more »
Gal @ Look A Day
6 years 7 months ago
My friend’s father came here from the Azores (small island chain in the Atlantic) with an 8th grade education in the 60’s. He worked all his life as a janitor in a high school. He retired early on his pension from his state job and the income from the 7 homes and 1 commercial property he owns (FYI – in the Silicon Valley, that translates to about 6 million in real estate). How did he do it? 1. Save up for short term goals – He saved specifically to buy homes. 2. Very risk averse – Invested only in real… Read more »
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Kelly
6 years 7 months ago
This does not ring true in my experience. My friend who is the biggest spender on useless stuff (wants the best of everything type of person) immigrated here from Russia with her family when she was in 5th grade. They lived less than 100 mi from Chernobyl and she got very sick following the accident. For a long as I could remember her parents gave her unlimited money, despite going into debt themselves. Strange that I still remember this from High School, but almost every day she would buy a giant cookie at “break” time and give away half of… Read more »
Minority Fortune
6 years 7 months ago
Was raised in a multi-generational African American home. Learned a lot but finances was not one of them. Once I got to college in NYC, I began observing the behaviors of people with money and learned a lot. I was inspired to witness many of my classmates graduate debt free b/c their parents paid for their six-figure tuition in cash. I also knew an Indian immigrant who was an investment banker manager. Despite being here for almost ten years working with the same big investment bank, he still lived in Newark, had recently sold off his used/ old car, and… Read more »
Elizabeth Gage
Elizabeth Gage
6 years 7 months ago
I’m a baby boomer; both parents were teens in the Depression. My dad was the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants. We did things like bring our own coolers full of food for outings and even cross-country trips. My mom baked a lot but sweets and store-bought stuff were “treats’ meaning not always available (so more fun when you got them.) My mom made a lot of my clothes up thru high school. I think I learned fairly frugal habits — but what I didn’t learn, because my parents didn’t know or think it possible, was “to be rich.” They were completely… Read more »
Tony
Tony
6 years 7 months ago
@ Kelly: brilliant comment! As Kelly correctly stated, it doesn’t depend on your geographical origin or whether you’re an immigrant or not, but rather on education and the way you were raised. Most immigrants to the USA come from poor, thirld-world countries, and generally speaking, they tend to be the least educated in their countries of origin. This means they are usually poor (that’s why they immigrate to the US). Growing up in a poor household makes you frugal, and you tend to save everything. Growing up in a rich household tends to make you quite the opposite. It’s human… Read more »
Asmita
Asmita
6 years 7 months ago
I can relate with this post very well. I have been in the US for nearly 8 years, 7 of them as a grad student, and one as a postdoc – all with comparatively meager pays. So far I have saved, only investing in CDs, close to 70k. I have never lived with several students holed up in one small house, and have enjoyed going out with friends, hosting parties etc – the full college experience. I think the main factor that a lot of other people here also noticed, is the wastage. That was my biggest shock when I… Read more »
M R Srinivasan
6 years 7 months ago

I think the main reasons immigrants save more cash is because they have to go through a period of uncertainty as far as immigration to; path to citizenship is concerned. Also very few of them have a relative or friend who can lend money in case of emergency or any problem. So, no bail out from Uncle John or Aunt Lisa; also it is the money which was earned in true sense extremely hard way and is very difficult to let go.

R.V.
R.V.
6 years 7 months ago
@asmita agree with you – wastage is huge, and thats what strikes you the most on the very first day… I see people buying bottled water with lunch every day. EVERY DAY?? It just amazes me… Same for sodas… I take them 3-4 at a time, and use it with lunch. @M R Srinivasan Yes, immigrants earn money in “true sense extremely hard way”. But so do most others… It doesn’t seem right to imply that it is easy for others… @Tony Yes, to know how much you earn helps to gauge the level of your savings. I will give… Read more »
adrien
adrien
6 years 7 months ago
I learned from my parents exactly not what to do in regards to personal finance. Parents were first generation canadians who both had professional jobs yet failed to save for the future. Realized at an early age that this was a treacherous path and after reading “wealthy barber” began to pay myself first. Have never gone without and had periods of my life where I was a very free spender yet continued to pay myself first. At thhe age of thirty three am in exellent financial shape with strong equity in three properties and several hundred k in cash savings.… Read more »
Andy
Andy
6 years 7 months ago

My best friends are first generation Serbian-Americans. Depsite their parents business doing terribly for the past year, they somehow found a way to send their son (my friend) to the University of Southern California. We live out of state, and the tuition is outrageously out of our price range. Somehow they are making it possible for him to get the absolute best education possible. They certainly place a huge emphasis on education.

Elizabeth
6 years 7 months ago
My husband is an immigrant; he refuses to do anything on credit, even though I keep trying to convince him otherwise. If he can’t buy it with cash, he won’t get it. He only has a credit score because I convinced him to give up the pay-as-you-go phones for a cell plan specifically to get *something* on his credit report. Now, he has that and the utilities, but that’s it. He recently started talking about going back to school and considering a student loan to fill in what scholarships, grants, and work-based incentives won’t cover. Oh, and whatever his savings… Read more »
bznh
bznh
6 years 7 months ago
To Marie who posted As the daughter of German immigrants – these are some things my parents would do: …. but I think it’s a much tougher, less enjoyable way to live life. My parents live in a large home, with nice cars, and plenty of money in the bank, but little of anything else. Sometimes I feel it’s a strange pathology that they will never overcome. Their concern for money impedes their ability to have fun. I totally agree with this. MONEY IS NOT EVERYTHING… in my opinion – it’s disgusting…. I have lots of money, IT does NOT… Read more »
Dondu. N. Raghavan
6 years 7 months ago

To RV (Comments 35 & 52)
Are you the same RV, who blogs in Tamil and penned this post http://koottanchoru.wordpress.com/2009/11/29/2407/#comment-1711

Your reference to being a DINK confused me.

Regards,
Dondu N. Raghavan

Disha
Disha
6 years 7 months ago
As someone who came to the US to get a PhD, I fall in the category of home vs US. However, it doesnt mean that I dont go out to eat because I wish to save money. It doesnt mean I dont hang out at coffee shops, I just do it in limited amounts because I can and do make my own coffee. Also, saying that people are used to much lower standards of living in their home country just isnt true. Most immigrants to US (atleast from India) are atleast middle class with a good education. What you see… Read more »
R.V.
R.V.
6 years 7 months ago

@Dondu:

No… But I guess there is some similarity between him / her and me? (Sorry, I don’t read / understand Tamil, so couldn’t learn more about the blogger). If so, I am glad more people are doing the same…

(I am sorry, I would not like to reveal my identity as I have mentioned my income / savings… We Indians are usually secretive when it comes to money… 🙂 )

Dondu. N. Raghavan
6 years 7 months ago

@R.V.
Yes, the feeling was bizarre. Your language reminded me of his. He too lives in the US of A!

But then he has two charming daughters, hence my confusion.

By the way, I have placed the same question to him in the above cited blog.

Anyhow thanks for the reply.

Regards,
Dondu N. Raghavan

Julia
6 years 7 months ago
So interesting. I actually just wrote a blog post last Monday about my husband’s views of money and how they were influenced by his childhood in Argentina (during times of both national and family crisis). As you mentioned, at first he was not at all concerned about saving for retirement, but as he has assimilated, he has increasing interest. We do send money to his family, but not at a rate that you could say we are supporting them — probably something like $1,000/year. This does go a long way, but it’s usually in the form of bringing one of… Read more »
Rahul
Rahul
6 years 7 months ago

There’s a flip side to this. As a volunteer alumni fundraiser for UC Berkeley, Indians and other Asians are the stingiest to charitable giving. For the number of Asian graduates in the sciences/engineering that have well paying jobs, it’s a cultural thing to not think about charity. All the money in the world does not change the image of a parasite.

Julia
6 years 7 months ago
@Rahul I also see that in the case of my husband (see just above your own comment). He does not have much interest in making charitable giving a budget category. (Neither does he protest much.) I’m not sure that carries across Latin America, as I know that Catholic charities are very active, but I know that there are comparably few active charities in his region of Argentina. So, his opinion is not based as much on his status as an immigrant as his background. However, it seems to me that if one’s goal in moving to another country is to… Read more »
Debt Free Hispanic
6 years 7 months ago
Ramit, i’m Hispanic, Debt Free Hispanic, and I must say that I love this blog post. There is a big difference in spending habits, even between me and my own father. I remember times when my father would send money back to his family in Mexico. My father became a US citizen but was very loyal to his mom back in Mantamoros. He would send her money up until the day she passed away. My parents do not spend as much money as I do. They eat meals at home alot and take leftovers to lunch almost daily. I know… Read more »
Kirk Kinder
6 years 7 months ago
One big reason for the difference in savings is many people from other nations, especially emerging market economies, have no safety net like we do here. They don’t have social security or unemployment insurance. You may feel bad that they don’t, but you find these societies have savings rates in the 20% or more. They are actually better off than we are, especially when you consider the government’s mismanagement of our social security contributions. The family structure is much stronger in these areas. The families depend on each other for more than just emotional support. They rely on each other… Read more »
Verdant Green
6 years 7 months ago
I hope you backed up that file, Anand! One theory I learned as to why immigrants save more money is that it is caused by the “sojourner effect.” Although I don’t see this term anywhere when I tried to search for it on Google or Wikipedia, I promise I’m not making this up. I did learn about it in a Race Relations class at the University of Chicago back when I was in college. I remember that it is a theory described by a sociologist named Bonacich, I think. Many immigrants may not see the U.S. as their home and… Read more »
Lina
Lina
6 years 7 months ago

Great comments, they pretty much described everything I could think of saying.. It’ll be interesting to see how lack of savings for retirement will affect immigrants in the future as their children become more and more ‘americanized’ thus not performing their ‘duty’ of taking care of their parents..

Lee
6 years 7 months ago
I don’t know, but I know among the people I grew up with in NJ the ones from more affluent families (especially ones that don’t have their own family businesses, but have normal jobs) tend to be the biggest money wasters. I think the more secure one feels when growing up, the more one is likely to be a spendthrift as an adult. Moving to a different country, or seeing your parents work hard to run a family business, or growing up with less money than others, are all sources of insecurity that might lead people to save more and… Read more »
Lee
6 years 7 months ago

I was just reading about how you can get a chauffer, butler, gardener, etc. in India – how come more Americans don’t do that?? For my small NY apartment it sounds like I could be living in a castle or something.

Al
Al
6 years 7 months ago
I don’t think immigrants specifically save more. I think it’s a sign of where you grew up and in what era. I know people that lived through the great depression are some of the thriftiest bastards I know. My grandma, who lived through the great depression, to this day counts all the proportions before each meal and never cooks more than needed. You end up more hungry after dinner than when you sat down. Americans need a wake up call. Yet, I know affluent indians who have no problem not sending in $100 rebates or eating out every other day.… Read more »
Travis
6 years 7 months ago
A huge distinction needs to be drawn between 1st generation immigrants and successive generations. Growing up, across the street from my dad’s house was a block of 4-plex apartments and while the grandparents and older parents who came over to the US worked hard and were respectful of the neighborhood- the kids just left stuff like bicycles and toys out on the street or in the yard. If their bike got a flat tire they would just go buy a new bike. Another huge difference is their relationship to debt. For some odd reason it has become “normal” to have… Read more »
R.V.
R.V.
6 years 7 months ago
@Lee: “I was just reading about how you can get a chauffer, butler, gardener, etc. in India – how come more Americans don’t do that?? For my small NY apartment it sounds like I could be living in a castle or something.” I wrote about a chauffer, butler, gardener, etc. in India, so let me clarify. The cost of living is extremely low in India. Also, costs in India are quite low compared to other developing countries it is compared with. For example, I have been to Brazil – which is in the same stage of development as India –… Read more »
Prakash
Prakash
6 years 7 months ago
@Rahul. being a cheapskate Indian is definetly and inherited trait. My parents were typical Indian cheapskates. They were always measuring themselves by how much money they could accumulate. It was money, money and more money. It’s what the whole community defined themselves by. I find that I practice this same habit with other Indians. Sometimes, four of us go to a restaurant, order only one entree and stretch it to feed four by cajoling the waiter into giving us some bread. I used to do this also when I was with my american friends. I would only order a very… Read more »
Money Funk
6 years 7 months ago
I have a friend, born in Burma, who lives with his family here the US. They live on one income, travel frequently back home, and he sends money back home all the time. On one income! I asked him how and he will tell you that they live by extremely frugal means: 1 bedroom apt, no eating out, clothes are bought fairly cheap, they tend to keep at home, etc… As a native USer, I’d have to say we are spoiled and expect to be spoiled. Our consumerist society reminds us kindly all the time. I think it would be… Read more »
Anshu
Anshu
6 years 7 months ago
I’m an immigrant and I agree with the title of the post. Immigrants do save a lot more than Americans and are generally more disciplined financially. At least thats what I have been doing and have seen my friends doing. Often when we have told our credit score to some americans we hear them sighing, “I wish I had that credit score”. Anyhow, coming back to the point, why do we save so much? For me, I feel a lot of pressure from the society back home in India. For an average Indian, living in US is still a very… Read more »
deb
deb
6 years 7 months ago
I agree with almost all of the comments made. Their family units tend to operate differently. Members seem to be more vested in mutually agreed upon goals, many of which are cultural / traditional. Family will own a business and hire only family members to work in it. Long hours are expected and accepted. Children don’t take school for granted and so on. Often they send for older relatives to handle in-home child care. I’ve often seen this. It makes it possible for women to work longer hours with a lot less stress, worry, and expense. Many of the women,… Read more »
Jesse
Jesse
6 years 7 months ago
I’ve been somewhat disappointed with the thread of comments. I thought this topic was very interesting and would attempt to dig deep into the cultural and psychological differences. To give some credibility, I’ve saved almost as much as Raj in a portion of the time on a modest salary, yet am far removed from my great-great parents who emigrated here. Two side points. Remember, the transition to credit is a relatively new trend in the US (estimate to within past 50 yrs). This is why you have comments here about the Great Depression generation and how thrifty they were. What… Read more »
Danny
Danny
6 years 7 months ago
Ramit, I think a big factor that you’ve overlooked here is education cost. You didn’t offer much details for “Raj” and his background, but let’s look at commenter R.V. and his wife. They both have undergraduate and MBA degrees, which I’m going to assume they earned in India and not in the United States. Based on the information I was able to find, it is almost certain that, between the two of them, they didn’t pay more than $25,000 USD total for their education. And now they have a combined income of $180,000 USD per annum. Contrast that with your… Read more »
PJ
PJ
6 years 7 months ago

We had similar upbrings, and my family was born in Amercia, We never had a summer home, fashionable clothes, but my parents would not spend money on activities for my siblings and me, or for a SAT prep course that cost thousands of dollars.

Trendy Indy
6 years 7 months ago
I am an Indian and have been in the US for almost 7 years. Though I am not a savy saver, I learnt the lesson hard way and do have my finances under control now.I come from an above middle class family from India and my parents gave me what ever I wanted or asked for while I was there. I came here only to realise that people who came along with me saved more than I did, becuase they came from not so previleged households like I did. I have my friends in India that come from rich families,… Read more »
Concojones
Concojones
6 years 7 months ago
It’s all about culture. I am Western European (born and still living here) and ‘everyone’ here my age (mid to late twenties) seems to be saving to buy their own house/appartment, even total losers you’d never think that would. Priority number one here is getting your own home, then comes a combination of general saving and having a good time, and last come gadgets. In the US, priorities seem to be the other way around (my impression). Relatives emigrated to the US half a century ago, and you see the change throughout the generations. Generation #1 worked hard and had… Read more »
Concojones
Concojones
6 years 7 months ago

[edit: it’s just a laptop, people!]

Skentura
Skentura
6 years 7 months ago

@Trendy Indy

I think you found the core. “For most Indians , what americans around them think doesn;t matter..what matters us nost is what our “Indian community” thinks about us and that’s what motivates to save..save..save” and show off to them.

interview tips
6 years 7 months ago

many people know how to earn money, but few know how to save money that makes more difference

skintologyny
6 years 7 months ago

money earned is not always spent by every one equally, needs and desires changes from individual to individual

Jan
Jan
6 years 7 months ago

Hmm I don’t know! I am an immigrant from India and I’ve been in the US for 3 years now (2 of which were spent in grad school) I was used to a luxurious life back in India – eating out, movies, buying clothes every month. And I do the same here – I have saved just $10000 from a year of working at a high end software engineer job

R.V.
R.V.
6 years 7 months ago
@Jesse: I kind of agree that in a way, this equates to “saving for a goal”. However, these habits are permanent – and not just for the current accumulation / saving phase. Even when we move back to India, the principal would remain the same: Spend a ton on what we love, cut costs in everything else. Every drop counts. Small savings add up. Let me take up some of my own points: – We pay a rent of $2050 a month! >> We own our own apartment back in India, so no rent. Instead, a mortgage payment of a… Read more »
Jesse
Jesse
6 years 7 months ago
@ RV. Thanks for following up. I hope you weren’t offended by my text, I simply selected your post because the butler comment was an easy counter-point. Two add-ons. First, its good to see someone who shares my interest in collecting trash bags. The logic is clean. Why would you pay for plastic bags only to throw other plastic bags in them? I have to thank you, I think I’m going to draft a post about this 🙂 Second, your point about planning is spot on. People rarely stumble on fortunes. Pre-planning contributes significantly to actually achieving goals by allowing… Read more »
Mike P
Mike P
6 years 7 months ago
I’m a fifth generation American and I can say that I am definitely amazed at how people in this country live their lives. I can’t imagine what its like for an immigrant to come here and see people just blowing money away on useless crap. When I moved to Metro Detroit from a small town in Northern Michigan it just amazed me how people aggressively try to outdo each other in house, car, clothes. I suspect its like that in most suburbs in this country. Some of my friends are changing their ways due to the recent economic troubles, but… Read more »
Venkat
Venkat
6 years 7 months ago

Hi
I have been following your blog for a while and have started to look forward to reading them every week. This was a nice line of thought you have put across(being an immmigrant I can relate to this easily).But you have only highlited the positive side of this topic in this artilce I feel.
Strongly tempted to buy your book.
Keep writing ..

Mila
Mila
6 years 7 months ago
An allowance? I think I would have been smacked for that. Growing up in a Somali household is no different I guess, save like your life depends on it! Often times it does, bc family members back home really need it and they are your blood. Everyone pitches in to get the younger generation educated. And once you have enough for a down payment buy a house. Usually families have one car if public transportation isnt so good. Usually the family, friends, neighbors start whats called a Hagbaad which is a revolving credit system usually used for a college education,… Read more »
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Sowmya
6 years 7 months ago
Hi, The blog topic is very correct. Immigrants save more money. All my cousins have been to US 3-4 times. Though they came to US in business visa’s (using which you can stay a maximum of 6 months) i they were able to save Rupees 2 to 3 Lakhs ( hundred thousands), which equals to their annual CTC. So they have invested that in long term deposits which gives them 8% interest rate or buy gold coins and kept at a locker which can be redeemed any time. Nobody in this comments thread have spoken about how these immigrants save… Read more »
Kevin
Kevin
6 years 7 months ago
There’s a lot to say about savings & culture. Good for Indians who save money! HOWEVER: – Someone said Indians not do not tip, someone else said Indians save even the babywipes, and someone else even said that Indians won’t spend money on toilet paper because they don’t use it. Some others say Indians who do not accommodate to American standards are a subclass — like the untouchables back home. – As an attorney, I have worked with Indian clients twice. What a pain in the @$$. I promised myself to never again waste my time with nickel-and-diming. I refuse… Read more »
Pranav
Pranav
7 months 15 days ago

Classic case of The Great American Ignorance!

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Andy
Andy
6 years 7 months ago

I’m the son of Taiwanese immigrants, and my mom always says: “Chinese earn $10 and spend $2, Americans earn $2 and spend $20.”

I think she sums it up rather well.

Like another Asian American has commented, I can only hope to TRY and be anywhere near as frugal as my parents — and I see many of my 2nd generation peers at all income brackets wasting a ton of money.

Tanya
Tanya
6 years 7 months ago

I think the reason why immigrants do so well is part due to coming from lesser circumstances in their home countries. When my family got here from Italy they all got into trades or bought rental property or opened their own businesses, etc…Things they couldn’t have done back home. My grandmother always beat it into my head that you just can’t spend what you dont have. Also, Credit cards are like a mythical beast to some immigrant families =P

lal
lal
6 years 7 months ago

Commenter # 95. That post is out and out racist. This is a great conversation about immigrants and financial habits….This is neither an opportunity to pay homage to a particular race/ethnicity nor to put them down in a manner that quite simply smacks of racist beliefs and convictions.

CESAR Vuitton
CESAR Vuitton
6 years 7 months ago
I HONESTLY BELIEVE SAVING IS A JOKE…. IM NOT SAYING SPEND YOUR MONEY BUT WHY SAVE 150k WHEN U COULD OF TAKEN THAT SAME MONEY AND INVESTED OR Bought INTO REAL ESTATE AMONGST OTHER INVESTMENT VEHICLES (start a business,stocks,Bonds,Gold,a Growth Area) . Besides the fact that inflation beats down your money when you have it saved in a bank , the bank uses you as a Leverage to get into other businesses. As far as being frugal i believe being cheap doesn’t have to do with being rich or poor .why be frugal when you do need expenses and spoiling… Read more »
ldii
6 years 6 months ago

It’s common that guest works harder and save tougher than the native.

FinanceDad
6 years 6 months ago

I was not raised with any financial sense whatsoever, it was only until I got myself into trouble did I realize the need for frugality. Unfortunately, I’m still learning it.

Nicole K
Nicole K
6 years 6 months ago

I work in an office that’s 50% Chinese and 50% American. We just started a 401(k) for our employees, and none of the Chinese are participating, although I know that many of them having much larger savings accounts than me. I think that Chinese culture privileges the “money under the mattress” approach to saving. I’m not sure which is better in the long term, but I guess many of them believe that their children will care for them when they retire, whereas most Americans know that their children will not.

Barbara Saunders
Barbara Saunders
6 years 6 months ago

I wonder – does this generalization apply to all (or even most) immigrants? Most of the examples here are of immigrant families from China and India. Some friends come to mind who immigrated from Europe or the Caribbean (all upper-middle class families with good financial outcomes.) Although they are definitely less impulsive than typical Americans in my experience – and less often buy a lot of branded junk just for the name – they are not tight-fisted in the ways described here.

Barbara Saunders
Barbara Saunders
6 years 6 months ago

Another comment – earning tends to get left out of these discussions!

If I make, say, only $50K, and my husband makes, say, $50K, then we cannot save $100,000 per year. No way, no how.

Siebrie
Siebrie
6 years 6 months ago

My dh is from an African country with a life expectancy of about 45. He and his family members do not save! Life is short, and if you have money to make it more enjoyable: do so! Retirement is not foreseen, because people just are not expected to live that long. He is slowly adapting to a more savings-savvy lifestyle, and I’m adapting to a more spendy-savvy lifestyle (my parents are the proverbial Dutch frugalites). Money is often discussed, and generally we agree on what to spend it on/save it for.

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6 years 2 months ago

[…] Ramit, from a while ago, on why immigrants save more money […]

Hannah
Hannah
6 years 2 months ago
I’m British by birth, and try to go by my Grandma’s creed: if you can’t pay cash for it, you don’t need it! No “HP” (hire purchase, or credit) for her! Do I use a credit card now that I live in the US? Yes, but pay it off each month, and get rebates on what I spend on it (American Express, through my Costco Executive membership card – which also gives annual rebates). I also grow my own veggies, use the library, instead of buying books, and only buy on sale. And I save, so that I can travel!
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Francisco
7 months 9 days ago

Holy Toldoe, so glad I clicked on this site first!

auto insurance
5 months 26 days ago

Okay I’m convinced. Let’s put it to action.

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[…] Why do immigrants save so much more … – Why do immigrants save so much more money than you? 117 Comments- Get free updates of new posts here […]

http://www.cosmoarabia.net/
3 months 9 days ago

It’s always a relief when someone with obvious expertise answers. Thanks!

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[…] Why do immigrants save so much more … – Why do immigrants save so much more money than you? 119 Comments- Get free updates of new posts here […]

Jared
2 months 24 days ago
As an immigrant myself from Ghana, I say that us immigrants save more because some of us save to eventually go back home to visit our country and family. That is my opinion and the reason why I save. When I first moved to the States as an immigrant, I would search for every possible low cost items, sales, discounts and use coupons. Every money I saved was more money towards my family back at home and more money for me to save to visit. I also did and still do a lot of international calling. Since visiting my homeland… Read more »
Steven
2 months 23 days ago

Do you know if they do calls to South America?

vlad
vlad
1 month 12 days ago

poor underprivleged refugee traveling back and forth to africa?what a joke i couldn’t afford that?this sounds like an advertisement.

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2 months 24 days ago

Handig zo'n creatieve vriend, die jas staat je onwijs goed!Love,RowanPs: Win 60 euros to spend on BoumanOnline (brands like Buddha to Buddha, Ice Watch, Trollbeads and Calvin Klein) by joining my

immigration Consultants
1 month 22 days ago

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car insurance
1 month 19 days ago

Ja som zvolil opačnú taktiku. Momentálne vytváram podporné weby na rovnakú tímatiku. A neskôr keď už budú mať schopnú návštevnosť tak vytvorím nosný hlavný web. Som zvedavý ako sa osvedčí tento model

vlad
vlad
1 month 12 days ago
indians come over hers with diamonds stuffed up their asses claiming to be refugees then they come under ll government programs which take them by the hand and make sure they succeed,they are given mini marts gas stations dunkin donuts any place they can skim money.its those businesses that they favor.ever have an indian ring you up and not give you a receipt he just reaches for your change out of an already open register,that is called skimming.and they make thousands of extra dollars a year doing it.and they all do it.whites would be arrested but indians are left alone… Read more »
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