Money Lessons from Crazy Rich Asians

[social_warfare]Crazy Rich Asians

With the movie, Crazy Rich Asians, coming out later this month, I thought I’d share some valuable money lessons I gleaned from reading the bestselling books by Kevin Kwan.

Crazy Rich Asians’ plot follows the heroine, Rachel Chu, as she accompanies her boyfriend, Nick Young, back to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding.  It’s a rom-com so, of course, Nick is basically a prince in disguise.  It is a modern retelling of the Cinderella fairytale. Rachel comes from a modest, single-mother household.  She meets a man who is secretly from the richest family in Singapore and when she goes to meet his family, hilarity ensues.

Kwan’s books are a clash of West meets East.  Rachel is no typical fairytale damsel.  She’s a professor of economics. A female heroine that is an academic and independent which speaks to the values in our North American society.  On the flip side, Kwan adheres to some traditional and stereotypical gender roles when describing Nick’s family in Singapore.  Men are business-savvy and the captains of industry.  They are the ones making all the money.  Women are gossiping and comparing how successful their husbands or children are.

Kwan weaves humour with keen cultural observations.  I could relate to Rachel’s American Born Chinese (ABC or CBC in Canada) attitudes, experiences and middle-class leanings.

Nick’s family in Singapore is a bit over-the-top in its opulence for most of us to relate to, and that’s the appeal.  It’s similar to opening a wealthy neighbours’ medicine cabinet.  We know the other side lives well, but we want the guilty pleasure of knowing just how well.  And the books do not disappoint in this area.  Kwan describes luxe estates and name drops fashion houses.

When I read the series, I was just looking for some fun, chick-lit entertainment.  What I didn’t expect was to find gems on money management that lasts long after I put the books down.

Money Lessons from Crazy Rich Asians

There will always be someone richer 

It is only natural for humans to compare.  We are social creatures and because life gets messier as you grow older, you lose goalposts.  As children, we know how we are doing in class because we get grades.  We know where we stand in the social network.  But as we get older, we no longer have those objective measures.  Instead, we infer our place by looking at other people.

We call it “keeping up with the Jones”.  We want to keep up appearances and we want to signal to others that we’ve “made it”, we are successful.  We do it by buying stuff.  Crazy Rich Asians are no exception.  Eddie, Nick’s cousin in the book, is a caricature; he obsesses over the best shoes, the best suits. He is singularly fixated on presenting a certain image to the world.  He tries too hard at every turn to prove he is also rich.  However, no pair of handmade Italian leather shoes changes his net worth nor do they impress his wealthier cousins.  The only person Eddie is fooling is himself.

The financial coach in me thinks that had he saved and invested all the money spent on the trappings of appearing rich, he might have gotten closer to his actual goal.

Lesson: Using wealth as a measuring stick will always leave you playing catch up.  And every time you catch up, the goal is moved further out-of-reach.

The Millionaire Next Door

Remember when the book The Millionaire Next Door came out? The book’s surprising premise was that you’d never recognize most millionaires because they look like average people.  They are not the ones rocking Hermes belts or gold chains.  Basically, typical millionaires look like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, wearing a sweater and jeans.  No Rolex watches or any other bling.

In the Crazy Rich Asians plot, that’s our Nick.  He is secure in his wealth, and unlike Eddie, he doesn’t feel the need to show off.  He is not finding every opportunity to overspend.  Nick doesn’t need to wear or drive status symbols and he’s as comfortable dining at Michelin star restaurants as he is eating at hawker food stands.

Because of his modest lifestyle and habits, his long-term girlfriend Rachel has no idea he came from money and old money at that.  I don’t advocate keeping such a significant secret from your romantic partner, but I’ll give Kwan the pass, as it was a necessary deceit to move the plot ahead.

Lesson: Looking rich is no substitute for being rich.

Wealthy Women take investing seriously 

This lesson surprised me.  As I noted earlier, the book does perpetuate some traditional notions and gender stereotypes.  In many of our stereotype of the Rich Man’s wife, it involves her lunching, volunteering and shopping.  Kwan’s “Rich Man”‘s wives do all of the above, but they are not at all passive when it comes to wealth.

Each of the wealthy female characters has an investment account that is hers to manage.  We read about how Nick’s mom is calling her broker to buy or sell a stock based on an inference regarding the CEO or some other juicy gossip (I do not recommend trading based on insider information or rumours) all the while trying to squeeze her friends for information on her son’s girlfriend, Rachel.

These women take making money in the markets seriously.  They are not oblivious to the market or what’s in their portfolios.  Very noteworthy is that they do not expect their husbands to be in charge of their investments.

Lesson: Women need to be financially literate and participate in wealth creation.

How does this all add up?

The upshot of all of this is to say that we should all be more like Sylvia Bloom.



Ms. Bloom was a legal secretary in New York City who passed away at 96 years old.  To everyone’s surprise, she had quietly amassed over $9 million in her investment and savings accounts.  Sylvia was the embodiment of these money lessons.

She didn’t chase wealth or money.

She remained a legal secretary until she retired. It was said she lived a modest lifestyle with her husband, a retired firefighter.

She chose to be rich rather than look rich.

She took the subway to work instead of driving a showboat car. At $9 million, she could have afforded anything her heart desired.  The beauty was that her heart did not desire shiny things to be happy.

She took the time to become financially literate and created her own wealth.

Also notable was that she was careful to take advantage of investing opportunities.  She observed the lawyers she worked for and often replicated their trades on her secretary salary.  Even by investing small amounts, and coupled with compounding, led her to retire a multi-millionaire.  She managed the investments quietly and on her own until her death.  The $9 million was in accounts under Sylvia’s name alone.

Saving and investing might be intimidating to many, but I think Sylvia’s example shows us that in any socio-economic strata, we can all employ the money lessons found in Crazy Rich Asians.

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5 thoughts on “Money Lessons from Crazy Rich Asians”

  1. The rich gets richer!
    Cant wait to watch this movie. I hope it comes to netflix soon. Hard to get cinema time with young kids! thanks for the write up!

  2. Fantastic takeaways! I’m pleasantly surprised that wealthy women take investing seriously. I have so much YES! to say about women being active participants in wealth creation.

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