“I want to live debt free”.

couples and money financial caregiving financial health money story Mar 24, 2021

As part of honoring Women's History Month and International Women's Day (March 8), March blogs are dedicated to inspiring money (hi) stories that transcend the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. Important are those who have made significant and notable gains but also those who work beside us and live in our community.  I really cherish being able to learn about people’s money stories, especially their how and why, and ultimately how it has shaped their lives.  A local friend recently posted that she was inspired in her relationship to pay off her debt and live debt free. She agreed to be interviewed for this blog and this is her money story.

Pai has a rich money story that transcends her family coming to the US as refugees, assimilation into a new culture, navigating college, debt, cultural caregiving, and house ownership. In her 40s, she is now in a relationship that made her examine her money story and how it has contributed to her financial decision making in the past, the present, and how she intends use this reflection on her money story to shape her narrative going forward. 


Pai is Hmong, descending from the Thao clan. Her family fled to the US from Laos as a refugee following the Vietnam War. They arrived to Selma, Alabama in 1978. When asked about her first memories with money, she says that her mother and father had completely opposite views of money. Her mother, who was brought up by extended family in Laos, was hard working, eager to please, and very conservative with money. Whereas her dad, who came from a family with financial security, tended to be on the charitable side.  As a couple, her parents saved cash and never banked or invested it secondary to mistrust of the government and the banks as well as their refugee status, where they were typically, or possibly soon, to be on the move.

Pai reports childhood memories of being impoverished. She is one of 12 children in her family. While her parents worked multiple jobs, the older children cared for the younger children. She recalls never asking for things, rather, they were always recipients of hand me downs. At the same time, their family, mostly initiated by her father, were very generous to their family and community, using their resources to help others. She believes her father may have been too generous at times, possibly being taken advantage of. 

In terms of learning about managing money, she reports money was never really talked about in the family although everyone who could worked and contributed. However, she knew that having money would provide her access to new things so at 15 she got a job. Her mother gave her $20 of her paycheck and then saved the rest. Pai split the $20 with her younger sister. She remembers this time fondly. When she moved to Utah in her early 20s to extended family, her mother sent on her savings for financial support. Pai worked and was also able to secure a grant to help her attend college in her 20s. She reports feeling over whelmed with complete access to her income and spent it all. On the positive side, by example from her parents who never utilized credit cards, she never bought on credit but struggled with the concepts of budgeting.  She utilized student loans to support her financially through college. 

Pai graduated in 2008 with school debt and faced what many new grads faced during the 2008 crash, lack of gainful employment/underemployment. She moved back in with her parents who were also financially struggling and transitioned into a caregiving role to her ailing father. During this time, she did get a job, and continued to contribute to the family. She indicated that slowly, and without a focus on clearing her debt or creating a solid financial foundation, she started savings towards personal and home ownership goals.


She did indeed purchase a home as a single woman, and although feeling as if it was a life changing accomplishment, she lived in a place of financial limbo as she did not have a solid financial foundation for herself. She likens this to a limited financial knowledge, a history of financial insecurity, debt from school loans, and financially overextending herself in her role as caregiver. She reports the caregiving role as the most challenging to navigate as culturally it is common place but it is unclear as to what extent is healthy. This continues to be a journey for her to navigate as it is not a topic that is discussed culturally or that there is a framework to reference. She contemplates that had she been clearer on what and when she could give it would have set her on a firmer financial foundation.


Pai reports that her past and present financial relationship impacted her personal deepening and committed relationship where, although curious, she found it difficult to engage in discussing finances. She reports she was unsure of how to start the conversation with fear of being vulnerable about her financial decision making and status, and fearful of hearing about and/or being responsible for her partner stood financially.  Although difficult, life circumstances pushed them into conversation as they looked to cohabitate. On the contrary, Pai reports that learning about her partner's thoughts, feelings, and actions about  money helped her to challenge her beliefs around decision making, and become more focused about paying off her debt. He encourages her to think differently, to feel empowered about her wants, needs, and responsibilities thus being clearer on her goals, reducing debt, increasing income, and building boundaries for health caretaking. They have a goal to be and live debt free by 2023. 


What is your money story? What relationship do you have with money and how has your story played a part? Money stories are the foundation of positive financial health. If you want to learn more about how you or you and your partner are guided or bound by your money story, consider signing up for my self-paced Financially Healthy Couples Course.  


Questions: email [email protected]

Mariah Hudler, MSW, MBA is a financial health consultant, coach, and speaker. She works with couples and entrepreneurs on making their money work for them. 

Disclaimer: This blog is for education only. Please consult with a qualified professional when you have any questions about your personal financial, tax, or legal situation. Information contained in this post is for informational purposes only and not intended to replace professional advice.

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