Save. Spend. Splurge.

Filial Piety 101: How the giving back to your parents starts happening

I take this behaviour for granted because it is common in my culture, but apparently some of you folks do not know what it’s like to be in a culture that expects children to provide for their parents in the future.

The term for this is: Filial Piety.

This is the crash course on it, based on my and my similar-cultured friends’ experiences and upon request of PK of Don’t Quit your Day Job.


1. Your parents may have paid for your entire education and life past the age of 18.

I’m talking tuition, books, materials (laptop included), room & board, travel expenses and spending money.

Thinking about it as 4 years of college education, it’s roughly $40,000 a year here in Canada or at least $100,000 in the U.S. which is about a $160,000 – $400,000 investment.

Sometimes more. I have friends whose parents bought them apartments to live in, cars, and paid for their vacations, etc.

A few of my cousins went on to do masters and PhDs (all paid for by their parents), so that amount can grow astronomically higher, into the $700,000 range.

A lot of my friends had parents who paid their way 100%.

I do know of a few who got $0 (like myself), but still give money to their parents each month because they make bank and their parents don’t (unlike myself).

2. Your parents may have let you stay at home rent-free while you saved up money for a mortgage.

As long as you live under their roof, you are not technically obligated to give them spending money each month unless you want to.

You will be obligated to pay household bills however.

Even so, your parents let you stay at home rent-free, your parents probably cooked, cleaned and did your laundry, and took care of you when you were in bed sick from overworking.

They didn’t ask for rent on top of household bills, but they tried their best to help you as much as they could.

3. Your parents DEFINITELY worked their asses off

The key common denominator in all of this is that your parents worked like mad.

They didn’t sleep much, scrimped, scrounged, saved, invested, cared, loved you and basically did everything in their power to provide for you no matter how little it was.

They didn’t have much but they gave it all to you, even the shirt off their backs when you were cold.


When you graduate college and get a job.

That’s usually when it starts because now you have money coming in.

In my culture, whether they need the money or not, you are expected to give.



You are expected to do some, any or all of the following:


I have a good friend who is covering her brother’s education. When he visits from Ottawa, she also pays for his trips and his food.

She put him on a budget but he need not worry about the money as she will cover it all on behalf of her parents.


Cellphone, mortgage, utilities, car, etc.

Paying 100% is ideal.

They are to live for free for the rest of their lives now, as you lived for free under them for 18 years (or more, depending on if they also paid for college.)


Paying for car repairs, paying for meals, a new winter coat.

The Asian Pear talks about this.

She’s a really good daughter, and my parents would probably adopt her over me, given the chance… although I’d probably want to be adopted by her parents too, so it’s a win-win.


Small ones are fine, as long as they get to enjoy their life on your dime. They are not to pay for anything, including spending money.

Hotel, flights, food, transportation (cabs naturally), and spending money should be included.

If you can give them a luxury one, the bragging rights go higher.


Your mother mentioned offhand she really would like a nice watch?

You buy her the best one you can afford and you don’t ask for money, but she is now allowed to crow to her friends about how generous her son/daughter is.

(I actually do this for my mother because I love her, but not for my father. I’m a double-standard daughter.)


And vice versa, although in my case it is not that at all.

You are never to turn away your parents if they come for a visit to stay with you. You give up your room if you have to, to let them sleep there.

None of this hotel crap.



I can only speak from a few experiences, but generally, you give AS MUCH AS YOU CAN without bankrupting yourself, so that you can give your parents 100% ultimate BRAGGING RIGHTS.

There is no set rule.

$100 is the bare minimum but it’s a bit of a slap in the face and is hardly mentioned, $500 is “acceptable” as a real minimum, $1000 gives your parents bragging rights to the max to crow to their friends:

My son/daughter/kids send me _____ a month! I don’t pay for ANYTHING. They’re so RICH and SUCCESSFUL. How are your kids doing?

My uncle who is super rich, did not ask for $1000 a month, but my cousins came up with $1000 a month each because it was a nice round number to give maximum bragging rights.

Really, they know they’re just investing in their own future windfall.

The money will all come back to them eventually because my uncle is also a cheapskate.

I have other friends who give $500 a month, or what they can afford. Sometimes that money is paid in form of a cellphone bill, or car insurance, and their parents can crow about that.

My own sibling (a rather guilty-feeling one), still pays for my parents’ car insurance at $300 a month, and sends them on a 2-week vacation to the U.S. every year.

Ideally, you are to:

  • Cover any / all of their regular bills
  • Also provide spending money
  • Provide some or all the money for big purchases (cars for instance)


I have another cousin who ALSO pays for his in-laws by sending back $1000 a month to keep them afloat.

He can ill afford this, paying for his parents as well, but he does it because his wife expects him to front all the bills for her parents as well.


If you are the girl in the family, you are still expected to pay them money (either yours that you earned or squirreled away from savings on grocery bills), but you can slide off with a smaller amount if you choose to, but you do not get any of the family assets.

That’s right. The girl still pays for her parents but does not get any inheritance.

This rule varies by family / culture, but girls mostly get shafted because their husbands are expected to pay for them, whereas the SONS don’t get that luxury of having someone cover for them.

You may however be asked to pester your husband to cover your family bills (see above with my cousin’s cunning wife).

If you’re a boy, you’re definitely expected to provide. No sliding off scot-free on this.

This rule is totally outdated these days as women now work and provide for the family too, but holds true for many families.


I don’t.

I’m a very bad and SHAMEFUL daughter and I have been told that a few times.

My reasoning lies in the faulty Condition #3 — My parents did not work their asses off to give me everything.

I didn’t live an awful life AT ALL, I was solidly middle class. I was even a bit fat as a kid from all the food I ate, but they certainly didn’t sacrifice much in the grand scheme of things, and in comparison to the stories of my other friends’ parents.


I don’t really care because I have never asked for a penny, paid for my own way through life and STILL give them rent money and food when I crash with them even though I normally wouldn’t have to under these “rules”.

I still respect them and know that they did give up some things having to move from one country to another, but it is their attitudes I have a problem with.

Anyway, I still buy them gifts, replace things in the house, household supplies and am in general a very good daughter by my own standards because I provide.

I just don’t give them luxuries that I don’t even buy for myself.


  • Brand new cars (preferably luxury ones) because used ones are yucky
  • $20,000 fancy luxury first-class vacations for 2 weeks — that is the amount I spent on a vacation around the world for a YEAR
  • Whatever their heart desires

That said, if my mom wanted a nice warm winter coat, I’d pony up the money to buy my mom one (the best one is Canada Goose), but every time I offer she refuses.

Do you do any of this?


  • FinanceFTW

    Perhaps it’s somehow ingrained in my subconscious, I love giving my parents things. I love it even more when they brag to their friends. They’ve definitely sacrificed a ton for me. I don’t give them money regularly, but this year I’m planning on giving them a significant amount as a gift for lunar new year’s. I also feel more motivated to make more money so I can pamper them to the extent I can.

    • Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      I feel zero of that. Mine sacrificed but they made plenty of bad decisions. Now, I can only just help them at the bare minimum like they did with me.

      • Denise

        Reading this post makes me angry all over again… I can never understand why Asian parents have that expectation of having their kids pay for their living expenses…

        I hated that this “filial piety” is so obligatory… there is no “heart” at the center of it all… it is all about wanting to be able to brag… I have no idea how “filial piety” has evolved to become so materialistic and mercenary…

        To be fair, this modern version of “filial piety” has been completely twisted by parents who wanted to bend their kids’ will to suit their purposes. I did some reading on Confucius philosophy and the philosophy is one of give and take. The philosophy does not encourage blind filial piety, especially in cases of abuse.

        So, I say do filial based on what makes sense for you.

        For me, I have learned to put my finances in a position where I put my needs first, then my child’s education, and then everyone else after.

        My focus for managing my financial life is independence for self, so I am then able to help others… I do not believe in being a matyr… Only when I am good, then can I be a more effective contributor to family, community and the world at large.

        Thanks for writing this post. It is actually good to read about posts from people who I believe are from thr same culture as me.

        • Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

          I know. I know exactly how you feel. I do the same thing – my needs first, my child, then everyone else. My child won’t have to worry about having to pay for me or care for me, that’s my gift to him, to be free of any kind of burden.

          I agree with you – blind filial piety is the one that hurts me the most when I see it.

  • Webbiey

    I have been giving all my money to my mother for three years, that’s since I started working. I had to leave a job and come back home because it was not profitable. I began freelancing but she still took all the money I had. I only started saving when I discovered a mobile app that could help me lock some funds away. Now, she says I didn’t do anything for her. She expects me to fund the feeding in the house, she hints that my profession is useless and she expects me to roof her house. I am really troubled because roofing her house will take all the money I am currently working for. I have not even gotten the money yet. I don’t know what to do because she has wrecked my financial life as she did hers but keeps asking for more. She feels entitled to any money I make and monitors them. I am thinking of moving out (we live in the house she wants to roof,is we do not eat well, etc, there is no privacy, no personal life) but then I don’t know if saving my money to move out and to achieve my personal goals is the right thing to do compared to giving it to her for the roofing. She doesn’t make any effort to improve her finances. She also has rent to pay for her business place but all she does is Facebook. I am so tired. I am tired of working so hard, having sleepless nights and just giving it all away. What do you think is the right thing for me to do?

    • Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      I cannot tell you what to do but I can advise you to sit down and write out what you have and don’t have and maybe have a talk with your mother first. Maybe she isn’t aware of the situation and how you feel. Start there.

  • Maryam

    I do not do any of this either. My parents did not invest in my education. They didn’t care much about my grades, didn’t pay or offer to help with at all with college, didn’t even take me to look at colleges. I worked 2 jobs all the way through college and paid tuition all by myself and provided my own housing and food. When I needed to move back home for 1 year during college my parents charged me rent, cheap rent, but still. It goes both ways, paying for your kids education is an investment. My parents couldn’t afford to help me that much honestly but they didn’t offer to help find rescources or guide me in any sort of direction. If they need help and ask me then I will provide what I can, I am still paying off my own student loans (I took out as little loans as possible to get me through) but my goal is to invest in my own future so I will not be a burden on my children.

    • Anonymous

      So my girlfriend and I have totally different views on this. Her parents didn’t help her out, her step dad had a drinking and gambling problem so her parents had to file for bankruptcy, which caused her to not be able to finish school and end up with tons of debt. She’s a manager at a call center and only makes about $14 an hour… she pays $650 for rent when there are one bedroom apartments for $700 near us, and on top of that she gives $400 every non rent pay check. None of her other siblings give, she’s in tons of debt, She is barely scraping by and giving all her money to her mom. She is an amazing person I just don’t know how to approach this subject. I mean on one hand it is her money and she can do whatever she wants to do with it, but on the other hand, I don’t want to live in poverty, either she needs to finish school and get a better job or stop giving her Mom so much money… but she can’t afford school while she is giving all her money away. She told me it’s something that she wants to keep doing, but I don’t understand why, it’s like she doesn’t understand that if we do end up together it will effect our future.

      • Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

        I feel for you. I really do. I know it is not an easy decision.

        Maybe if you phrased it this way: Help yourself so you can help others.

        If she keeps hamstringing her income, it means she won’t be able to give MORE. Take me for example, if I stayed where I was to keep giving money to my parents (NOT THAT I DID let’s be clear on that), I would never have taken the risk to quit, go freelance and quadruple my income.

        She is an amazing person, do not get it twisted, but

        Help yourself so you can help others


  • C

    Wow. I don’t do this. But then, I went through college on scholarship (though Mom helped with other bills so my entire job was “student”) and worked through grad school and chose schools where I wouldn’t have to take out loans. We paid for our wedding and house downpayment. Which is totally not to say that Mom didn’t sacrifice for me generally and more specifically gave me my first (used) car…. I treat Mom to the nice vacation for the big birthday (a cruise at 65) and like to be generous at holidays. If I tried to pay her cellphone or something though…. I think she might even be offended. She would definitely refuse. She’s pretty sure it’s still her job to get me stuff even though she knows how well we are doing financially. When we go out for meals and stuff we always brangle over whether or not we can treat her. I’ve also chipped in for a cleaning service for my aunt and uncle too because my uncle can’t keep up the cleaning any more and it’s not something they would pay for themselves. Some of this might be that my mom’s and aunt’s dad (my granddad) used to try to be controlling with his money – threatening to disinherit or whatnot. Which did not go over well. At any rate, she definitely doesn’t need our money and doesn’t want it, although she will accept presents and stuff.

  • MsEV

    I am not Asian and it is not in my culture to do this, but I’ve started feeling guilty about all the financial help my parents have given me over the years. I’ve made a vow to start paying them some money every a month, it won’t be very much as I do not have much to spare, but at least it’s a start. Now I just have to find a way of bringing up the subject with them…

  • Aaron

    We didnt ask to be here…..period. my folks are rich never paod.for any educatikn..why am i ibligated to guve a kickback?

    • Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      I’m going to give you a graceful pass on your spelling and assume you were on a cellphone or something similar 🙂

      A kickback only makes sense if they paid for you and if they well.. deserve it and are in a position to need it. For me, I cover basic expenses and that’s it. No luxuries.

  • Sam

    Well, I come from an asian family. And I hate this. Yep. I give my parents money not because I want to but because my sister emotionally blackmails me when i don’t.
    No parents were not hardworking, they are both selfish when I was growing up.
    Would not even bother if I can’t go to school.
    So the resentment is so real: why do i have to give them money when I was actually left to do my hardwork growing up?

  • Dee

    What we have all received, we can never pay back in one lifetime.
    There is no set figure on what we need to return.
    If you have loads of spare money, just turning up and treating your parents to everything and then leaving is not going to cut it really. To spend time with them and be good company is more important than any material goods.
    If you live in another city or abroad, stay in contact and call them etc.
    Abandoning any unhealthy habits you may have is going to please them too, such as quitting smoking or drinking booze etc. It’s not only about what you give them, but what you change about yourself, which will in turn make them happier.

  • MatthewChat

    If you are busting a gut to support your parents, do they then spoil or do things for their grandchildren, thus giving a bit back? I guess that’s probably considered a pleasure, rather than an obligation.

  • PK

    Sorry I’m a week late to the party I sent our invites to, but thank you very much for addressing the topic. It seems to me that even though filial piety has a strong oral/literary tradition (from the history I’ve learned), it’s evolved a bit to fit the current times. In our family, we definitely help each other out, but we don’t have any formal system in place – and the only time we mention filial piety is when I send a funny memo on a check to my parents.

    Very interesting stuff, Mochimac, very interesting – thanks for sharing!

  • Pauline

    If they had a hard time putting you through college, not having to support your tuition anymore is a big saving per se, but I get the point and think it would be fair to now start giving them part of your salary as a token of appreciation.
    However, hinting at the holiday/fur coat/new car you want is pushing it too much. Even if they could not afford it all those years because of your college, had they had the funds they would have saved and invested, not bought some bling.
    I would help my mother with all I have if she needed it, but if I give her money now she would save it and then to get it back when she passes I would have to give the state 40% in inheritance taxes, so I’d rather she dies with as little as possible and we enjoy her money to share experiences while she is around. In the case of your cousins it is plain ridiculous, unless they have a tax free way to get the money back later.

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      @Pauline: For me it’s justice and equality. If they had sacrificed for me as a kid, I would have seen it. I would have done the same for them as I got older, understanding the pain they went through, and tried to lessen the load.

      This is not the case.

      My cousins do it because it’s the thing to do, taxes or not.

  • Cassie

    Filial Piety isn’t a part of our family culturally, but now that you mention it I’ve noticed small parts of it showing up in our family. My parents recently bought their retirement home, and it has a suite in it that my grandfather and his girlfriend (my grandmother died almost 10 years ago) will be moving into. Whenever my parents come to town I give them my bed and I sleep on the couch. It may not be financial support (yet), but there’s little bits in there. Interesting topic!

  • Michelle

    I agree with Asian Pear. I would and will help my mother because I love her and I can. I won’t help her in a way that will hurt me. She will also be taking care of any children that I have (she has already offered) . She worked her butt off after my parents divorced and she has never put me under any obligation to help her. It is my pleasure to spoil my mom and treat her well as she ages. Why wouldn’t I? Also, haven’t you seen how all black people talk about “this is for my mom!” LOL. I think there is a cultural component to it too. Either way I feel good being able to help my mother out.

  • SarahN

    Great article! I joke with my parents that we’re not like that – I saved for my place without any help from them (and I paid them board when I lived with them). I feel that gives me full reign etc. But I’ll help them as needed in their old age, but their retirement spending will be their business.

    I have a story that bought this home to me. I was sharing my envy of huge houses in a certain suburb. My colleague asked if I blamed my parents for not working hard enough for us to have lived in that suburb. I purely “blame” myself if anyone – for my earning, saving, investing. My colleague’s culture is Chinese.

  • tordis

    I really never heard of this being reality in western countries oO !
    Maybe it’s because I live in a Western/Middle European country, but I never even thought about giving my parents money (they would never ever accept it anyway).

    But actually, iIalready pay for my parents. And everyone else’s parents, too! It’s called pension 😉 In Europe, we pay a lot more taxes than you Northern Americans do, so in paying my taxes, I give money back to my parents.

    No, I won’t ever give my parents money, although they worked hard for my education. I wouldn’t let them starve of course.
    No, I would rather give them time and a helping hand, when they are old. That’s something much more valuable than money, it’s showing them more respect, love and caring than stupid money could ever do.

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      @tordis: Well, I know for sure in Canada and the U.S., the general consensus is to NOT do the above.


      “I already pay my parents, it’s called a pension by way of taxes” 🙂 I like that. It makes sense to me. Why not?

      If your parents need not worry about retirement because the younger generation is working and helping them, *shrug* there’s no reason to give them money.

      I think it’s a universal rule that no one would ever let their parents starve, although I once heard a sad story about a Chinese grandmother in Singapore who lived on the streets collecting cardboard boxes because her daughter and son-in-law wouldn’t put her up in their cramped apartment.

      Cramped or not, I’d never let my mother live on the streets.

      • tordis

        @saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.:

        I have no idea how the Northern American social system(s?) works, I’m always so astonished about you writing about the need to save for retirement. My parents saved for their children’s education (but not an awful lot because university is paid by taxes in my country, just living expenses) and for things like broken cars or the house they’ve built. They save for unexpected things, but they certainly don’t explicitly save for retirement.

        Maybe some day you’re in the mood of explaining your system to us European readers (I guess, there still are a few?)? Of course I could do my research, but I just like how you can explain things so to the point 😛
        (I’ve been to the US once when I was 19, but I was rather eating myself through some cities than asking questions about how the pension system works haha!)

        By the way, I really like the idea of giving money to my parents who saved their asses off (is that an english sentence?) for me, so don’t get me wrong. I’m probably just so spoiled by the European welfare state.
        But I’d rather do that for my future kids instead. Here in my country, no one gives money to their parents and my parents would feel very awkward about it. But I know that they will expect me nursing them when they are old, as we all are doing so to my grandma at the time and I’ll gladly do that to my parents again 😀
        It’s so interesting how other cultures work 🙂

  • The Asian Pear

    While I think you hit a lot of points and I thank you for the link love, I feel that I should also point out that filial piety isn’t about money or guilt as some people have pointed out, it’s really about love and respect. It’s deeply engrained in Asian culture as it’s part of Confucious’ teaching which has now just become a societal value. Yes, it’s expected by your parents but you also do it out of love. They brought you into the world and now that they’re aging, it’s time to return the love and take care of them. Again, not always about the money but the motive/thought behind it. I sometimes find this a hard concept to explain to a western culture I must admit.

  • cj

    Thank you for so thoroughly debunking all the dogma surrounding this VERY touchy and sticky issue. “Standing ovation!”

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      @cj: Well, not many people know about it I guess 🙂

      I don’t find it very touchy or sticky, particularly because it’s just something other cultures do. Now when it starts to get mean where people say: I can’t imagine EVER paying for my parents’ that is so stupid! .. that’s when it becomes insulting to other cultures.

  • Erin @ Red Debted Stepchild

    This might make me sound like a b*tch, but that’s not my intention. I’m not paying for my parents to live the good life after they retire. No. And it’s not because I had a bad childhood or any of that. Parents take care of their kids, then those kids “pay them back” by taking care of themselves and THEIR future kids. That’s the cycle. And by paying for parents who were not responsible enough to save and blew all their money, you are enabling them, not helping them.

    None of this, of course, is bashing your culture. Just my opinion based on my own life experiences :). My husband is Arabic and they are the same way, although he has already told his parents that he’s not sending them money. They don’t need it anyways. Thankfully, they are pretty much the most liberal Arabs ever, so it’s a non-issue. A lot of his Arabic friends are fully supporting their parents (here, in the U.S.) and they are DROWNING. It’s actually really sad to watch. They all work 90-100 hours a week and they don’t have a dime because they are supporting themselves, their parents, and their siblings. Until they say “no”, they will keep working like dogs, with no money and no semblance of a life. Sorry for the long comment. Great post, Mochimac!

  • Tammy R

    Mochimac, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. My jaw is still slack from reading this! I love my parents very much, but I cannot imagine giving them money each month. I think that guilting another person in any relationship can destroy it.

  • Gen Y

    Filial Piety is such a big part of the asian culture. I plan to start paying my parents $300 a month once I start working and before I finish paying back my student loan. Then once I am debt free I can increase the payment.
    I understand that my parents had done so much for me. I am very grateful and I love them, but I hate it when my mom hints I should try to support their early retirement soon because that’s what they could have had if they didn’t come to Canada for my sake. I’m just starting out my career and it’s not one that will bring in the big bucks, so I just can’t see myself being able to do that anytime soon. Sigh… I am the only child also, so it’s all on me.

  • Thomas | Your Daily Finance

    More people really need to read this. I am tired of hearing about people’s parent in bad shape and the kids are driving 60k cars with very expensive homes. We make sure we help our parent and are already planning for them living with us in retirement so that all they have to worry about is seeing their grand kids and traveling.

  • Jane Savers @ Solving The Money Puzzle

    My parents don’t need money. My dad has a pension from his former employer and they each get Canadian government pensions. I know they have private savings but money is a big secret in my family.

    I cannot afford to help them but they need time not money. My sons clean the gutters or clean the garage. I help with gardens and lots of visits. My dad would never allow myself or my brothers to give them money but my brother cuts their grass and that is acceptable.

    They would help us with every penny they have so we never ask.

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