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How to Manage Cultural Differences with Money

What do you do when your Cultures Clash over Finances? What is Bride Price, Compensation and Custom Fees?

Mr Aspiring Millionaire comes from Vanuatu and Ms Aspiring Millionaire comes from Australia. They met in the Solomon Islands and Mr Aspiring Millionaire has a daughter there to his ex-wife. Ms Aspiring Millionaire has 2 daughters to her first marriage who are part Tongan and part Maori. That’s 5 cultures with financial differences to be taken into account and managed.

So how do we manage issues such as Bride Price which is extremely important in Vanuatu and Solomon Islander cultures but non-existent in Caucasian Australian culture? Or the fact children are expected to financially support their elders in his cultures while in her culture, the parents leave an inheritance and support the kids. What about the expectation we support the family in the islands because we are considered wealthy?

Here I’ll share some of our experience then tips to help you navigate cultural differences when it comes to finances.

The Rocky Road to Settling our Cultural Financial Differences

Juggling multiple cultures and needing to be respectful has caused a few issues. Ms Aspiring Millionaire was aware of some but not all. She was also unaware how important some were to Mr Aspiring Millionaire, such as Bride Price. To her, it was a dated practice about ownership which she had no interest in participating in. For him, it is about thanking the parents for raising the daughter well and showing he is capable of providing. Not paying Bride Price would be an insult to him and shameful to his family.

While Ms Aspiring Millionaire had some understanding of Islander culture (which does vary country to country and even from village to village in those countries). She was not fully prepared and some has been difficult to manage. On the other hand, for Mr Aspiring Millionaire, the attitude towards money in Australian culture took a bit to get used to and understand.

Numerous discussions about culture, goals and expectations took place before meeting kids and taking the next step in the relationship. That did not stop the various issues and blocks along the way.

Image: Caucasian woman, Asian man and their son in their lounge. Text reads how to manage cultural differences with money.

Some of our Major Financial Differences

A few have been mentioned but there were 5 major cultural differences when it comes to finances we had to work through.

Bride Price

This was dismissed by Ms Aspiring Millionaire immediately as being Australian, she assumed it was not applicable. Mr Aspiring Millionaire didn’t say much because Ms Aspiring Millionaire had such a strong view on what she thought Bride Price was about.

She thought it was the man buying the woman (and in some cultures it is as well as some men assuming bride price means they own the women). However, in Vanuatu it is thanking the family for raising the woman. It was extremely important to him which only became clear the more serious marriage was discussed.

Because Ms Aspiring Millionaire also had no desire to remarry, so it wasn’t going to matter. Over time though, because Mr Aspiring Millionaire did want to marry, the discussions shifted.

Education and understanding was key for dealing with the differences around Bride Price.

Supporting the Parents and the rest of the Family

Ms Aspiring Millionaire had assumed some level of support would be required since the options for retirement are limited. There are no pensions, no welfare and hardly any retirement funding available in the islands. Children are expected to support their parents and family.

If you happen to get a good job or live in another country, you are also expected to send money home, pay for schooling and other things if you can. The expectations were more than Ms Aspiring Millionaire was aware of. In her culture, the parents supported and helped the kids. If she needed money, she could get an interest free loan from her parents. They also gifted money when they visited or would buy gifts, items for babies when born and help where possible.

This is not to say Mr Aspiring Millionaire’s family don’t do any of that. When in Vanuatu, his parents take care of everything, they got new furniture for the front two rooms so when we visit we have our own space. They let us use the car whenever we want, take us to the family-owned beaches and Mr Aspiring Millionaire has inherited nicely because of his family.

White Are Wealthy/Being Used For A Visa

This was a big issue for both sides. White people are assumed to be wealthy but usually assumed to be Beverly Hills wealthy. They are wealthier than Ni-Vanuatu and Solomon Islanders but not to the level assumed. On top of that, a relationship between someone from those countries and someone from Australia is usually assumed to be done for a visa, that the white person is being used and played.

We faced opposition from both sides of the family until they met us in person and saw how happy we were, how our relationship was much more loving and supportive than our previous marriages. Friends who were there when we met and had spent a lot of time with us already knew this but our families didn’t and they were cautious.

Given the history of both countries, the amount of people who have been used for a visa and the blackbirding trade (where Australia stole people from Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and many other nations to be slaves on plantations), the fear is understandable.

Compensation

In the Solomon Islands and some other island nations, if you do something wrong, you have to pay compensation to the person you wronged. This was hard for Ms Aspiring Millionaire to understand, she was not in a position where she ever wronged someone and had to pay. But it did cause them to be careful in each country.

Females Do Not Inherit

This one took a lot for Ms Aspiring Millionaire to understand or be ok with. In Vanuatu and many parts of the Solomon Islands, only the men inherit. The women are expected to be taken care of by their husbands. They can own their own land if the work and buy it themselves but they will never inherit it.

Even if it was put in a will, the customs would override it and the lands taken. This is why a son was crucial for Mr Aspiring Millionaire. The family needed someone to inherit the family’s wealth, otherwise it would go to another family.

A compromise with this is the son will inherit the custom lands in Vanuatu, the daughters from Ms Aspiring Millionaire’s first marriage will inherit property and business in Australia. While the daughter in the Solomon Islands cannot inherit, options for her are still trying to be worked out so as not to offend either culture and not to be lost to other families. It’s way more complicated than most families.

Image of man of colour kissing hand of woman of colour. Text reads how to manage cultural differences with money

How to Manage Financial Cultural Differences

Communication is key. Being clear about what is important, discussing it all with an open mind then deciding what is best for your family is essential to making this work. Financial issues are a leading cause for divorce. Throw in cultural differences and it becomes a million times harder. Here are some tips.

Determine The Lifestyle You Want

If you are clear on the life you want, you can create a plan to make that happen. When working this out, you need to include career goals, property, essentials for the families to be culturally sensitive, hobbies, who will stay home with the kids or if you both work and have a nanny, all of it.

Discuss your childhoods so you have a clear idea of what was normal for each other and what is within your comfort zone. Share your dreams and the lifestyle you want. Write it down and compare. Do this early, before kids, before marriage and before committing too much.

Once you are committed, if you haven’t had these discussions you might find yourselves on completely different paths and it is much harder to compromise at that point.

Decide together the lifestyle you want.

Be Clear About Your Cultural Expectations

As mentioned, Mr Aspiring Millionaire expects to pay Bride Price, he expects to support his family and participate in any cultural matters. Ms Aspiring Millionaire expected to provide for herself and her immediate family only, not everyone.

Boundaries had to be put in place around the cultural expectations and how much could be catered to so both were satisfied and respected. This could only happen once all expectations were put on the table to be discussed.

Work Out What The Deal Breakers Are

Some cultural expectations might be easy to let go of for one partner others might be total deal breakers. If there is a cultural expectation that is a deal breaker for you, be honest and state what it is and why it is a deal breaker for you.

Doing this early in the relationship enables you both to decide if it will work or if it is something you will fight about forever.

Communicate With An Open Mind

When discussing finances and culture, do so with an open mind. No one’s way is the right way. Each tradition or expectation has merit and cultural importance so don’t dismiss or belittle any of them. Discuss them all with an open mind, be understanding and if you don’t understand something, ask questions in a non judgmental way.

Being non judgmental makes it easier for the other partner to open up and share their culture, values and beliefs. If you are judging it, pushing your way or viewing your way as the only right way then communication won’t work.

Compromise

Now you have a clear idea of the different cultural expectations, what the deal breakers are and the life you want, work out your compromises. You might be ok with accepting all of it or you may need boundaries in place.

A few examples of ours:

Bride Price: Ms Aspiring Millionaire’s parents are uncomfortable accepting money when they are so wealthy compared to Mr Aspiring Millionaire’s family. A compromise from them was the debt Ms Aspiring Millionaire owes them can be paid by Mr Aspiring Millionaire as the Bride Price.

Plus a piglet named Kevin. No joke! One of Ms Aspiring Millionaire’s sisters asked if that could be done at the Bride Price ceremony and Mr Aspiring Millionaire laughed but said that is easy, we can do that.

Money to Family: Mr and Ms Aspiring Millionaire pay child support to his ex-wife as agreed when they did child custody. Education is important so paying for a cousins degree, paying for the daughter to get a good education and budgeting for the nieces and nephews to attend school is all included.

Also, planning for businesses and growing them to support the family through retirement instead of simply sending money. This compromise grows wealth without being a handout.

Females do not inherit: as mentioned, the son will inherit custom lands but other property and wealth can and will be inherited by daughters.

How do you manage financial cultural differences? What are some considerations for your culture?