Learning to live on a shoe string (learning to live on a tight budget)

When people first come to the Philippines to live they often go with an open wallet spending money on things they don’t need and often buying things way over priced compared to the local market purely on the basis “you are a foreigner”. As time goes on you start reigning in the purse strings and realise you over spent and in many cases people took advantage. Further down the line you start to see opportunity of what you could have bought with the money that came and went so easily initially. But how do you stop this happening?

Plan what you want out of life in the Philippines in a realistic manner. Many people tell me they want to be near the beach and Cebu city. Which doesn’t leave many options but it also means the options available are often more expensive as things like rental, electric and water supply cost more. Which is why I ask if you live on the beach how often do you think you will visit it? because in reality most people who have things on their doorstep rarely use them. City living is for people who feel the need to be near the restaurants and malls which is fine at the same time someone paying P30,000 – P50,000 rent for a condo could have a fairly large house in the provinces for about P20,000 and enough money in their wallet to buy as many meals as they like for the month. You really need to think long term on your needs and wants to adapt properly if you need a job then you need the city at the same time you should already be looking before you even arrive.

The first thing is many people marry and the girl wants the wedding of her dreams and limited only by your wallet. In society I would look at what is normally expected within a marriage from the same town/village with the standing that your wife’s family has as often you will find no matter what you do even with the smallest budget you can outshine most localised weddings purely because in comparison to the West something that costs hundreds here costs thousands in the UK. So setting an initial budget and keeping to it not only keeps you on target but also gets your new partner to work within its limitations which can only have a positive affect long term when it comes to budgets and expenses.

Rent or buy? The big thing about the Philippines is that foreigners can’t own the land but can own the home. Various people have found ways round the system but yet to find someone who hasn’t lost everything when it came to the crunch of separation/divorce. At the same time I believe marriage is a commitment of two parties and one of the reasons the marital home for us is based on trust and the value of the marriage. If you can’t commit to a house why did you commit to the wedding? But often monitary wise its easier to rent as you may become tired of a neighbourhood or fall foul to the “overcharging” which with a rental you can move but if you bought a house where the realtor added P1million to it you already kissed that money good bye. Renting for me is the way forward at least for the first 12 months. Reasoning being that you may find you don’t like the Philippines and its a lot easier to buy a house than it is to sell it. On top of that once your settled in and start to understand the local way of pricing things you may come across a real bargain that you can buy cash. Locally things normally go on the grounds that if you want to buy it the price is expensive if someone needs to sell it then its cheap. Its nothing about exploitation or other garbage people tout about getting a good deal because at the same time when your overcharged people either whine about the locals or mock you for it. The other thing being the people whining about it aren’t paying with their money and generally keep what they paid as well as what they get upto private. The downside of renting though is that you don’t own the place so limited to what you can do with it. Often its in developments of apartments etc. but there is also some nice houses to be had in sub-divisions or in local neighbourhoods which for the rent you couldn’t justify buying due to the size of the house you get for the money (The rental being well below what the house is worth but the bigger the house the less people there are to rent it at a high amount).

Food is also a problem as I know myself I like to dine out and back in the UK I mainly eat in restaurants daily due to my work and that I can claim the costs on expenses. So learning to eat more at home as well as balancing what is worth cooking, e.g. BBQ chicken pre-cooked costs about P140 nearby but a chilled one from the supermarket costs P120+ doesn’t take much deciding to think might as well get the BBQ one and save on the gas and time. But also getting green fingered and growing many “local” plants will save you money annually which is what we ourselves are experimenting with currently. How much it will save time will tell but its also a good way to keep motivated and busy at low cost.

Local transportation is cheap transportation. I have several vehicles including a scooter that is 12 months old all need various repairs due to the road and also the fact with the moisture in the air things rust rapidly. The cost of a vehicle can become expensive short or long term in comparison to public transport. You may not want to sit on a squashed up Jeepney next to people with sweaty armpits on a warm day but at the same time taxi’s are still cheap. I would look at how often you think you would need a car/bike for things that go off the route of public transport as generally I find most things are easy to accommodate except long distance where I am wary of the larger buses due to the number of fatal incidents they were involved in last year as well as the way they drive. But even then if heading to another town there are always alternatives such as hiring a taxi off route or other vehicle. The way I look at things is that my Jeepy costs P2,000 a month in fuel for pottering around with a maintenance cost of around P1,500 a month (as many parts have been replaced) how far could you get on public transport for the same money? If your going public transport also remember to find an apartment/house near the main road as side roads can often become flooded or muddy in the wet season.

Split the internet with a neighbour is also a good way to save money and agree “no downloads!” or at least have a peak/off peak between yourselves so they can download when your asleep or at work etc. This at our house currently involves 3 houses using our internet connection P999 split 3 ways. Not a lot of cash but at the same time its an extra P600 in our pocket each month and everyone else is happy as well as they don’t want a permanent connection due to either being here part of the year or can’t afford P999 a month. Doesn’t affect our speed much and we don’t notice them on the network to be honest. The same connection in the internet cafe runs 10 machines so could add more if we had neighbours closer to us.

Shopping I often find cost more to get to the supermarket than it should purely because some things are daily needs. What we do though is because we live in a small community people will offer to get things for you in the same way when I am out I will get things for them. This saves both time and commuting costs. Not a big saving but often we are very busy and getting out becomes a bit of a problem so its nice to have as a favour service between everyone as well as good for community relations.

Living without air-con is probably one of the best money savers you can have. We find an Air con unit just running in the evenings costs about P1200+ per month (+because in hot months its more expensive) switching it off as our neighbour finds out his electric bill is around P300 – P900 where ours is always at least P1,600 but we have one air-con unit on at night because of the kids
during the day its off unless someone is ill at home. Doesn’t mean we sit here sweating either just means we switch on floor and wall fans instead. If your above ground floor in a province you will find 9/10 you have no buildings around you above ground level so having bladed windows you have a constant flow of cold air throughout the floor your on where you don’t even need the fans. Kento our tenant above the net-cafe’s apartment is like this as he never uses the fans purely because the air is flowing naturally.

Will keep the list short as its fairly long already but the main thing is to sit and plan out things as well as discuss with people already here. You can save a lot of money by being prepared even a small medical book can be handy as everyone here seems to go to the doctor and when the doctor doesn’t know they send them for tests. They then get results which are inconclusive so the doctor says go for more tests. I have self diagnosed most things I have caught while here as well as identified what things the kids have picked up. Even though I have identified things such as measles the doctors will still insist the kids have tests even though its not needed. A lot of this is caused by the constant threat of Dengue where people are paranoid about any illness kids get at the same time the doctors will just run tests “incase” even if everything pointing to the obvious. Not saying become a doctor but many things we face are simple infections anything more serious I would say go to a doctor.