Better life. This is the predominant reason why millions of Filipinos leave their families to work abroad. Yet, do some lives really become better?
At first, they sign a two-year contract which becomes 5 years, then 10 years and so on. Others, however, are lucky enough to be adopted permanently in the new country, thus becoming permanent residents or citizens.
The intention of working overseas is always good but more often than not, the result of long sacrifices is not that appealing. Many actually go back to the Philippines with more financial issues, some are more down-and-out than their pre-overseas situation primarily because of their failure to manage their hard-earned money.
Don’t get me wrong, there are Filipino migrant workers who have success stories to share and they are proudly saluted for their discipline, hard work and achievements. However, one will stumble upon someone who has anecdotes of financially bruised life every so often. Be that as it may, we know too well that there are ways that migrant workers can do to avoid falling into financial traps.
If you are a migrant worker, whether you are temporarily or permanently living in a foreign land where you obtain your bread and butter, here are some practical helpful ways to avoid falling into the financial deep end.
1. THINK LONG TERM. Remember the reasons why you left in the first place. The ability to think long-term, however not compromising short-term goals, will help you attain sustainable personal finances. Where do you want your well-earned money to go? Towards building a house? Education for your children? A small business enterprise that may one day bring you back home and lend you and your family an extended financial stability.
2. INVEST IN FINANCIAL LITERACY AND EDUCATE YOUR OWN FAMILY. Be willing to learn. Know the financial basics. Understand your personal financial situation so you can make sound and smart decisions. Would you send remittance to your family so they can buy trendier shoes and clothes or would you rather send it to them so they can avail health insurance or create emergency fund? Involve your family and help them discern the importance of efficient money management.
3. PAY OFF DEBTS FIRST. Most migrant workers leave the Philippines being head over heels in debt. To be able to realize the prospect of working overseas, they borrow money from the banks, from other people, and oftentimes, from loan sharks. There is no choice, an obscene amount of inevitable placement fee has to be paid… and this has to be paid first! And so are the other debts incurred in your quest as a migrant worker. It is not easy but it can be done. I met a newcomer here in NZ whose salary is a little bit over the minimum wage as a worker in the building industry. He left the Philippines with Php200k (roughly NZ$5.5K) in debt to get here. He prioritized taking the debt burden off his shoulder by giving precedence to its advance repayments, thus paying less interest too. Thus, he was able to completely clear off his debt in 6 months only considering that living expenses are quite pricey here! Incredible, isn’t it?
4. SAVE! SAVE! SAVE! Set aside money from your wages to cushion you and your family from emergencies and other unforeseeable expenses. Even with low salary abroad, you can absolutely save money so you can achieve your goals of having a house or afford your kids’education. If someone in the family gets sick, you don’t have to go asking other people or swipe your credit card or get a loan to pay the hospital bill. Saving is imperative and essential especially if you don’t want to keep on extending your contract overseas and be away from your family any longer.
5. PRIORITIZE YOUR SPENDING. Understand your needs versus wants. Forego the wants as much as you possibly can. Be frugal. The common mistake some migrant workers do is they know that it is difficult to stay in the rat race but they still choose to remain in this exhausting routine. They love shopping and spending their money for unnecessary things so they can show off or compare their purchases with their fellow migrant workers but most times, they end up broke. That is insane! It is dubiously a self-sabotage! Recently, an acquaintance said that a carpenter friend of his went to the bank and loaned NZ$10k. For what? So he can go home to the Philippines and celebrate his town’s “fiesta” with his kins and friends. The reason why he is prepared to throw out NZ$10k is the embarrassment of not being able to treat families and friends and ‘extended families and friends’ with gifts and good foods and what nots. Preceding the crazy aforementioned loan, this same guy scored a debt of whopping $1.8k for the new release Samsung Galaxy S9 so he has a new smartphone to bring to the Philippines. Not to mention that he still has a perfectly working mobile phone.
6. LIVE SIMPLY. I do not mean to spawn an impression of self-denial of good things, but I suggest that you establish a healthy relationship with the money that you’re toiling for. Do not get in the red for overspending on imported goods or acquire things with depreciating values like cars and gadgets. Do not trap yourself in the work-and-spend more cycle as you will only put more nails in your coffin, that is if you’ve already laid yourself in a coffin. Live simply. It can make your life a lot easier.
7. SET GOALS AND STICK TO THEM. Filipinos work abroad to target personal economic improvement and stability. Determining your goals will give you focus and motivation. It is critical that you stick to your intentions and do this with your family so you keep yourselves on track. If you set clear objectives (in this case financial objectives), with your family, it is like working as a team and it would be easy for them to be realistic and understanding of you situation.
8. SOMETIMES, SAY NO. The fact of the matter is you cannot always give favor to everyone’s request. While it is good to help, you have to validate the legitimacy of the need. Sadly, some migrant workers give in to constant requests for money by some relatives to fund even their wasteful spending despite seeing as clear as the day where the money goes. Then the former usually end up complaining to their friends that they are taking a beating for sending the last cent in their pocket. I think it is okay to say NO in this kind of scenario, otherwise you are feeding their dependency and that is NOT helping at all. Saying NO sometimes does not belie your kindness and humaneness.
9. KICK OUT VICES AND BAD HABITS. If you smoke and drink, consider quitting. If you gamble, give it up. If you saddle into over-consumerism, work hard to overcome it. A new migrant I met here in NZ has already borrowed money from several new acquaintances. Reason? “Mother is crying over the phone because she needs this for such and such. Wife wants to buy this and that for our kids.” He skips meal variably but smokes quite heavily. He also has a drink or two of beer most nights. Really? He doesn’t have money to buy food but he pays an arm and leg for smokes and drinks. It surely doesn’t make any sense.
10. STUDY YOUR INVESTMENT OPTIONS. Certainly, one cannot be an overnight investor or entrepreneur. Not everyone has business acumen. But if you study and explore some investment schemes or small business enterprises that suit you, you can have alternative sources of income. Pound the pavement for it. Opportunities are everywhere. Learn how to recognize them and seize them when they come your way. It can be your safety net once your contract abroad is over and cannot be extended. It is also a great back up so you can retire at the time that you wish to.
Managing finances appear to be the Achilles heel for some Filipino migrant workers. I think it is time to be cognizant of our behaviour towards money and bank on developing skills and improving knowledge that give necessary opportunities to make competent and useful choices with black-ink items. There are countless lessons to learn from the failures committed by many migrant workers. I think it is sensible enough not to repeat those failures.
If you can think of some other ways on how Filipino migrant workers can be more financially practical, feel free to give suggestions by ‘leaving a reply’ in the comment box below.