Lessons from a frugal Filipino


In the west we live with an abundance of nearly everything. I recall transitioning from a child into adulthood with my gadgets that started from a trusty tape deck and many birthdays and Christmases seeing the arrival of the Atari, Commodore 64, Nintendo, PlayStation 1-2-3 and IPod.

We are so tech savvy that we will wait in line for hours to get our hands on the latest gizmo that will make our life so much easier to live, right? I have friends who despite the fact they make very little calls insist on having the latest IPhone 6 at one thousand dollars.

I have spent many weeks living in the Filipino community around my wife’s home town and it’s certainly life-changing seeing the gaping difference between the ‘must haves’ and ‘wants’. We say that the three basic elements to survival are food, water and shelter and I can attest that the typical Filipino doesn’t think too far beyond that.

In western society we are seldom taught about money and learn what we do from infomercials, the latest sale and online stores urging us to take action. Technology makes it all too easy for us to lose sight of surviving and concentrate more on status and the illusion of wealth. Why settle for a two hundred thousand dollar house when I can live more comfortably in a five hundred thousand dollar house. They both still take thirty years to pay off, right?

Filipino’s are taught very early in their lives about the value of money, especially when there is very little of it. You won’t find a Filipino child asking for the latest Nike shoes when they know dinner last night was just rice.

I have learned so much from my wife and her family to the point I have taken stock of my needs and wants and re-evaluated what’s important and what is just luxury.

Here are five things that I notice my wife doing that saves us money:

  1. There are only two of us, so when she washes the dishes she doesn’t fill up the sink with hot water and dump liquid detergent into the mix: she will pour a small amount of watered down detergent onto a wash cloth that she keeps in a small bowl and rinses in cold water. You would be amazed how much suds stays with the cloth.
  2. She will hand wash all undergarments each week saving fifty two wash cycles each year.
  3. There is no wasted food in our house. She will cook just enough for both of us and sometimes a little more for the next afternoon’s snack or to give to her Filipino friends. They do the same.
  4. She won’t buy anything at full retail price. She will always be searching the sale bins for a birthday bargain.
  5. She won’t buy lunch at work. She works in a store that sells handbags, wallets and suitcases and the store is surrounded by take-away food outlets but she won’t be tempted and brings snack bars to get her through the day.

Take a look at your spending. If you had two columns marked needs and wants and filled the lines accordingly, which column would be the longest? If you made the conscious effort to only buy ‘needs’ for one pay period, how much would have saved?