How to be Frugal.

Back when I was younger, I was known to be extremely careful with my money. I did not spend unnecessarily and was careful with my daily purchases. My weekly allowance would last me for the week with some to spare. This continued on until I was in college where I would live off P12,000 a month. Granted, it was double or triple what most of my fellow college classmates received but with this, I was expected to take care of my utilities, transportation, food, shopping and school expenses. It was like I was given the responsibility of an adult, sans the rent. And it was more than enough. I lived comfortably and could afford night outs every now and then, plus a little vacation over the break. I even managed to pay one semester of my school out of my savings due to the current financial problems my family was facing at the time.

One thing I learnt from this – if I stay home, I save. If I go out, I spend. I still follow the same mantra up until today.

However, things became vastly different when I hit the job market. I was in Real Estate sales, where the allowance was low and you were expected to make money off the commissions you receive from selling property. Objectively speaking, it was a good experience. It’s a step below entrepreneurship, which is what I’ve wanted to do, by relying on your sales skills to ideally make an infinite amount of money. You meet with moneyed people in different walks of life and you learn from them. You set goals and you meet them. You make commissions and live off comfortably.

Better said than done.

One of the main problems this 22-year fresh out of college kid faced is that the company was so bent upon milking their sales force to sell for them that they dangle extravagance in front of you – Don’t you want the BMW Mr. Vice President drives? How about the Rolex in his hand? Did you know that we used to shop in Armani and buy shoes from Lacoste? Don’t you want that?

Needless to say, our first goal for our commission has been to buy a Rolex or a brand new car. But there was never a long term plan. Everything was based on instant gratification. So, when the money runs out (it doesn’t take long) after numerous visits to Rustans, you are forced to look for another sale to set yourself up for another shopping binge. Some at their early 20s were more aware of their finances and held more control. But for the most of us, this was the vicious cycle that we were living. So, it’s not impossible that for a person who just make half a million pesos 2 months ago go completely broke and would borrow money from a peer.

 I was told by someone who I considered a mentor that companies who dabble in sales do this to force their people to need them. This unnamed Real Estate company is no different. If they taught people how to save and to invest properly, they won’t need them in the long run because they’d have their own income stream. It’s sad but I don’t blame them for encouraging a strategy that benefits their bottom line. I just wished they found a middle ground to help them halt this unhealthy cycle.

I quit after 3 years but stayed in the industry. At this time, my family was doing better but my handle on money still wasn’t good enough. There came a point when I became complacent and began spending without really noting down the expenses. I just had to make sure there was enough in my bank account but no long term plan on how to make the money grown to sustain my lifestyle.

Then, another turning point came. When my dad resigned from his job and decided to place most of our savings in a fish farm that failed, I scrambled for money to help out. My savings, the one that I expected to help sustain me for a couple of months in case anything happened vanished into thin air. I was forced to double up my work efforts and be extremely careful with money. And prayer became my haven. Granted, it was difficult but it was from this experience that I began to understand the concept of making money, saving money and most importantly, investing money.

Things a much better now and I’d like to believe that my prayers and efforts helped. The best thing that came out of this was that I realized that working for money is not enough. If it is directly proportional to your physical or mental effort that when you finally receive compensation, you justify spending that you deserve it anyway. When I began investing properly, I realize that every money I saw can be placed in an investment that would give me a good return in the future. That trip to Bangkok? I can double the money in a year. That Chanel bag? I can buy a condominium in 2 years if I choose to invest it instead. And it is through this tradeoffs that I learnt to be frugal. 

I still have a long way to go but I get it now. You learn of cost vs. opportunity. You learn of delayed gratification. And you know what, when it pays off, it is worth the wait. 

Twenty Twelve

A trite and sappy saying, “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” reverberates in my head every time I remember last year. Unfortunately, I hear it as a voiceover for one of John Lloyd Cruz’ Star Cinema movie so it sounds more dramatic and tacky that it should. Nonetheless, maybe the fact that I turned 30, or have gotten sick of waiting around that I decided to just do it (now I sound like a Nike ad). 

A year of firsts, I must say. Never thought I would ride a propeller plane but I did. Even though I did not sleep the night before due to anxiety, it was pretty spectacular riding over the plains of Luzon and stopping over Vigan for lunch.

I finally took the plunge with my tattoo. I’ve always told myself that once I decided on a design, I have to sit on it for at least 6 months before I actually stamp it permanently on my body. I’ve tried everything - water sign, phoenix, feather, my initials - nothing panned out. Then I remembered that I’ve always loved drawing flowers because they’re so feminine and delicate. And in commemoration of my mom who loved red roses, I got down to business, LA Ink style. Yup, complete with the tearjerker background story. 

Nothing topped my travel for 2012. Considering that my travel took a sabbatical during the last decade, I more than made up for it last year with nine countries in my list. And best of all, I’ve finally gotten out of Asia and hit Europe with my best friends. Nothing like getting drunk with three bottles of wine on a Barcelona beach, partying with protesters in Sevilla or getting harassed by random teenagers at The Hague. 

But really, decide you’ll do it and everything will follow. Plan and it will happen. Forget restrictions, don’t analyze and just do. Everything time you put up a barrier or think of a reason why it can’t happen, then it won’t. If you automatically shut down or question an idea, then it will not happen. You have to remember thoughts and plans are in your head - there is no physical investment involve so you can go as wild as you want and taper it down over time. Anyway, at the end of the day, if the plan doesn’t pan out at all, then that’s when you put it down for a later time. But don’t cut the process - just because the first hurdle shows up doesn’t mean it will not happen in the end.

And this is what amazes me most of all - no matter how impossible it seems, as long as you want it enough, it will happen. No, I’m not spewing The Secret. But for some reason, no matter how impossible it seems in the beginning, the universe never fails to deliver. 

Living last year has been phenomenal. I say it with full gratitude of my heart and thank the Lord, my family and everyone around me for it. But most of all, I thank myself. Yes, humility is not my strongest quality but it has been my decision to take the necessary steps that allowed me open myself up to a whirlwind of experience. 

Toast to you 2012 - for the lessons, laughter and love.

TV and Travel

I’m catching up with Covert Affairs and I just saw Sagrada de Familia, Parc Guell, Jardin du Luxembourg and Sacre Coeur Steps all over again.

I love the giddy feeling I get when the places I’ve been to gets featured in a TV show or film. Pointing out in my head the names of the places and feeling like a kid again. It transports me back.

“Thus travel spins us round in two ways at once: It shows us the sights and values and issues that we might ordinarily ignore; but it also, and more deeply, shows us all the parts of ourselves that might otherwise grow rusty. For in traveling to a truly foreign place, we inevitably travel to moods and states of mind and hidden inward passages that we’d otherwise seldom have cause to visit.”

"Why We Travel" - Pico Iyer
Times like these, I don’t know how I got so lucky. Perfection.

Times like these, I don’t know how I got so lucky. Perfection.

Growing up.

Turning 30 didn’t really affect me as much as I thought it would, save for getting a tattoo, flying off to Europe, etc. You know, the usual. But every now and then, a realization stuns me to a point of paralysis. What is it? Some of my moms friends turned 30 when we were in Indonesia. And safe to say, as housewives of expats with kids, they are far, far, far different from where I am right now.

The horrors. What a generation makes.

Made with Paper

Made with Paper

Hanging out Macau.

No wonder Stanley Ho is worth billions. 

Array of fancy lights jutting out of the Casino buildings, constant dings from multiple slot machines and non-stop chatter of people as they hover over the velvet tables, hoping their luck would change of the night. Sin City of Asia, as they called it, will have you gaping at the sheer number of extravagance this piece of island has to offer. It could get mesmerizing, as people willingly fork over their cash, whether for a pile of chips or ridiculously-priced boutiques spread all over the city (or in our case, the mall). In the middle of the day. 

Ironic, really, considering this tiny island colony was once occupied by the Portuguese, whose influence is marked from the time you land. True, it is a modern, contemporary glass and steel building but it’s adorable to see Portuguese words alongside Chinese characters. But the true evidence of this heritage are found in downtown Macau. Quaint rows of preserved buildings serve as the structure for the shops and the go-to shopping destination (Senado Square). As you walk through the pebble stone sidewalks, block, after block, it reminds you of an old-world charm that almost makes you forget that another one of Ho’s structure stands looming in the corner. 

Wander Away.

"Once a year, go to a place you’ve never been to."

This quote greeted me as my Facebook feed popped up earlier today. I say AMEN. Our spirit of adventure and curiosity should spread beyond the aluminum encased gadgets we click away our lives to every day. Be bold, seek new things. Make travel budgets part of your savings, like how you set aside funds for rent and food. It will be worth it. 

Digging the Past.

Every now and then, I get this overwhelming feeling to clean and organize. Mostly files that has been set aside because of the lack of effort to put it in its proper place. I tend to start in my dad’s bedroom, where all our personal and important documents are located. Over the years, I’ve never added to that pile, save for the occasional appliance manual or registration receipt. But in the past 5 years that I’ve been cleaning it, it never fails to amaze me how much junk I manage to throw out. This time around, it’s a box full of trash. My mom used to maintain these papers and as a natural born obsessive-compulsive, she keeps EVERY SINGLE RECORD. Before, there were deposit slips dating back to our days in Jakarta (ABN AMRO, I see you). This time, I saw the ones that were from the 70s! Ancient is an understatement. 

Interesting finds of the day. 

1. Mom’s ID from the 70s.

2. Dad’s resignation letter from Nestle dating 1991.

3. Old letter from my lolas and my lola. Loved the one from my Lola Ana (dad’s mom) in the early 90s. Everyone makes fun of her and her self-pity. She said in the letter “please buy me a necklace because I am old, and we don’t know where God will take me soon.” That was 20 years ago. To this date, she still uses the same line. 

4. This one is a winner. Love letters from my dads old girlfriend during his teenage years - as in 1968. It was cheesy, complete with song lyrics. Good Lord. I keep on saying “Seriously???” in my head. Why did my mom keep it? I don’t know. Maybe to laugh when she’s bored. 

I did note how eloquent they were with English back then. To think they grew up in some barrio in the province, not in an exclusive school in Manila. 

5. Best find of the day. Old drawings and craft letter projects addressed to my parents. I think I was about 4-5 (I’m not going to admit I was any older, because I spelt Valentines as Valentmes :-D) and my mom still kept it. It was really touching and was teary eyed as I went through it. 

So, thats my day. How was yours?