Financial Fitness

Last Saturday, the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and my daughter’s company, BizWhiz Consultancy offered a one-day free seminar for families of overseas workers entitled, “Financial Fitness 101: A Day of Inspiration” at the historic Laurel House. More than a hundred OFW participants including those recently repatriated from abroad showed up, despite the rains and floods, surprising us with their attentiveness and hunger for information.

Part of the challenge of migration is to make every remitted dollar, dinar, riyal, or any other currency count. In a Podcast, Ralph Chami, division chief at IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia Department said it best: “The one-million-dollar question is how do we change the nature of remittances from basically trying to help your family at home to becoming a source of capital for development, making it a growth story.”

Benefits of dollar remittances to the Philippine economy are clear and well documented. The country owes a great deal to such remittances for its series of credit upgrades and undeniable streak of sound economic fundamentals. How about the OFW families who are the first recipients and end users of monthly remittances? I find that that a happy OFW family is one that treasures the remittances of its loved one toiling abroad, and is able to spend and save wisely.

The saddest stories I hear are about spouses splitting apart because one or both become wayward husbands or wives, with those staying with the kids unable to deal with the emotional, physical and financial pain of separation. Add to those stories are the travails of an OFW-turned-human trafficking victim where salaries go unpaid and human dignity is trampled upon. As a co-anchor of a public service radio program, I’ve been hearing more of these stories each week.

I feel sad when a former OFW tells me that his years of saving up by working abroad ended up with nothing to show for because of a major family expense such as a medical operation or a natural calamity hitting home. It’s no joke to see your house or parts of it being washed away by floodwaters; or to wave goodbye to a car that you are still paying for because the recent deluge has damaged it beyond repair.

I do recommend that our OFW families set a monthly meeting to discuss household finances. Each member of the family should be aware about the economics of life. Spouses shouldn’t keep financial secrets from each other especially when one is mired in debt that would bring the entire household down.

My daughter, Estelle, is 28 years old and a financial adviser having undergone several seminars and now able to offer financial fitness seminars on her own. She thinks twice before buying anything new, from make-up to clothes.

It pays to have someone astute about money matters in one’s family. He or she can be the person minding the bills, not necessarily paying it. A financial watchdog in the family can be designated as such – someone to measure increments or reductions in monthly utility bills or who declares how much the family will spend on a weekend outing.

Sometimes, an OFW is driven by guilt rather than wisdom on how to spend his or her earnings on the family while on vacation. The first instinct of an OFW on vacation at home is to treat his friends or shop for her kids at the poshest mall. This earn-to-spend cycle ends when the OFW finally comes home after years of working overseas takes its toll. We include trafficked women in our financial fitness seminars because some of them wish to leave right away without a clear plan, driven more by guilt about failing the first time around.

Senator Cynthia Villar, one of the speakers in our Financial Fitness 101 seminar, said it best: “Madali ang gumastos, mahirap ang mangutang kapag gipit ka dahil wala kayong naipon at naitabi sa bangko.” (“It’s easy to spend but very difficult to borrow when times are tough and you have no savings at all.”)

“But before anything else, you have to believe that you are entitled to dream and to dream big! Once you have that dream, then you and your family can decide on how to make that dream come true. Your family is the best team that you can have.”

Dreaming big is one of the gifts in life that few people avail of. I hope that more OFW families think of the future in a positive light, planning and dreaming its brightness, and turning such plans into reality.

The capacity to earn and save diminishes like one’s hair, as people grow older. Financial fitness is best learned while still young, because it is about consistently embracing a lifestyle and culture where every peso counts. I’d like to thank our speakers and sponsors for last Saturday’s event namely, Senator Cynthia Villar, Mr. Bansan Choa of I-Remit, Peter Sing of Pan-de-Pidro, Rj Ledesma of Mercato Centrale, and our sponsors: Villar Foundation, Seaoil, Admiral Markets, PhilAm Life, I-Remit, NLDC LandBank and IACAT. (Send comments to toots.ople@yahoo.com)

Author: Susan Ople

Susan "Toots" Ople is the President of the Blas F. Ople Policy and Training Institute. She's an OFW and labor advocate based in the Philippines.

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  • Raul J. de Vera, Jr.

    This is something that we should have done from day-one. I applaud the organizers and sponsors of this event. I hope you can contact the same among the leaders of different industry association. Kudos!