I grew up with money but no parents. Not because I was orphaned from a very young age and became an heir to business tycoons for parents. It’s because I am a daughter of what Filipinos call OFW (Overseas Filipino Workers) or what Americans call expat.
Due to high cost of living, visa restrictions and okay, choice to stay back home, I became a part of a “normal” OFW household. I was left with two boys to raise and we would then call ourselves with pride that we are sons and daughter of what Philippines call “modern day heroes”.
*“Modern day heroes” because our fellow countrymen opt to work overseas in exchange of little fortune for the family. The idea originated from the execution of our national hero because he wrote his way to open Filipinos’ minds and fight the Spaniards to achieve freedom during the Spanish colony. These days, Filipinos are being executed overseas for violating laws that they are not even aware of. This is why we call them “modern day heroes.”*
In the most recent survey released in April 2019, there are 2.3 million estimated OFWs and the majority falls under the services and sales category.
I can’t blame us for wanting to leave our country. Everybody wants better lives, greener pasture and more money to afford the most basic necessities of life deprived to many. Even education is a luxury.
In the Philippines, you’re lucky if you’ll earn 400 USD with a bachelor’s degree. You’re lucky if you’ll get hired by a company if you’re not from the biggest, most expensive, exclusive and prestigious schools and universities.
Even if you have a degree, it is still hard to find a job. It is most of the time “who you know” than “what you know”.
In this light, the rich becomes richer and the poor poorer. It is like an addiction we couldn’t shake off. Toxic poor Filipino mentality is the biggest challenge we have in attempting to improve our situation.
This is also the reason why it is so hard to kill the stereotype that every Filipino is a gold digger and would jump at every opportunity to be with a white man and move abroad. Filipinos see this as an opportunity to get out of the sh*t hole we think we are in.
I’m just very lucky that my parents worked so hard for me to be able to set foot in these big and exclusive schools and universities. This would not be possible had my parents stayed in our village and depended on farming to make a living. I’m still grateful. Everything just got complicated when I stopped seeing color in my life.
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I hit the rock bottom and there’s no money waiting down there for me to make my fall bearable.
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Though I am fully equipped to start looking for another job again, I decided to make rebuilding myself my full time business and here are the things I have learned having less money:
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Life is a big Masquerade Ball.
In my culture, they ask you first what you do for a living or what your family has. This is very important because this determines the amount of respect you will be given. If you belong under the blue collar worker category, don’t expect so much.
Almost everyone has a closet full of masks and will choose which one to show you depending on your social status and financial capacity.
Hitting the rock bottom and having less money has shown me everyone’s mask collection. I remember every sarcastic word, every snide comment, every snort and every single thing that I have heard and sometimes, I still can’t believe it.
I guess this is what I love about Germany. Germans’ fairness, humility and humanity. You won’t be able to tell that a CEO is with you inside the bus. You won’t even notice a slightest tinge of cockiness. They might also have a lot of negative things to say but they know how to respect private space. You will not have to say no twice.
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To find value in what I still have
In my fallen world, I needed to sift through dirt, dust and shambles to be able to find something to start from. Took a lot of trial and error. But one thing it taught me: I already have it inside me. I just needed to genuinely listen to what my gut is telling me.
I became a minimalist. I question every item I need to spend money on. I figured that it is not material things that I have always wanted to have.
It is the kind of life where I know my existence would have some kind of use. I needed to use something that I already have and not to acquire junk and gunk again.
Before my great depression, shopping was so easy not because I have a lot of money. It’s because I wasn’t really giving everything a thought.
Having little or more money is just the same. It is how you make use of it.
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During my internship with the refugees, I was only babysitting to support myself. I haven’t found English teaching jobs then. One day, I only had 15 euros and one of the refugees asked if he can borrow money. Thinking that I have my family where I can get food until the next time I would have money again, I didn’t hesitate to give it to him.
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Being alone in a foreign land where you don’t speak the language is not easy. What more if you are in a foreign land where you don’t speak the language and you are being feared and avoided like a plague? Where people feel that every word you utter means bomb and terror and where everyone doubts your intention. You haven’t been given the chance to explain yourself but the sentence has been given.
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Having less money made me more considerate. It made me more mindful in every word I speak and every action I take.
Having less money taught me how to give.
In my old life, I never really learned how to prioritize. I would always get everything on a whim. My mom made sure that her absence would be replaced by all the material things money could buy.
Anything and everything I want, I got it without learning the word budget.
I’d buy until my brokest state because I knew that if I tell my mom that we didn’t have money anymore, she would immediately wire some.
Having less money taught me how to put the most important thing and set aside what isn’t. The same when I became my family’s breadwinner. I know, I just know that I will not forever tolerate this kind of dependency. I made it clear that I will only shell out for what really matters. This hurts but a lesson needs to be taught.
I have never been so in tuned with myself until I had no more money to spare anymore. I never observed how I reacted to different stimuli until I needed to scrape the last cent from my piggy bank.
I learned how to assess myself and how things make me feel.
I have started to compare these self-reflections with other people whom I know in the same financial situation like me, how they think, their buying behavior, the words they say, how they say it and most importantly, what they don’t say but what they do to change it.
I have learned to analyze things. I have learned to think in advance and strategize especially now that I am in the freelancing world. If I don’t work, I will not be paid and with my depression that keeps on relapsing, it is quite challenging to get up. Quite a battle.
If I will change my last name, I will change it to Clever.
This is my favorite take away from having less money.
It taught me how to tap into my creative side. It taught me how to be flexible. To adjust quickly.
It taught me how to be resourceful. It lead me to so many discoveries I never knew I could had I not experienced living with less than what I used to have.
I have launched this blog even if it meant that I would need to scrimp on other things.
I have learned how to use my time well. Having less money made me really realize how much time I have and what I can do with it.
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Be Kinder to myself
They say that the best kind of education is self-education and having less money has proven this theory.
I never knew that amidst the scarcity, I could make the best and the biggest investment there could ever be.
No matter how much my odd jobs, my emotional and mental condition make me feel so exhausted to the bones, I am treating myself with so much kindness that I wanted to receive.
Being kind to myself made me treat all the things with love.
I have learned to regularly ask myself “what would feel like love right now?” and even if it means a pint of calorie-laden ice cream or a genormous box of pizza, I give in. After all, it’s me that’s all I have.
This is the irony of all irony. Having less money actually is teaching me how to save no matter how little it is. In what I will give to my family, I learned how to distinguish what matters and what doesn’t. No matter how painful it is, I just need to teach a lesson too and not tolerate any more signs of dependency and laziness.
Like how I chose to learn everything in a very hard way, I believe that it shouldn’t just be me. I will not be forever strong and young and I need to start thinking about myself too. This blog hasn’t earned big bucks yet but every little thing I have earned is going to a different savings account because no matter how little it is, it piles up, it will be big one day.
While money is good and essential to have the kind of life you want to have, it is not everything. I know because everything that I had didn’t make me feel proud because they were just handed to me.
One day we will all need to go and if asked, how did you live your short life on earth? Will you show your incredible closet? Will you be able to bring and show them off? I guess everything will be about how you went out of your comfort zone, win every life battle you chose and name every emotion there is.
These days I only collect profound education, simple magical moments and books.
To be depressed without money is not a very good experience but it sure taught me lessons that I’d never think it still would at 32. Sometimes I wonder, will this blog exist had I, at the earliest signs of hardship, turned back and gave up on rebuilding me and living according to what makes me passionate about? Hell no!
One thing is for sure now, I might have learned to value every single cent that I earn differently, but I would never cling to it as if it’s the only thing that motivates me and most all, I learned how to count my blessings.
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5 thoughts on “What Having Less Money Taught Me”
This is a really inspiring post. I understand you becoming a minimalist. Things you actually thought were NEEDS become things that really don’t have much purpose. When we realize how much we can go without, things start to narrow down to the bare necessities.
That is true, Sarah. I used to be a victim of consumerism and I said it will never happen again. Thank you so much for reading. =)
I really enjoyed this post! I spent about a year in the Philippines after college, and I definitely saw the rich/poor dichotomy that you wrote about. I couldn’t agree more that when you have less money, it makes you be more intentional about how you use it, and sometimes that means even saving more!
as a filipino myself i can understand the whole – what are you studying or what do you do for a living impacting how people treat you. thankfully though there are some who have evolved from this and are all about meeting one’s own expectations for self rather than looking down on others. i really could relate to what you said in your post and wish nothing but the best.
I love this post. I can relate to your story so much. Having less is not always a good experience but it humbles you and transform you into someone who will be ready for more. The funny thing is that you already have everything inside of you to get more.