Friday, July 06, 2007

About earning and spending

“I cannot live beyond my means, but I can live above my means.”


This is one statement from a pastor I heard many a years ago.

I was single then. I did not have any money problem back then,

when my earnings was mainly for myself. I can recall my

bank account not being emptied, and that one month after another,

the amount just kept getting added together. I’d give a portion of it

to my parents whenever I come home, which is usually on a

yearly basis. And although the pastor wasn’t talking to me,

I remembered the principle of that statement.


That was then. I did not have any other responsibilities – just myself.


That changed not very long after. In about 5 years, I entered married life.

I experienced what I thought was only simply a ceremonial vow.

I went through hardships, one after another. Children came in succession.

We moved from place to place. My bank account was drained. But in all this,

I kept on living. The marriage vow proved true: “…through thick and thin,

in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer…” My wife proved to be

a faithful partner. When our 2nd child was prematurely born, she had to

quit her job, which was in the same company that I was. She went on

being a full-time homemaker, and although we had with us many others,

my mother-in-law, my two brothers-in-law, and a maid, nobody dared to

hold our second-born, for fear of mishandling the tiny baby who is barely

more than 1 kg.


Some years before I got married, some of my technician colleagues have

migrated to Indonesia as foreign talents, earning about a thousand US dollars

a month. When I was in difficulty and in a bad financial state, I sought their

assistance. My papers were processed, and hopes ran high when I was told

that I can go in a month’s time, just enough to serve the required notice

period for resigning employees. A week or two after, I was told that it won’t

happen. Another guy in our group, who wanted so much to go, learned of it,

and dropped an e-mail bomb to our former colleagues out in the place of destination.

He wanted so much to go, but he wasn’t able to; when he learned that I’m going,

he blew his top! God has other purposes in my life…


2 years, and I was sent abroad for a systems training on the MES that we are using.

The guy who was senior in our group of 3 is leaving, and he was also sent over to the

sister company for the same training that I was going to. It was November, and I was

scheduled for a 3-week training period, with a 1-year bond. I said that’s OK, since

I did not have any plans to go after the earlier incident of a failed departure.


When I came, the one who will be taking care of me, and who will be doing most

of the training sessions was a bit relieved that I already know a bit of the system.

A big difference, he noted, as he recalled training the other guy about 3 years before.

Of course, we’ve learned a lot also from our senior guy, so thanks to him for saving us

the trouble. The 3-week stay seems to be a breeze, and the training was over. I came

back home, just in time for my first-born’s birthday in December. I brought home

a lot of stuffed toys, which my girls enjoyed a lot, and most of which also didn’t last

very long. Outgrown, or broken.


It was when our second child was prematurely born that things changed a lot.

The hospital bill was a huge amount, and I would not have been able to pay up,

if not for the help of the company I’m working in. Some companies just have the

heart to be of help all the way to their employees, not just employing them.

Time went by, and before one year from my training date can pass, I got a call.

A former colleague of the same job function from another department recommended me

for a super-urgent job in Singapore. I received an e-mail, a two, and so on, with the

discussion progressing, until the phone interview was set. I was sitting in a cubicle

right next to my boss back then, and it was as if the timing was orchestrated, my boss

was on a meeting when I was called long-distance for a 30-minute interview.

It was the other engrs who were standing up now and then, trying to pick up

what I was saying and talking about, smiling, teasing, doing all sort of things

while I was on the phone, and asking “Why are you talking in English?” as they’d

look around and see if our boss is somewhere near.


Well, the boss was back, but only after the interview was 30 minutes over.

A few days gone by, and there is nothing really that is secret in the semicon world.

He talked to me, asked about the details, how much I’m being offered, which he declined

to counter-offer. First, he corrected the notion that raising my salary will make my life

better, or alleviate my situation. For a while, yes, but a higher pay entails a higher spending.

This is true, which my Irish friend also experienced, but whose case is worse – high to low!

Second, that pay range is going to run over some managers, and is simply not possible.

Third, going out of the country is not the best option, as I will be displaced. Especially

if it is the whole family going. The possibility of going back home after a couple of years

is there, but the adjustment back to former way of life is the most difficult part.

This, statistics confirm. A very high percentage of balikbayans go overseas

After a short while of being in their country of origin. In the end, he told me that

the final decision is mine. The monetary issue is so pressing that he didn’t bother

me anymore, but just went on with the reminders and admonitions – he is, after all,

my godfather. I was still on bond when I left, and I paid back the calculated ‘daños’

a year after I left; the company was really very considerate.


After 7 years abroad, I can summarize my financial activities, good and bad:


1.       I bought my very first complete set of a home theater system – Pioneer brand, ~$3k+.

2.      I had my home furnished – dining set, living room set, the kitchen, bedrooms, etc., and most of these items are still with us even after 5 years of daily use. Sometimes it really pays to select a quality (and expensive) item, than a cheap one that won’t last long.

3.      I bought a PC and some other handheld gadgets.

4.      We purchased a parcel of land in the Phils, ~400sqm – and this may be wasted money.

5.       We were scammed, and they got about $1.5k from us, and they wanted to get more…

6.      We’ve continually sent to our old folks back at home, both sides, their monthly allotment; not much, but on a regular basis. And they are very thankful even with the small amount that they receive regularly.

7.      We send our kids to school – the price of education is cheaper than the price of ignorance.

8.      Purchased an insurance for our 2 kids; the other one will be covered by our CPF earnings.

9.      Shifted flats; in the process, some older appliances were given away.

10.   Upgraded some kitchen appliances, and the old units were also given away.

11.   We buy clothes for the kids every other month or so – the old ones are either overgrown, or passed down, or sent over with a boxed package.

12.   We’ve sent on several occasions to a number of our relatives who would request for help. Again, not very huge sums, but at the right time.

13.   We’ve acquired a second-hand PSR keyboard for a $1000+ - a very good deal indeed!

14.   A new vacuum cleaner to replace the old one, which also lasted for about 5 years. The new one is already on its 2nd good year.

15.   After attending a cooking demo, and seeing the features of the cookware being sold, we revisited some of our old cookwares that were purchased many years back, and were just kept in the storage – proved to be functional after all, just the knowledge of its use and capabilities.

16.   A second-hand bicycle was also acquired, which was used for about 5 years, and has been with me on a daily use basis, for about 6 years now. It is very light, and can be carried over the shoulder while running down the stairs of our block.

17.   Sent 2 boxes of packaged goods back home 2 years ago. Will be sending the next package soon.

18.   Went back home a year ago, and cleared up our folks standing debts, and sponsored half of a small gathering’s expenses.

19.   Bought some small items to leave with the old folks when we were leaving home again.

20.  Have bought some more items which we deemed needed, now and then.

21.   Have alloted a small amount for dining out, which is to bring the whole family together after a long week or office work, school work and house work.


7 years, and my wife and I have learned a great deal about handling finances.

We are on a tight rein when it comes to our expenditures, having experienced

the nightmare of being caught in a web of unpaid credit card balances, and oh the joy

of being freed from that entanglement!


Only time will tell if we will make good our learning. Application of which is on a daily basis…


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