Thursday, May 2, 2013

Help Yourself First Before Helping Others

I'll tell you a story of a typical Filipino. Let's call her Greta. Greta is in her early 20's. She got married and works at a call center in Makati. In the Philippines, call center agents don't get as much pay as in other countries. Nonetheless, their salary is still considered decent in Filipino standard. So Greta is earning enough money. However, most of her salary goes to her brothers' tuition fees. She has four brothers by the way. She shoulders even her brothers' rent for dorm. Nothing much is left for herself. Despite that, she is happy to be of help to her family and she doesn't expect anything in return.

Greta is a good and selfless person. But I don't agree with her ways. At this stage of her life, she should be saving up instead of using up all her money for whatever reason. Her salary is probably more than enough for herself for now. But what about in the future? What if she gets pregnant? What if she bears twins? What if her husband gets laid off? No one can predict the future, so planning ahead is important.

Let's say that Greta does get pregnant. Since her savings are virtually nonexistent, she would skip regular check-ups to her ob/gyn. With the amount she's earning, she could actually afford to give birth in a private hospital where she would be given greater care of, but because her money isn't enough, she goes to a public hospital where staffs are insufficient. She gives birth, and thankfully, both she and her daughter are safe. Then expenses start adding up. Diapers, milk powder, baby soap... She eventually has to go back to work so she hires a nanny. She learns that the nanny talks in her cellphone all day and doesn't pay attention to her baby, so she sacks her. She asks her mom, who is living in the province, to take care of her baby. Since she doesn't have enough room for her mom in her small apartment, she has no choice but to let her baby stay with her mom who lives 8 hours away. One of her brothers fails most of his subjects. He has to repeat the same year, which means Greta has to pay for tuition fee for an extra school year. She requests a cash advance in her company. Then her mom calls her to tell her the baby's sick. She needs to send money for check-up and medicine. Her money isn't enough, so she asks hubby for money. Too bad hubby is already shouldering his father's hospital bills, so he doesn't have much left either. Unexpectedly, Greta's mom has a stroke. She pays for the hospital bills, but she can no longer afford therapy. Without proper treatment, her mom can no longer move half of her body. Greta couldn't quit her job, so one of her brothers stopped schooling to take care of their mom. Because of money issues, Greta and her husband argues a lot, which leads to their separation.

I don't want to continue anymore, because honestly, I don't know how to end their story. Their financial lives are so messed up. They could have prevented a lot of problems if only they have saved money. So what should Greta have done? Simple - she shouldn't be the only one paying for her brothers' tuition fees and rent. Perhaps she's the eldest, so she thinks that she's responsible for her brothers. But how could she pay for everything on her own? It's either she shouldn't marry early and continue being the provider of her family or take pregnancy pills while saving money for her future. She can also ask her brothers to work part-time to ease her burden. My rule is, I won't throw away my money easily without saving for myself. I will save so I'll have enough money to cover my basic needs, and when emergencies happen, I will have enough money to help the family member who is in need. The blind cannot lead another blind. The same thing applies to money. You cannot lend your money to others if you're already buried in debts.

Helping family members financially is a common practice among Filipino families. Usually, the eldest or the sibling who earns most is expected to support the entire family. Financial support may continue even through adulthood or even after the younger/poorer siblings have their own families. Sometimes, people who get support take it for granted. They don't have jobs. They keep on asking for money. They play around.

I heard a sad story of an OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) on TV. She went overseas for greener pasture. She found a blue-collar job and entrusted her money to her brother-in-law in the Philippines. Due to the bad economy, the company tried to cut costs by sacking a lot of its employees, including this Filipino woman. She couldn't find another job, so she called home to ask for some money. To her surprise, she learned that her brother-in-law had run away. He had been using all her hard-earned money in gambling, alcohol, and women. Nothing was left from the money she had been sending through the years. Without money and a job, she could not go back to the Philippines. She rented a small room with several other Filipinos who had also been laid off like her. When asked what she wanted to tell the viewers, she said, "I learned that you should help yourself first before helping others. I learned it the hard way. All my sweat and blood are for nothing. I haven't saved a cent for my own kid. My life could have been different if only I have saved."

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