It was my parents’ consistency that cemented these values in me and my siblings, instilled through our family’s customs. For example, going to the mall was not exactly a common weekend activity for us. I didn’t see my mom shopping superfluously, and when she would buy things for herself, she usually checked the sales first. In fact, she still tells us to go shopping only when there are sales ongoing. It was only when she’d finished paying for our house and education that I noticed her starting to buy more expensive pieces.We don’t do it deliberately, but we mimic our parents’ money habits. While both my mom and dad had an eye for quality, they always specified the need for having value for money, and didn’t justify their purchases based merely on their brands or to join a fad. They weren’t flashy. My dad always joked about how it’s better not to be perceived as rich and actually have money, than the other way around – to look rich but not actually have much. So designer items didn’t excite me because of their brands, I bought items for their durability and longevity of use. Some of my favorites are a travel sling bag that I got 10 years ago, and a pair of comfortable rainproof shoes that I’ve been using for 6 years.
In the summertime, I remember sleeping in mats on the floor of our parents’ room to save on electricity for air-conditioning. Looking back on this, my memories were more centered on the bonding that took place during those times, playing card games and board games, or watching movies until we fell asleep side by side. Unlike some of my other friends’ families, mine only dined at restaurants for special occasions. We didn’t mind at all because my mom was always preparing restaurant-quality meals at home. She used to bake every week, and the goodies didn’t even make it to the containers. We usually gobbled them all up as soon as they popped out of the oven.
My parents were believers of travel as a form of education. They saved and spent on trips, but planned them very meticulously to cut on costs. We each traveled with a backpack, and our parents put snacks and water in them so we wouldn’t have to spend unreasonably whenever we got hungry. My dad explained that the bulk of our budget went to the plane tickets, so we had to think of ways to save on other things. For meals, they gave us a balance of eating somewhere fancy and eating somewhere economical, like getting hotdogs from a stand in New York. My dad claimed he did it for the experience, but we joked that we understood it was because it’s too expensive to always eat at restaurants. All of us just laughed about it.My siblings and I had come to enjoy teasing them about their frugal ways. The first time we went to Japan in 2007, my mom opened her luggage and showed us all the groceries she had brought from home. She told us that food was expensive there, and enjoined us to eat a heavy breakfast from her stash before we started on our day’s adventures. We humored her by eating crackers and cheese spread in our hotel room.
When all of us entered high school, my dad started a mind game with us. He offered us an allocation of ₱2,000.00 for school supplies, but gave us free rein on how we wanted to ration the money. The dilemma was: should we spend it all on new things for school, or try to reuse some of the things from the previous school year and keep the money for other things? To be honest, the amount of money was not the focus of the game, but the practice of making money decisions. He wanted us to learn to weigh the consequences of our choices; and in the process, I learned a lot about myself as well: what my non-negotiables were and what I could compromise. I preferred having fewer quality items to having many flimsy items; I couldn’t go without a new notebook, but last year’s rulers, scissors, and pencil cases were okay to reuse. I made lists, and I computed how much money I’d have left if I bought this instead of that. I didn’t get it right the first time, and got my first taste of buyer’s remorse, but every mistake was a lesson learned. I was also lucky to have an elder sister, because I got to inherit most of her school uniforms. That’s a luxury she didn’t have, and a portion of her budget had to go to new uniforms on some years. So while some people may not appreciate it, I enjoy receiving hand-me-downs, now in the form of clothes, shoes, and toys from my elder sister’s baby girl passed on to my baby girl. I’ve barely spent on any of the basics for my daughter, and I don’t think she minds.There was one time I regretted a choice I made. It happened during one of our vacations abroad. My dad always gave each of us some pocket money at the airport, on the chance we saw something we wanted on the trip. It was ours to spend, no questions asked. One of the first stops on our itinerary was a visit to the Mattel factory. As a child, it was pretty irresistible to see literally hundreds and thousands of Barbie dolls all in one place, and by the end of the tour, I decided to blow all my money on as many dolls I wanted. I don’t remember if my parents dissuaded me, but I do remember not having any more cash to spend for the rest of the trip. There were dresses and other cute toys I wanted from other places we visited after that, but I had no more spending power. That sure taught me to be more sensible with my money afterward.
It helped that I also attended a school that valued simplicity. In my 11 years there, we were not allowed to have make-up and jewelry, aside from simple stud earrings; the only hair accessories we could use had to match our uniform’s black, white, or navy blue hues; we had to wear the same brand of white rubber shoes for P.E. class, and we had to embroider our names on our white shirts. We were mandated to wear jeans, our embroidered P.E. shirts, and plain rubber shoes for extracurricular activities like outreach programs and workshops. Even during graduation ceremonies, we had to wear our best… school uniforms, which was also the requirement for graduation photos, first communion, and confirmation rites throughout the years.I used to think it was an exaggeration, but I later understood that since we all wore the same things that made us look more or less alike, there was no point in comparing ourselves with anyone else. It gave the impression that we looked like we all had the same background and that we had the same socio-economic standing. I hope I make my school proud to hear that I still practice simplicity to date.
My mom went to the same school she sent us to, so I’m not surprised that she had no vanities herself. She only goes to the salon to get occasional haircuts, and rarely for hair treatments. I never saw her wear nail polish in my life. Like mother like daughter, I don’t get my nails done either, wear makeup only on special occasions, and only get haircuts when necessary. I’m not saying these things are bad; just that I never gave them much importance growing up in a low-key environment, and it’s saved me a lot of money. If you love these things, there are cheaper alternatives for doing them yourself instead of indulging in regular parlor appointments. For me, I love pampering myself with massages and spa treatments, and reward myself with these after a period of hard work.The year I moved out of my family’s house and lived on my own was both an exciting and challenging one for me. I knew that having my own place would mean taking more adult responsibilities like cleaning, cooking, and paying my own bills: condo dues, water, and electricity. More than half of my paycheck went to my condo’s monthly amortization, and then on top of that I had my bills to settle. These were not part of my budget when I was living with my family, and naturally, some things had to give. I shrugged off certain things like shopping, going to the movies, and dining out. I had to make some changes, so I bought an air cooler to alternate with the A/C in my new home. I cooked and brought food to work so I wouldn’t have to eat out. While the release of the first iPhone was all the rage, I had my trusty ₱4,000.00 Nokia in my pocket. I figured, I may not have a smart phone, but I have a condo in Makati; and that kept me content. The habits of simplicity and frugality have, indeed, come a long way.