Last Saturday my husband and I gave a talk on Family Finance and Investing to OFWs in Singapore. This was arranged by TGFI (The Global Filipino Investors), an online group of over 30,000 members with the common goal of increasing investment awareness among Filipinos all over the world.
We were welcomed on Friday night by three proponents of the group, which started in Singapore – Richard, Rex and Nicmark. young men aged 28 to 32 who have been working in the city of Merlion for several years now. We had dinner in a nearby mall close to SMU (Singapore Management University). It was heartwarming to listen to their stories, how they devote a big chunk of their free time helping their fellow OFWs increase their FQ, which they do pro bono.
The following day was our talk, which was held at the Anson Centre. Although they told us that Filipinos come on time in Singapore, there were a few who arrived a bit late because of the rain. We started the session a few minutes after 1 pm and it was a lively combination of exercises, lectures, sharing, dancing, Q&A and of course, lots of picture-taking – both selfies and “groupies/groufies?” (a new term I learned).
The workshop lasted until early evening and we had dinner and a leisurely walk with the three guys who welcomed us, plus Josie, Queenie, Che and Mannix.
In the course of our short weekend stint with our kababayans in Singapore, I experienced the heart of the Filipino OFW up close. I wish to share with you some of my observations:
1. In the Filipino financial set-up, No Pinoy is an island. – Whether you’re single or married, with kids or without, only child or one among a dozen, there are people who are relying on you financially. And this is why coming up with a saving and investing plan necessarily involves other family members; and in some cases, a mini barangay.
2. There is no formal conversation that assigns financial obligation to family members. One just slides into the role of the provider because he is perceived to be the most capable. There are no deadlines, no clear-cut terms and conditions attached to the support.
3. Parents seem to relax a bit early when a child starts earning dollars. Even parents who are only in their 50s somehow slow down or totally stop trying to earn a living when the dollars start coming in.
4. It’s difficult to share financial knowledge to older members of the family because it may be misconstrued as being too proud just because they’re the ones providing for the family. However, the provider’s opinion is now greatly valued.
5. The problem of spouses drifting apart is a threat to OFWs. The physical separation, if not handled properly, makes the couple drift apart emotionally and even financially.
6. The role of family provider oftentimes delays the OFW’s marriage plans.
7. OFWs long to come back home to retire in their own country someday.
8. It can be very lonely working abroad missing your family and friends and being subjected to discrimination sometimes.
9. Having like-minded Filipino friends in your host country is very important to keep your sanity.
10. They still opt to be happy. There was a Singapore hate blog that came out recently against Filipinos, but what I’d like to quote is Nathan Allen who wrote in defense of the Pinoys, “I hope my Filipino friends won’t take this miserable Singapore hate-blog too personally. To understand what is going on in Singapore, perhaps we need some perspective. Did you know that workers in Singapore are ranked as the most unhappy in the world? Do you know what bothers unhappy people more than anything? Happy people.”
11. There is growing awareness and drive to be in control of their finances. Some of the OFWs are already second generation OFWs. They have seen their parents work hard abroad and come home empty-handed because they sent everything home; or use up all their savings shortly after coming home. They do not want to end up in this position. In fact, most of the OFWs I talked to have set timetable for their overseas stint.
The heart of an OFW is kind and caring and almost selfless. And this is why it’s important for them to be properly guided. We do not want these kind-hearted people to be left with an empty bag; we want to see them retire comfortably and enjoy the fruits of their hard and oftentimes lonely labor abroad. Neither do we want them to continue the vicious cycle of dependency counting on their children financially during their old age; we want to see them happy, productive and financially independent Pinoys enjoying the last years of their lives.
To set the wheels towards financial independence in motion, here are some things that our OFWs may want to consider:
1. Have a conversation with your family and set clear terms and conditions of your financial support. This may not be a very Pinoy thing to do but it may be done with kindness and clear explanations why you need to set parameters – e.g. a.) who are entitled to the support that you send. Sometimes parents tend to equalize wealth distribution among children and may siphon off funds intended for them to children who they perceive to be lacking; b.) deadline for your support especially to younger siblings who sometimes overstay in school. If they can, they should be encouraged to earn on the side to help fund their allowance; c.) fund usage – you don’t want your siblings to be using your hard-earned dollars irresponsibly buying the latest gadgets in town; etc.
2. Understand your relationship with money and align what you do with and for money with your core values so that you don’t get lost in the way. Share this with your family members so that you are all in the same boat as you go on with your financial journey.
3. Remember to remain humble even as you firm up your position in the above steps.
4. To married OFWs who are apart, revisit your arrangement. Do you really need to be away from each other? Are there sacrifices that may be worth making just so you can raise your family together?
5. Do your best in your existing jobs in your host countries. Exhaust all means to further enhance your skills. Bear in mind that your years of stay should not only give you financial gains but also gains in training and worthwhile work experience. Look out for scholarships or other forms of training that you can get from your employer.
6. Almost all OFWs dream of coming home to retire or start a business in the Philippines. However, when I asked them what businesses they’d want to get into, they’re usually something unrelated to what they already know. This is something big and I’d like everyone to remember this: Get into a business that you understand. It should be something that has to do with your core competence. Never make the mistake of getting into something just because the profit margins are high. Yes, there are businesses that provide high profit margins, but this will only be true if you have the competence to do it. That’s why it’s important to seriously do no. 5 so that when you come home, you have something great to offer. We all have our unique set of gifts, passion and extraordinary abilities. My paraphrase of a Frederich Beuchner quote is a worthwhile guide in discerning God’s will as well as your next career move: God’s will for you is the intersection of your greatest passion and the world’s greatest need. This is your sweet spot, where you are almost effortlessly good at and what people really need from you. And because you’re passionate in doing it, you attract people and the money follows.
7. Continue networking with fellow Filipinos or even other nationalities about how to prepare for your retirement. Activities with like-minded individuals provide encouragement and speed up learning curves. Study together what investment vehicles are best for you.
8. Stay happy. This is the Filipino charm and weapon. Use it to your advantage.
Again to the OFWs all over the world, Mabuhay kayong lahat at maraming salamat sa inyong sakripisyo!
Thank you very much to TGFI for arranging this workshop. Thank you to all the participants especially to those who shared their experiences. I wish your dreams come true. Drop me a note on how the workshop affected you and your progress in fulfilling your dreams.