The Sandwich Generation

I have been meaning to write about this topic for a long time now. I guess I was finally compelled to hit the Publish button here in this blog after I read the entire Reddit thread about an issue which resonates with me very personally. It will entail opening up some personal things about my life, but I do not really mind. I believe that the reason that this cultural system of “utang na loob” is unfairly twisted in Filipino culture is because a few people would dare to speak up about it. And I am breaking the chains in this generation by being more responsible and sharing my story.

This story is long but this story needs to get out of my system so that I can now move forward with ease.

 

I did not grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth. As a love child of a rich businessman and a struggling woman from one of the poorest communities in Caloocan, I was born out of wedlock and even basic things like having a normal set of legal documents for a church wedding was denied to me.

 

Unlike most people my age, I can’t YOLO my way into overseas trips and own enviable Instagram feeds of fascinating destinations. Not because I did not want to travel, but more because all my money goes to the typical cycle of sandwich generation—paying for the financial deficits of the past generation by my parents, covering my present overhead and needs financially, and preparing for the future of my child with humble investments so that he or she will not suffer as I have when I grow old and sick and close to my death bed.

 

My father was a well off when I was a young child. He managed to afford to pay for a private school tuition fee even though I lived in the sketchy community of drug addicts and teenage pregnant women. Can you imagine going to school everyday and seeing your classmates wear expensive signature Guess jeans while you’d be lucky to have new clothes even just once a year (during Christmas, at least)? That was me for the entirety of my childhood. I was going to school and living with people who are infinitely richer than me and with problems that I cannot really relate to because I have to worry about other things. I walked to that posh school always being reminded of how poor and low we are in the socioeconomic totem pole. At a young age, I was someone who suffered from discrimination and bullying habitually.

 

I made few friends in that school because I just live in a totally different world from my classmates. They don’t worry about the things I worry about. Financial survival, for one. And that’s a thing to worry about for all time until I manage to reverse this quagmire that my parents have started.

 

My dad saved more money later when I studied in UP Diliman for college. I was one of the lucky few who still got the Php 300 per unit rate before they spiked the tuition fees in the state university. I wanted to take Creative Writing in the Ateneo but I ended up taking a more practical engineering course because my father told me that “Walang pera sa writing.” When I was in fourth year high school, I won a contest in writing at the regional level and I had to raise my own funds because my father would not give me airfare to General Santos City to let me join the contest. Because he hates my fascination for the written word. He was not proud that I bested all the other schools in Metro Manila and qualified in two categories. For him, it was a waste of time.

 

Let me be clear before I proceed with my narrative. I love my parents and I want to help them in every way I can. I know that my parents love me in their own way. In their own way, they have done their best to give me everything they can, most of the time. I say “most of the time” because that’s really the truth. Unlike most kids, I do not have a glorified view of my parents. I know that they love me, and I them. But I am fully aware of their financial foibles and the fatal consequences it had on me and my siblings.

 

I was 15 years old when my mother decided to leave for Saudi Arabia to work as an OFW, an international cook for villas and other large households there. When she left my dad with their illicit affair, she remarried a man who she loved dearly but was financially irresponsible. He moved in my mother’s inherited property but basically mooched off from my mother’s income and never gave a dime to support the family like the way most men do. Things got bad financially when my mother got involved with co-makers, loans, and gigantic credit card debts with its compounding interest rates from multiple banks. It got serious when she started receiving complaints from creditors. The only thing her new husband (my stepfather) told her that time was that the financial shit she is in was her doing and it’s her mess so she should fix it. He has no part in it even though he eats from her hard work. So she was sent off to Saudi very much against her wishes.  And she worked there for 10 years, leaving behind my baby sister who was not yet a year old.

 

It was a hard life. When my mother left for Saudi, my mom’s sister took me in under her house in the guise of charity. But what she did mainly was trick me. She is my aunt but she had her twisted agenda. There was a dispute about an inheritance that required my signature so that my mother will waive her portion. She tricked me into signing because I was young and gullible and stupid. And I was in desperate need of a maternal figure and affection so I succumbed to the manipulations of my aunt who is a psychology graduate.  I signed. When I finally realized the full extent of what she made me do, I started hating her.

 

When my mom left, I had to work with real property taxes, water bills, electric bills, and super horrible tenants. I was tasked to manage these things. And I was bullied left and right by classmates in my private school, my own aunt with her machinations and psychological torture methods, my stepfather who pocketed the money earmarked for paying for the water bill (I experienced going to Maynilad and begging so they won’t cut the water bill for our family), and a lot of other people who powertrip on penniless teenagers who do not have their mothers with them physically. It was not easy. I was taking an engineering course in UP, and I had to worry about my monthly expenses in school and all those things that are involved in managing a home along with its adult demands. I was 15, 16, 17 years old, and my childhood was robbed from me immediately. Actually, there was not really much to rob because my entire childhood was mainly traumatic and miserable.

 

You’d think that my mom’s entire decade in Saudi will erase all her debts. None of the sort happened. She earned her money and she spent them as soon as she earned them. She was not aware of financial instruments or the concept of growing her money passively through income generating methods of financial investments.

 

She was working hard just like everyone else, but all her money went down the drain. It went to fancy cellphones which were her only consolation with the back breaking work of an international cook who wakes up at 5am and sleeps at 1am the next day, day in and day out. It went to paying for my stepfather’s inefficiencies in handling the rent money for the utilities. It went to so many things, including some of my needs in college and my sister’s private school tuition fee when she started studying in the same school that I have during elementary and high school. It went to an endless cycle of paying bills. It went to the credit card providers and the loan sharks.

 

Did I tell you that studying in college and taking care of a baby sister was hard? One time she had pneumonia and I had to choose between taking my midterm exam in an engineering subject or taking care of her in the hospital. Of course, I took care of her. I failed the subject that sem. I almost did not want to finish my engineering degree because I felt like it was useless, that life was futile and I was meant to suffer like this permanently.  There was also this exceptionally horrible tenant and I had to go to the barangay hall and file a blotter. I was 19 years old at that time.

 

When my mom got back from Saudi to permanently reside in the Philippines, she was blessed with a teaching job before she got sick this year and was forced to resign. But even with her income and rent payments from her tenants, she was still unable to meet the monthly overhead for the family. There was a constant deficit, and she used the Bumbay 5-6 system to cover for that deficit and have some leisure.

 

Let me do a quick computation here. Suppose that she needs 25,000 monthly to survive. She earns somewhere around 20,000 a month, including the humble amount of cash I manage to give every month when I was working already in 2010. She borrows 10,000 from the Bumbay loan guy with the motorcycle and other individuals to cover for the deficits. But the Bumbay guy goes to our house everyday (even on weekends and holidays) to collect as much as 2,000 pesos per day. So the total money overhead becomes 85,000 pesos—60,000 from the Bumbay and 25,000 for the main expenses of the house. They don’t just borrow cash. They also get gadgets because my mother likes multiple smartphones and tablets.

 

For their wedding anniversary, they also borrowed 2 iPhones at the high interest rates of the Indian lenders. That was also the same time that she was crying to me that we have no money for Meralco. Last year, she got herself another BPI credit card after settling her payables to the banks from her former financial crisis. She was justifying that she needed the liquid cash for their needs. So for her, there’s the Bumbay credit line, the credit card, and the financial needs of a family in Metro Manila.

 

You might be wondering: doesn’t her husband have a job? He does. He gets paid 500 to 600 per day in his job. His contract is renewed every 6 months at his job. But he got himself some girlfriends while my mom was overseas and he probably impregnated one of them and he usually runs out of money during enrollment season.

 

He never remitted any money to my mother. He only gives her money when they renew the credit line with the Bumbay guy. If it’s any consolation, they cook really good food. There’s always food at home. They made sure of that. Like I said earlier, they did their very best with what they had. They did not have a lot. And there was one more thing they did not have: foresight for their old age preparations.

 

Probably my mother was again counting her chickens before the eggs were out. So last November, she started bleeding profusely until today. And she was not anymore able to report to her job. She lost her income, and the debt payments kept pouring in, including the credit card and the Bumbay guy and the individual loans she made.

 

Have you seen a person who in her old age failed to prepare for her retirement? She had no health card, no savings or emergency fund whatsoever, and had so many bills to pay. Plus she married someone who was not able to handle finances properly. He is abusive with the money and is difficult during a crisis. He even once asked for transportation money from her (the one without a job) so that he can go to work.

 

The situation is very bad. Does it hurt to watch my own mother suffer like that because of her habitual financial decisions? Yes. And the worse thing was, no matter how much money I give her, it will never be enough. Unless I earn 1 million pesos per month.

 

My father provided for me until I studied for my board exam. But there were years that he made giving my allowance difficult and I was compelled to take a lot of odd jobs in college. I even experienced working from 9pm to 6am in a call center, and go to my morning class at 7am. Sometimes I fall asleep in my classes. I did not get uno in all of my subjects and finishing my engineering degree took 7.5 years instead of the normal 5.

 

Eventually, my father’s financial luck tanked. He got into deep financial problems and I needed to take over my half-sister’s tuition fee in a private school. She is taking up Pharmacy. I had to shell out around 200,000 pesos for her needs. She was not a good student though. She failed two subjects and was unable to graduate and even lied to my father that PNoy had a new “bill” or policy that extended pharmacy students for another year. She did not even apologize to us when she failed her subjects after we supported her, and she always demanded that we send her money ASAP. Her exam would be on a Monday and she would text us on a Saturday night or Sunday where there are no banks and we have to go out of our working way to send her money. My father also had a heart attack. He refused to buy medicine so I went to Mercury Drug to buy it for him when he got discharged. The next day, he tells me that his girlfriend asked him to buy her a Samsung android phone and he swiped it with his credit card.

 

Did it hurt? It did. I was already married at the time and I could have used the money to build my family, but I always had them in mind. Yet, they continue to make those decisions that just sink them deeper into financial chaos. Try telling them not to and you will not be listened to. For some reason, my mother thinks of her Bumbay credit line as an asset and regular source of income.

 

I did not learn about personal finance the easy way. I did not have a trust fund in my name, or mighty connections. All I had was my brain, and my typing hands. I started seeking my own financial answers because I knew that I won’t get them from my parents.

 

In 2004 to 2006, I bumped into this forum called Pinoy Money Talk. It was owned by a formidable prof from UP Business Administration department, Kuya James Jonas. I became a moderator in this forum and this is where I learned about insurance, VUL, UITFs, mutual funds, and stocks. I met traders, entrepreneurs, and intelligent people who have financial literacy. My eyes were opened to this world where it’s actually possible to beat inflation and grow your money even through small increments at a time.

 

But at the time, I did not have money to invest. I only spent those years writing SEO articles for really low starting rates and engaging in different kinds of ways to earn money while studying until I got my license. And I spent the time reading and learning about investments.

 

Thanks to all those years of moderating for a financial literacy forum, I already knew where I will put my money when I already have investing power from a fulltime job. I trained myself to know these financial products, well enough that some people think I am an agent for an insurance company. I made it a personal crusade and a business to know about financial instruments. I made it a personal goal to reverse the financial curse that I had to live with while growing up and until now. A lot of women my age shop for bags, clothes, and shoes. I never had the luxury as a child, and after everything I experienced from the financial mismanagement of my parents, I lost all desire for fancy things.

 

I only liked shopping for stocks or investment instruments, because I was sure that whatever I give out pays me back after some time. I shopped for gadgets and gizmos essential for my online work. I shopped for books and online courses to expand my knowledge and jailbreak my lifetime education after college.

 

When I started working fulltime, I was driven and I was intense. A lot of people my age don’t understand why I am so intense, why I am so uptight and serious about work. But this is really why. Nothing teaches you more than a painful life experience, or a series of painful life experiences starting at a very young age. And I hated people my age who don’t get their own jobs and mooch from their parents because if you are not disabled, you are supposed to earn your own keep and not be a professional moocher.

 

But even if I am driven to be financially responsible, I never equated financial success with genuine kindness. I worked in a government agency for almost a year and I met really rich people there. One of them was really arrogant. He told me that when he ran the financial projections, he predicted that I was dirt poor and I will only have enough money in my old age to bury myself. That I should not get married and have kids because I can’t possibly afford it while supporting my mother. (Well, fuck him really because I am now married and I am going to have a kid and I am still supporting my mother with her illness.)

Money can buy you a comfortable life of sorts, but it cannot buy class or other people’s respect. You still have to build your character.

 

Here is another example of a person who has her wealth but no character: my aunt. She came home after a very nice and well-paying job outside of this country. In my mother’s side of the family, she’s the only financially stable one. Her sisters, my mother included, used her as an emergency fund during criticial financial situations.

 

The system of utang na loob is tricky even among siblings. Before she got her job overseas and amassed a huge lump sum for her old age and retirement, my aunt was feeding from our food supply. She even eats all the ulam and we run out of food sometimes. She did this for years. My mother’s husband complained that we cannot afford an extra mouth to feed for years. During one of her overseas trips when she was starting out, she asked for my mother to get some loans. My mother wanted her to have a happy overseas career and supported her wholeheartedly. She never computed that as a personal loan against her.

 

I have this to say amidst all these things that I disclosed. My mother was kind. For all her horrible financial decisions, she was KIND to her family. And this is the one thing she taught me that I will be forever thankful for: wag maging madamot lalo sa sariling kadugo.

 

My mother was generous to everyone and unfortunately, she was too generous that she left nothing for her old age and retirement. You would think that when she got sick and started bleeding profusely, that her well-off and financially stable sister and the other people who borrowed from her when she had money will come to her aid financially. It was the complete shocking opposite.

 

In fact, my aunt even used my mother’s illness to psychologically torture her and was relentless in asking my mother to pay for a personal loan. In her usual manipulative manner, she did horrible things that you would consider unthinkable to do to a severely sick person. Instead of being compassionate to her situation, my aunt even told me bitterly that she regretted spending 40,000 pesos during that one time her sisters visited her on a Christmas vacation.

 

That’s the one thing I hate about my mother. She already knew that her sister is a horrible person yet she continues to receive “help” from her only to get a very painful type of sumbat at a great time of need. She has a husband who is not helping her financially and makes things even more unbearably difficult, yet she does not make a decision to cut him out.

 

And I have to watch all that. I have to watch her suffer, and I am supposed to just stand there and watch while she makes all these decisions to fail financially with bad habits and continue to nurture toxic people like these horrible people who surround her.

 

My husband and I got fed up and we decided to withdraw from our savings and pay the amount to my aunt in full so that my mother can focus on her physical recovery. Money may not be able to buy you class, but it buys you freedom from horrible people who lend money in the guise of help and spend the rest of your life reminding you of how much you owe them.

 

So here I am now. I am pregnant, I am angry, and I feel like even if we give all our money, it will never be enough because the consequences of decades of not planning their retirement is sadly catching up on my mom. I am even angrier because this has put her in a position where horrible people with money like my aunt can just walk all over her. And I could not get her out of it. I can only work on making sure that my own son or daughter will not suffer as I have.

 

Still, my mother is in a life or death situation. And you know what? For all of my parents’ horrible financial decisions, I am still giving everything I can to help save her life and give her a comfortable old age. Here is one lesson: you will still do everything in your financial power for medical care and to save their lives if you really love your parents. All that money I spent for her medical needs is nothing compared to the value of her life.

 

Sure, it may often feel like I was treated as their retirement fund or financial investment. I am not going to lie. It hurts when I think about it.

 

But love covers all wrongs. And I felt really sad that my aunt did not learn this lesson of love and compassion’s value, even if she goes to her church all the time and spews out Bible verses and tells us that we were all going to hell unless we follow her footsteps.

 

She had so much money in her bank account now, but she is impoverished in human values. I make sure that I will earn and surpass her current savings. But I am also making sure that I will not forget my mother’s compassion and kindness as I try to make things more comfortable for this unborn child in my tummy.

 

I am writing this today in my blog because I want to be reminded that all these years of suffering until I reached this age of 30 has to end somewhat. All the toxic things they sent my way has to end here and now. I am writing this to remind myself of how far I have come and how much I had to survive and endure, and how I am still standing here because of hard work, prayers, and the sheer determination to oppose the tide.

 

For all the money I shelled out paying for the deficits of the past generation, I am still optimistic that I will have a bright future. Today, I am in a sandwich generation. Tomorrow, my son or daughter will live in a comfortable way, totally beyond the hellhole I had to dig us out of. I am writing this down as a promise to myself and all my future kids. I will love them the way my mother and father has loved me. But I will exceed that love by making sure that my future kids will not have to worry about money when I leave this earth. Other people can just scoff at my intense approach to work but I have a goal and it is clear. And I am not going to back down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 16: #100HappyDays
Holistic Spring Cleaning

cleaning

Good Friday’s timing for spring cleaning in all aspects is just perfect. I used the morning to clean my cabinet and get rid of some unnecessary clutter.

In the afternoon, during the Veneration of the Cross and the Holy Communion, I used this solemn time of Lent to do a thorough spring cleaning of the mind. My meditation today was not a particularly tranquil or easy experience; my mind kept flying out of my meditative goal with its own agenda. But it was worth all the sweat and the struggle. I eventually managed to recollect myself in key moments and emptied my brain of its useless vagaries.

Part of my life’s spring cleaning also included some basic life planning. I finally got around to listing down my life agenda for the next three months.

Aside from this, I read every single entry in this blog since 2004,and I marveled at the things that transpired. Despite the fact that I felt like I am going nowhere, I saw a lot of progress with my writing and my life. Everything moved progressively, and it’s something I need to be thankful for.

The blogger in 2004 is radically different from this blogger from 2014. Sometimes I want to just hide the 2004 version of me. The things I said in the past embarrass me greatly when I do my retrospective.

But I realized that it was a part of the whole process of continuous improvement.It is good to keep all those past posts there so that I will have a humbling reminder of key points in my life where God has helped me and how exactly he has helped me become a better person through the years.

If I delete any of these old blog posts, I will never be able to recreate them again even if I write a hundred posts today to replace them. So let all my defects stand, jologs posts and all.

I hardly checked my phones or gadgets these days; I was too busy reflecting on many things.

I guess this is what happens when you are about to enter a new stage of life; you just have a lot of things to consider. There is so much to plan, so much to be done, and so much to give your best energies to. It’s no longer palatable to waste time on useless things or activities.

And you no longer have qualms ignoring the non-essentials because you have zoomed in on what matters to you. It’s somehow a true mark of entering adulthood.

It’s part of my 43things goals to live in simplicity, and I believe that I have gained some good groundwork with what I have undertaken for today and the past 8 weeks since I have overhauled my entire lifestyle.

I still have a lot of activities but all of these no longer had the random chaos of a spinning top or a hamster on a wheel. Most of it is now coordinated, lined up in some form of organized fashion and within the happy bounds of my realities and circumstances. It was nothing that I have done by myself. This solid peace of mind and clarity is simply His gifts to me for this phase of my life.

Writing things down and paring most of my possessions down to the essentials really helped me see my priorities in life and how I can improve things, in general. I got to know my chief defects and strengths as a person and I have taken both menial and drastic measures to manage them.

Years ago, this would have been unthinkable. I tend to complicate myself so easily. I still do that today, actually. I complicate my life and I sometimes become my own worst enemy. But I tend to know more about myself these days and I become aware of what triggers me to be at my worst, and what drives me to be at my best.

Today, more than any other day, I am fully convinced of the unquestionable fact that the simple and peaceful life is the real way to live life happily and meaningfully.

Retirement and Old Age Affairs

Cold weather is the bane of my asthmatic existence. I have corticosteroids, nebulizers, liquid anti-asthma, and a generous supply of vaporub. But it never prepares me for the wheezing, the heaving, the nausea, and the difficulty in breathing.

Given such a state, I am constantly reminded of my mortality. Any breathing inconvenience has me waxing.existential and fatalist.

Recently, I decided to get a memorial plan because I firmly believe in the constancy of death. Even up to the last minute of my life, I do not wish to be a burden to my loved ones. I want them to grieve properly, and not grieve because they cannot raise funds to put my head to eternal rest.

It has been three years since I got myself Sunlife for life insurance and retirement. This acquisition of a memorial plan is my second attempt to somehow prepare for my end of life affairs. It may seem like a morbid thought but I know that life will only get busier. Few people my age can appreciate these things. But I had a lot of responsibilities at an early age. I cannot unlearn the things I have learned early in life. I cannot wait for my peers to catch up. I join the baby boomers with my foresight of death and life plans. I only took the austere and basic packages for both life insurance and memorial plan primarily because that’s what my yuppie salary can afford. I could not really care much what my coffin would look like.

So many people flinch from adult decisions, as if it would slow down time and give them an illusion of immortality. I have seen adults act like children one too many times. More than once, I have witnessed that divine providence has a good relationship with prudence. Adults who refuse to take responsibility for themselves make life unbearable for others who are forced to pick up the slack. I have picked up a fair share of slack from previous generations. I am quite firm in my conviction that this cycle of previous generations’ constraints must end here. I want my future children and grandchildren to be free to live life to the fullest.

I know that come old age or death, other people who think it extreme now will appreciate these decisions more. I may not like taking the train to save a few pennies in the here and now. I can take more lessons in domestic bliss. But I am actually mindful of my stewardship of resources in a manner that few people can anticipate.

Given my latest investment decisions, I can wheeze in peace knowing that if I breathe my last, I did not leave my loved ones completely empty-handed.

Variable Insurance Ironies

After reading finance master blogger Fitz Villafuerte’s post on getting life insurance, I finally decided to do the most dreadful thing I have not yet done in over one year: read the very fine print of my variable insurance policy with Sunlife. The terms are the humblest possible for a working girl, and it had very minimal coverage in case I die.Some people do not believe in the concept of life insurance, but I kind of feel more at peace with the idea that my family will have enough cash with which to bury me and get by for a few months in case I leave this earth. (Oh, that reminds me, I need a funeral plan in addition to that thing I signed up for! It’s much better to have it all prepared already.)

I almost fell asleep by the time I reached page 5, but I am happy that I read it this time around. I know. It’s idiotic to sign something without reading it first, but I did just that last year. Not my proudest moment there. And two months after that, the fiance applied for what seems to me as a more adaptable and favorable life insurance for himself. I drooled with envy and resigned acceptance that his insurance policy is much better than mine.

Ironically, I found certain interesting provisions that I did not give much thought to when I was signing this VUL application with the animated excitement of a person who is making one of her first few major adult decisions in the year 2012. It was January of last year when I decided to go for the life insurance and investment package that they had which requires me to pay Sun Life quarterly. It’s been a year and it’s been a good year for that policy I opened up.

Just that, I found it interesting that the life insurance in case of death, dismemberment, or accident did not include coverage for death by homicide or suicide. I know suicide is understandably self-inflicted. But I find it very weird that the beneficiaries of a homicide victim cannot claim for benefits even if he or she is a good payer. I mean, if someone kills me, it’s not my fault that I got frigging killed, right? Why should I not be compensated in the event of my death?

So it goes to show that if some random dude decided to end my life for any reason, my family won’t be able to get this thing which I pay four times a year for. 🙁

Another interesting issue came up when I saw that the insurance policy I am paying for apparently also does not cover for death caused by “insurrection or activities of the armed forces.” Given the very remote but very present possibility of a world war breaking out of a nearby country, I did not feel so comforted that if I get accidentally hit by military activity or exercises, my beneficiaries and I won’t be able claim for benefits.

I wish I talked to my agent more before I signed it. But it’s not all bad, you see…

On the up side, the fund value on the investment portion is double the expectations set by the financial projections on my proposal sheet last year. 🙂

Despite some finance gurus’ assertion that Sun Life VUL and other variable life insurance policies are second-tier forms of investments, I still think that there are favorable returns considering how little I monitor movements in the stock market. I am just satisfied with the fund values, although I am quite (QUITE!) disappointed that I am not insured in case a war breaks out and I die or if some lunatic just accosts me on the street and decides to end the flow of blood pulsating in my veins. 

It’s nothing beyond the usual woes of the proletarian worker, IMHO. 🙂 Oh well, I guess I am not as insured as I thought. That tiny bubble of my being that somehow manages to convince me that there are contingencies to look forward to in case of unfavorable circumstances just got poked by the giant needle of reading the fine print of my Sunlife VUL policy.

But the silver lining to the cloud is the fund value, which has grown a lot and I can still recommend that if not for the insurance provisions I mentioned above. Given that it more than doubled my initial investment money, I think it’s still worth recommending despite the non-friendliness to homicide victims or casualties of war.

 

 

 

 

Mainline and Sideline Festival

I hear my family’s snores as they sleep beside me in our airconditioned room. I’m equally tired, but still wide awake because there are thoughts floating in my mind.

These same thoughts of correlated jetsam and flotsam are what I capture somehow through the clickety clack of keys on my Blackberry as I type up this post.

A confirmed INFP Myer Briggs personality type, I am often faced with situations that require me to adapt in a non-INFP friendly environment. Engineering jobs are typically an STJ thing, and corporate jobs often require the more able hands of the ENTJ’s field marshall tendencies. A friend tells me I am a bit of a masochist for placing myself in these industries, where I could have more easily adapted to languages and writing courses.

And yet, here I am, tinkering with spreadsheets for my retirement fund, setting all these goals and achieving them, and surprisingly enjoying life as a geodetic engineer and freelance writer.

Given certain new circumstances, I now have higher propensity to take on additional work to keep all goals intact and all required deliverables implemented in a timely manner. I am working so hard on most days that I kind of lose sense of time. I’ve never done these all-nighters since college days. I’ve found my working groove back despite the numerous technical setbacks I am facing. I willingly work and no one has to drag me.

When I compare it to the I-must-impress-people heydays of my college workaholism, I realize that a distinct change has been brought to me by age and realization. It’s as if a new brand of working hard has somehow emerged these past three months.

And it is not the driven as a demon type of working hard anymore. It was more of responding to a life’s specific calling at work, multiplying time by introducing order to multiple tasks, and rising to the occasion with a sound serenity unlike any other.

Despite numerous stressors, I can really still stay that life is wonderful and there is a good God watching over everything to provide the necessary balance even at life’s seemingly lowest moments.

Tinkering with Retirement Calculators

At age 27, it might seem like a killjoy’s trip for me to tinker with something as futuristic as retirement calculators. But it’s the necessary Excel spreadsheet leisure activity I fancied today after being confronted with a sea of elevations and Northings/Eastings coordinates coupled with some personal crisis in the family.  I needed a break from the calculations and I used another set of mild calculations to break the ice and stay in Excel.

It’s quite refreshing to look at a new set of numbers. After my stepdad got confined in the ICU because of a heart attack, my goals of insulating my financial life became more concrete. Aside from making me so worried, I kind of looked at places in my life where I can have some semblance of control in my chaotic world. And I found it in the tasks of my current project at work and in these retirement calculators. It’s weird how numbers can provide a detached sense of comfort when you are faced with a crisis. I love numbers so much more for keeping me sane.  It’s like stepping on the sands of an elusive but picturesque beach even while I work doggedly at home in between hospital visits…

image credits to Flickr user kenteegardin

Actually, I think I am a bit late, given the financial savvy I have witnessed in some younger people I’ve met in life. In fact, there was one hardcore case who has a Php 200 million retirement fund goal that he plans to achieve within the next 5-7 years. Assessing my own fiscal situation more recently, I know that I am not rich and while I love numbers, I don’t really enjoy crunching numbers for finance more than I love crunching numbers for data. My current work deliverable requires me to play with Excel more. Traverse and leveling data both require me to spend hours looking at spreadsheets. Since I was already married to Excel given my new job, I decided to check out some templates of retirement calculators.

One time I asked a guy to help me see if I can survive retirement with my current lifestyle. He told me bluntly that if I don’t alter my spending habits, I will only have enough to bury myself at age 40. Or something to that effect. Anyway, I didn’t give it much thought immediately after that encounter. But I had my financial goals in my head more solidly now than in previous years. For years, I lurked in an online money-making forum but while I knew a lot about personal finance conceptually from the wise investors in that forum, I did not have the willpower to implement it.It’s like all those insights have finally penetrated my skull and it’s starting to make sense and I’m having the drive to implement it in my life.

Times have finally changed and I have some semblance of consciousness that resources are limited on my side of the fence and if I don’t work to invest my hard-earned money in a worthwhile place, I’ll end up really miserable and working because I need to and not because I want to.

Now is the time to do away with the theories and really practice all those insights I gleaned from years and years of learning about the magic in compounding interest and the futility of just parking one’s savings in a bank account that can only yield around 1% interest per year.

Given the hard times and the numerous uncertainties that require a lot of cash, it’s good to be organized in matters like these at some point in time. Interestingly, I found some neat insights from these three calculators that gave me an idea of how much I should be saving every month to achieve my goals financially and not be in a bind. It’s not bad to plan about these things at this point in time.

1. Truly Rich Club Retirement Calculator

The TRC Retirement Calculator is the simplest of all three. It will just basically give you what kind of money you’ll have if you commit to saving a certain amount with a certain interest rate. Of course, it did not explain that 1 Million pesos today is not equal to 1 Million pesos around 50 years from now because of inflation rates. But it’s pretty good in giving a ballpark estimate of where your money will go and how much you will get out of it with your present situation. It’s a simple plug and click interface that will generate a pretty decent figure. (The advice will only come after membership, most understandably.)

2. Pinoy Savers’ Retirement Calculator

Pinoy Savers retirement calculator is the more detailed Excel sheet where you answer more questions than the first one. It kind of requires more knowledge on personal finance. But it’s pretty straightforward for me. So I just plugged some values and it gave me my required monthly savings in three scenarios: Scenario A is for budget living with little leeway for splurges, Scenario B is for fairly comfortable but with risk of running out after a few years, and Scenario C is the perpetually happy retirement package requirement.

3. Sunlife Financial Retirement Calculator

For the third one, I had to enlist the help of my friend Keit who works fulltime at Sunlife. She asked me some questions and she plugged it into Sun Life’s retirement calculator tool. Of course, the tool embeds the retirement goals in the backdrop of their financial instruments. For this case, she placed my needs at an 8% annual interest rate for my investments as a conservative amount. The results were quite close with the results I got from the Pinoy Savers calculator.

I know that I can customize my own retirement spreadsheet if I give it a lot of thought. But given the demands of my very fulfilling and mentally challenging work, I think I can just accept existing retirement calculator templates for now and just use the ballpark monthly saving requirement estimate as a guide for my daily spending.

One of the good decisions I made this year is signing up for a Sunlife Maxilink Prime account. It’s a variable insurance policy with an investment element in it. It’s pretty perfect for my needs now. I don’t have the time and energy to monitor or trade stocks directly at online portals like Citiseconline but I have some knowledge and vague idea that I still need to beat inflation if I want my money to go somewhere. As a breadwinner, I need to have my life insurance setup for my dependents in case anything happens. And then, I needed to build capital so that my own future will not involve getting one of my children as my future source of retirement fund.

Sunlife’s financial product just provided me with enough appetite to risk a little but not risk to the point of losing everything, as what can happen when you invest in stocks with no financial manager and little experience in trading to boot. If you’re new to investing, have little capital, and you need to get your feet wet in the investing side, it’s a pretty safe place to start. 🙂 Some of my friends are skilled enough in finance to take their own time and manage their funds directly. But I kind of like to piggyback my money with Sunlife’s good financial year-on-year performance for now and just think about improving the quality of my work for the next few years. If I have to pay admin charges to Sunlife for the first few years to spare me of this headache, I really don’t mind. After all, they still beat inflation considerably better than just parking my money at a savings account with less than 1% annual interest.

So there. It kind of affirmed most of my decisions in life, after having a heart-to-heart financial planning talk with my friend Keit. She also told me that Sunlife’s holding some seminars on financial planning. They have one scheduled next Thursday at Makati, November 29 from 5:30 to 7:30pm, in case any of you readers are interested in making sense of your financial goals. You can shoot my friend Keit an email at keityee@gmail.com so that she can include you in the head count.

Financial planning is something I’ve been doing for years in my head, but I haven’t really got the balls to implement all those plans because I wanted to gratify myself immediately on most days. Fortunately, we mature and improve and we learn to make the most of what we have.

And while I process data for work, and I process my financial goals, I kind of feel much better even when everything else is swimming with so much uncertainty.

3 Niche Sites that Deal Hunters Should Know About

I am posting a departure from my usual introspection to promote what most people would consider as a good deal for a niche site. If you’re the perennial deal hunter like me, you most probably spend a lot of time on Groupon, LivingSocial, CoupFlip, Gilt City, Retail Me Not or other local deal sites. If you’re a frugal business owner seeking to maximize technologically advanced tools to foster efficiency within your company, you know that this endeavor can mean lots of money. But since you have the resourcefulness of a deal hunter, you’ll find out soon enough there are free and low-cost tools that can help you obtain your overall productivity goal.

Source: cultureandcommunication.org

At this time and age, who does not want a good deal? The good thing I recently discovered is that there is not just one, but many. And I am highlighting three of the best deals that one can find online:

1. Bitrix24.com

Efficiency is key for business success. CRMs, intranets and other corporate platforms have been invented to serve this purpose. But unfortunately, most of them aren’t easy on the budget.

Bitrix24.com is a corporate intranet platform that’s absolutely free for small businesses with 12 employees or less. Bitrix24 collates several different applications and combines them all in one work panel. These applications include a free CRM, free live streaming, free workforce management, free file sharing, free activity planner and monitoring system, and a whole host of other systems. Since it is Cloud-based, it doesn’t need to be installed and can be accessed anywhere via a smartphone or a browser, making your work station mobile and not confined in a single location. To accommodate an unlimited number of users, an upgrade is available, costing only around $99 a month.

2. PickyDomains.com

With Google.com, Amazon.com, and Monsters.com being exceptions to the rule because of their counterintuitive nature, a domain that accurately describes what the website is all about is necessary for every business owner or webmaster. Nine out of ten websites are quickly forgotten by most online readers. Like in finding a life partner, a lot of the good domains are already taken, and seeking a branding agency’s help can potentially violate a deal hunter’s frugality code. Branding agencies charge up to thousands of dollars for their services.

PickyDomains.com is an online naming solution that utilizes crowdsourcing to come up with unique, easy-to-remember, catchy and relevant slogans, domains and names. In operation since 2007, PickyDomains has a contributor base of over 50,000 registered members from all over the world. To start receiving naming proposals, simply register and become a client, pay $50 for a name or domain, or $75 for a slogan, and provide a list of your naming guidelines. If no suggestion satisfies your parameters, you get your money back, making the service 100% risk-free.

3. JetRadar.com

Since I joined the transport sector for a while, I learned how to travel a little and I know what a big difference seat sales can make. Deal hunters like me love cheap tickets. But deal hunters may not love the fact they need to spend a great deal of time scouring for cheap airfare tickets online, especially since individual airlines confine their best promos into their own sites. The reason why airlines do this is because the competition in the airline industry has become so stiff that pitching their deals to comparison websites can mean the death of a potential sale. Competitors can easily snatch customers away by giving out cheaper offers than the ones they have.

This brings us to an important question: what if there’s just one place to search for cheap tickets?

JetRadar.com is a search engine that systematically searches through 700+ websites, hundreds of flight and online ticket brokering sites for the best promotional offers, and publishes the data for the public’s easy access in a single site. This, in turn, greatly diminishes the effort and time needed to find the deal that’s the most suited to a would-be traveler’s needs.

So there you have it, three good sites for deal hunters. And I won’t be surprised if you can maximize your deal finding experience with the aid of these very useful tools.