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.