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Friday, October 17, 2014

Extreme (Sears) Couponing

If you're a fan of the show Extreme Couponing, then you'll know how frustrating it is to be living in the Philippines, where couponing is practically nonexistent.

So when I was contacted to write a sponsored post for the online store of Sears, I readily said yes, just to see if I could make like those people featured in Extreme Couponing. Imagine, having to shop and not paying a cent! (Sometimes the store even has to give you back a rebate, all because of coupons.)

(From salon.com)

I decided to check out the Sears deals - after all, I'll need my coupons if I'm going coupon shopping. (And without having to drag around a big binder, like those that I see on the show.) Just access the link, and it's your gateway to the best Sears coupons.

Reading through the store's description, Sears has been immortalized in American culture because it was mentioned in the hit show The Brady Bunch, and since then, Americans have come to recognize Sears as their preferred one-stop shop, whether it's for home, work, do-it-yourself or even fitness equipment.

I decided to check the discount site's claims by combing through the various Sears deals and Sears coupons I could find. (After all, if I'm going to give a fair review, I need to "go through the process" so to speak.)

A Sears coupon for appliances? Check.

A Sears coupon for kids' clothing and accessories? Check.

One for sports and fitness items? Check.

On jewelry? Check.

Patio furniture? Check.

One of the newest - and I dare say, innovative - features that Sears gives its customers is the In-Vehicle Pickup, advertised with these words: "Stay in your car. We'll come to you." Imagine, you don't have to sweat it out with the rest of the shopping public; just drive to the store, they'll probably have some kind of identifier for you and your car, and your orders will be brought to your car. (I'm not sure if that will work here in the Philippines, though: there might be robbers waiting to pounce on store employees while they are walking or taking your orders to your car.)

But strangely, it begs the question: why bother?

And I ask that because on several Sears coupons, they include free shipping for orders and purchases made with the coupons online! Why spend for gas, precious time and effort going all the way to the store, when it can be delivered to your doorstep, free of charge, with the right Sears coupon?

In fact, the best draw of shopping online is that you don't have to leave home to shop!

And the Sears website is a smorgasbord of items for every thing you expect to find in a well-stocked department store: from appliances, baby stuff and beauty products, to home improvement items and toys and games, they've got it.

Sears started out as a mail-order catalog, and their business grew so much, at one point their catalogs were known as the "Consumers' Bible". Until recently, they were the number one retail company in America, and given this rich heritage, it makes perfect sense for them to offer online shopping - after all, isn't that really just catalog shopping in electronic form?

Couple this with the fact that this generation is a wired one - even our country, supposedly a Third World one, is also well on-point with this trend, so imagine how indispensable it is to be online in the US, as well as a desire to look for the best deals possible, and it is to your advantage to look for the best Sears deals that you can find. Even our ways to pay have evolved - now everything is done electronically and without even bringing out any cash (which would make the physical wallet superfluous, haha) because of the new ways consumers are buying.

Sears has maintained top position in the retail industry because of its willingness to incorporate changes as they come. And by combining online shopping with their Sears deals, it's no wonder they are now an institution, even for a mobile, current generation.

Couponing The Nordstrom Way

Having gotten an email to write a sponsored post, I decided to answer in the affirmative, simply because I've never done anything remotely close to it since I started my blog. I did feel a bit of panic when I learned I would have to write about Nordstrom, as I am not exactly a habitue of fashion houses.

But when I learned it was about Nordstrom coupons, I thought 'well, that's new'.

(From switchpay.com)

I've been to Nordstrom when I was in the US years ago, and what struck me was that they seemed to be a luxury store, carrying goods known for quality and price (as in you have to pay for good quality). So the thought of Nordstrom coupons did puzzle me a bit, but when I opened the site (in the link above, as well as the online store of Nordstrom), I began to understand why the words "Nordstrom coupons" can coexist quite peacefully.

The products featured were mark-downs from a previous fashion season. And I was able to witness how America does sales and discounts: they mean it. Prices could be discounted by as much as 90% (yes, that's ninety, your eyes are fine), so I decided to check out the Men's section, and while they didn't go as high as 90%, I was able to spot several items being sold at 75% off - needless to say, the shopper in me was awakened simply because this would be a smart way to save money, shop online and still be fashionable.

You could argue that "you bought last season's jacket?" but let me present you with an equally compelling argument: fashion comes in, goes out of style, then springs back to life again. You might as well stock up, if you want to be smart - and trendy in a future time.

One nifty feature I enjoyed while researching on Nordstrom coupons was that as soon as I opened the store site, I recognized that the prices were in Philippine pesos. What a relief - no need to bring out the calculator, having to convert the prices from dollars to our currency, and having to factor in the Nordstrom coupon discount, because if you're on a shopping spree, the last thing you want to be doing is solving fractions and percentages - and while the original prices were, indeed, quite high, having the Nordstrom promo codes really helped in bringing the price down from the rafters.

Truth be told, some of the items were cheaper than what I see in our local department stores - there was a polo shirt that was going for 480 pesos, and last I checked our department stores, they were averaging close to a thousand pesos, so maybe all you need to do is to shop wisely: look for deals without scrimping on quality.

The good part about shopping in the online Nordstrom store is that they carry brands that are well known for their quality, so even if the prices are marked down, the quality remains: there's Diesel, Levi's, and until I visited the site, I wasn't even aware that Jimmy Choo - known for footwear that the ladies in Sex and the City gushed over several seasons - had a men's fragrance out! (Confession: I linger at the fragrance section of department stores, trying to get free spritzes.)

So if you're a shopper that likes to spend wisely - and hate looking for parking or jostling with the crowds - then online shopping with Nordstrom coupons is the way to go. It's certainly the wave of the future, and while Carrie Bradshaw may insist that (physical) shopping is her cardio, seeing the slashed prices at Nordstrom's online store just might make your heart beat much, much faster.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Your Kids Are Not Retirement Plans

My job as financial adviser gives me a rare opportunity to witness how people think in terms of money, savings, investments and how they integrate these thoughts in their lives. Personal finance has always been a touchy, "private" subject in this country, which should be of no surprise given that the word personal is in the term. So it is a skill to be able to extract financial information from clients without appearing to be intrusive, and I find that the best way to do this is to let clients tell their story.

After all, I don't know anyone who doesn't like to talk about themselves.

But after meeting with a number of clients, I find it disturbing - to say the least - that a percentage of parents find themselves feeling good about their financial future because of their offspring. I was once again reminded of this mindset with a recent client call I made.

Mr. X was referred to me through another referral who became my client. I was apprised early on that Mr. X took to heart the biblical order of "go forth and multiply," and true enough, as soon as I met him, I learned that he and his wife had 6 kids.

"6 kids! Wow! Mr. X, I have to say that this is quite a departure from what I have observed with many people I see these days, the most number of kids in a family I usually encounter is 3."

He beams with pride. "They make me happy. Especially _________ (the youngest), she can be stubborn but also very malambing. (affectionate)"

"I have no doubt. And daughters na bunso (youngest) seem to have a special bond with their fathers, always."

We get to talking about his business and I ask him how it is doing, and while it sustains him and his family, he sees the endpoint of the business' lifespan as the time when his youngest will have graduated from college. I then ask him if he looks forward to retirement with his wife.

"Yes, and especially since I have six kids."

I nodded. "A large family feels warmer, somehow. I remember when my grandfather would gather all of us at his house, with so many uncles, aunts and cousins, happy times."

Mr. X then takes the pin out. "And, of course, I can relax knowing I will be taken cared of by then."

For a moment, I thought he was referring to a well-oiled financial plan that he has already begun. "That's good, Mr. X...after all, preparation is key if we want a comfortable retirement. How long have you started preparing for it?"

(Courtesy of retirerichandhappy.com)

He then decides to drop the grenade. "My kids will take care of me and my wife."

I could see my jaw drop in my mind. "But, Mr. X, won't that be something they have to decide for themselves, especially if they plan to have their own families as well?"

"Not really. I always remind them of the hard work I put in just to get them their education, so it's only fair that they pay me back later."

Since I could see where his train of thought was going, I decided to inject a little humor in the conversation. "So which of your six kids will you live with? Will you decide by drawing lots or a dice throw?"

He seems to have given this matter some thought since he answers straight away. "We can live right here, where we're at. But they'll need to give us an allowance, every month. Binibiro ko nga yung panganay ko (I've been joshing with my eldest) that I should have them spread their allowance contributions over different dates, haha!"

"It's a plan, alright, Mr. X." I smiled back. "However, would you be willing to make your own retirement plan up? I can help give you a summary of how much you'll probably be needing then on a monthly basis."

As with most clients, they usually forget to include the effects of inflation by the time they retire, and focus on what they're spending right now. After accounting for inflation, he is taken aback by how large the amount translates to in 20 to 30 years.

"Wow! Ang laki pala kakailanganin namin! (We need a huge amount) Good thing there are six of them, huh? Di masyadong mabigat (it's not too demanding) if divided by 6."

"Mr. X, how sure are you that all 6 of them will be able to support you then? While it's good to wish them success in their future endeavors, the current job market is such that I know people with master's degrees who are working in call centers simply because they can't find work...wouldn't it be more prudent to prepare for your retirement yourselves?"

He turns to me with a knowing smile. "Maybe. But that's exactly why I have six kids...they can't all be failures, right? Surely, at least half of them will be successful."

I can see that he was using the matalino ako (I'm sly) route, so I thank him for his time and leave him with these parting words. "Thank you, Mr. X. While you seem to have a plan for retirement, the biggest loophole I observe is that it is dependent on others: on what others will earn, on what others are willing to give to you. My job as financial adviser is to help people take control of their own financial well being, with variables under their control. If you are ready to start a plan that is of your own making, please let me know."

And while he seems to be pleased with himself, I cannot help but be bothered: Bothered by the fact that he views his children as hens laying the proverbial golden eggs. Bothered that he couldn't be bothered to save up for his own retirement. Bothered that he would knowingly be dependent on other people - their income, decisions, moods, situations - in order to survive.

It was a plan, indeed: a plan that would fail because he failed to plan on his own, for his own.

None of us can see the future: who knows, Mr, X may be right. One of his kids may turn out to be the Bill Gates of the Philippines, or maybe one of them can surpass Manny Pacquiao as this country's highest earning professional boxer. But there's a reason their names and reputations precede them: they're one-of-a-kind, the kind that comes along only in the bluest of moons.

We need to impress on ourselves, and especially on our children, that we control our financial future. We need to stop being fatalistic, or depend on somebody else - whether it's the government or our offspring - to feed us. Until we make this conscious decision to prepare for our own finances and futures, we will always be reduced to begging.

Is that how you want to spend your golden years?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

On Booboos And Butthurt

More to the point, a Malaysian company's booboo, and (some) Filipinos who feel the (requisite?) "butthurt" at the perceived attack on our country, yet again.

(Courtesy of YouTube/News Graph)

I'm not sure which ad agency was it that produced this "not for public consumption yet" advertisement, that - there's no two ways about it - clearly targeted the Philippines as a less than desirable place to invest one's business in, raising four key points: unfriendly climate, safety concerns, less government support and poor infrastructure. (In case you doubt this, take a look at the video, that clearly states this, and also highlights why Malaysia is a better alternative.)

Someone put it this way in an online comment (I'm paraphrasing): it would be akin to Philippine Airlines making an ad that, given recent events, would portray Malaysian Airlines as your gateway to the afterlife, or the one airline not needing a return flight ticket. 

Even though this is a "war" between businesses, it hit a nerve that some Filipinos would probably say reeks of personalan - but I have to say, every issue that paints an unflattering picture of the country is always deemed as below-the-belt, anyway: basketball, beauty contests, treatment of our Overseas Foreign Workers (OFW), say anything not-positive, and be prepared to be accused of the R word, racism. (Even when none was intended or implied. It's immaterial to some citizens.)

However bad a taste the ad left in one's mouth, I cannot help but ask: why do we get so riled up when someone from another country makes mention of the ills we have, when we make no bones about how unhappy we are with the same points, and we criticize our own government for those exact same things, every frigging hour?

Take the ad's point about (our) poor infrastructure, and juxtapose this with countless (local) videos and news reports about the horrendous lines for our trains. We roundly hurl invective after insult against the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC), for our never ending pasakit (suffering) just to get in the station, which could take hours, all because many train cars have broken down, are poorly maintained, and if you're horribly unfortunate, you could get a ride off-track. I'm sure Secretary Abaya feels our collective loathing, but a Malaysian company says this, suddenly it's supposed to be all out war?

Just a week ago, we all expressed disgust and fear when a roadside "incident" revealed that cops were trying to extort money from supposed drug dealers, making us unsure if we can even approach our law enforcement agents. But all hell breaks lose when Aegis Malaysia (or at least the company doing their ads) says just about the same thing? (And in a more general sense, even)

Our independent film makers always lament how the government does not given any support, to the point that they have to showcase their films in other countries (some even reaping awards). How is this different from an ad - albeit done in another country - that essentially repeats this?

(I won't even touch the weather angle, for the obvious absurd reason.)

So let me see if I got this right: we can complain about how our government and public services suck rain boots, but as long as it's just us. Outside/foreign observers should never dare say the same things, things we gnash our teeth over.

Okaaaaaaay.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The iPhone6 Reminds Me Of My Mom

This morning will certainly be abuzz about the launch of the new iPhone variant, iPhone6. I can see it now: scores of online posts debating on the new features (if any) or mere upgrades and refinements of existing ones, how exorbitant the prices will be, who will be getting it as soon as it hits the shelves, etc.

(From business insider.com/ the Apple website)

All I could think of was my mom.

In particular, a life lesson she would inculcate in me many, many years before anyone even heard of the word iPhone, as this occurred in my elementary school years.

I must have been at the 4th or 5th grade, or about to enter that level. As is customary, my mom would take me and my sister out to buy the school supplies needed. (I have to confess a certain, er, predisposition to wrapping my new textbooks in plastic. As Jessica Zafra once wrote, there seems to be a secret society of book wrappers. Count me in.)

I noticed that we skipped one "ritual" that year: that of buying a new pair of shoes. The scene that I remember most from the shoe department is the sight of a saleslady in blue, carrying a mike, barking out shoe sizes to a stockroom person, and the needed shoe would just fall out of a hole in the ceiling. I would giggle because it seemed like a scene straight out of a cartoon series: an irate lady, incessant shouting, shoes falling from the sky.

My pout must have been too obvious since my mom called me out on it even before we walked out of the department store.

"Ba't ganyan mukha mo?" She asked. (Why is your face contorted that way?)

I muttered, and she asked me to speak up. "Why didn't we buy new shoes?"

She stopped walking and turned to me, sensing this was going to take a little explaining: "Because you still don't need a new pair."

"But we always buy a new pair every school year."

"That's true. We did. But remember last year, when we bought a new pair that was a half size larger than you were used to? That was in anticipation of this year, when it would still fit you, even if your foot size grew."

"So...is that why I was using extra thick socks last year?"

She smiled. "Yes. That way, you won't be too bothered with a shoe that was slightly larger than what you'd usually get. Besides, your shoe is still in good condition, right?"

I looked down while I said my next statement: "But everyone will be in new shoes...and they'll know I didn't buy new ones."

"If they're the kind of friends who think you are worth less just because you don't have new shoes, then you need new friends. Why, when I was in school, Angkong (Grandpa) would ask me to have the same shoe from my older sister repaired. And by then, I was getting it from two older sisters. You're lucky because at least it's still your own shoe."

I remember thinking what a cheapskate my mom was at that time, but over the years, she would instill this lesson in us again and again: in the bags we used, our trusty Isuzu Gemini which we had for 15 years (my mom sold it to a car collector who was floored by how well maintained it was after all that time), or the clothes we had.

You could say that my active dislike of anything trendy or labeled Right Now has its roots in what my mom taught me early on: differentiating between a need and a want. And that if something can still be used, there's no sense throwing it away, just because a newer version has come along.

Fast forward to today, and I know for certain that there will be people discarding their iPhone 5's for no other reason than "there's a new version out." I actually got to talk to one of them, and the justification he gave me (at that time, he was moving from iPhone 4 to 5) was that "I'm selling my old one, anyway, so it's not like I'm paying full price for the new model. In a way, I'm being smart about it, having someone subsidize my new phone."

"I suppose you can think of it that way," I said. "But, you can't sell it at the same price you bought it, it will be way lower since the new model is out, and since the new model has supposedly better features, it will be more expensive than the last iteration. So, you'd be shelling out more and more money out as each new variant comes."

"Ano bang paki no? Eh, pera ko naman to!" (What do you care? It's my money!)

"Don't get me wrong, I know it's your money to burn. But I can't help but see the discrepancy in your financial goals, when you have indicated to me that you don't have too much money in your savings for emergencies and rainy days, but you seem to have ready cash to spend once a new iPhone is out."

"You're only young once, so live it like it's your last, right?"

He will undoubtedly be one of those lining up for the iPhone6. And I also have no doubt that his savings account has not increased by much. How can it take off, when every year, like clockwork, a tech company is getting his funds, an amount that could ensure a comfortable emergency fund and even an excellent start to a good retirement account, if only he began saving these amounts since the iPhone first came out?

At an average of at least 40k per model, that's a total of 200k for 5 models. Even if you were able to sell these older models at half the price, that would still mean a missed opportunity of saving at least 100k.

And for something you don't really need. Which is in contrast to an emergency fund. Or a fund for health concerns. Or protecting your family, with kids aged 7, 5 and 3. Any parent who would deem getting a new phone more imperative than ensuring their family's financial well being should have their parental privileges - yes, parenthood is a privilege - revoked.

As Tim Cook entices the Philippine market to give out 40k once again for their company's newest darling, I would like to give a shout out to my mom, who gave me a lesson that can only be described as priceless.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Day I Saw A Parenting Fail Before My Eyes

(Courtesy of izismile.com)

As part of my birthday celebration, we gathered - yet again - for more food, and this time, over a buffet that claims to span the entire world. (They tried. A for Effort.) So there I was, happily munching on my sashimi - the one item I almost always am sure will be on my plate - when I heard giggling from the next table.

I looked over and my jaw literally dropped at what was about to transpire.

Some siblings (wearing almost identical clothing), probably aged 8 to about 15, were laughing because they picked up the sticky label of a bottled water from the floor. They were passing it on to each other so they were squealing so as not to be "stuck" by it. Then one of the siblings saw a potential victim.

An elderly woman, heavy-set and limping because she seemed to have a foot ailment, who was walking very slowly while eyeing the buffet spread and gingerly placing items on her plate. (It seemed like even her arm mobility was similarly compromised.)

He started following the woman, mimicking her actions from behind, which elicited even more laughter from the other siblings. Then he ran back to their table, grabbed the bottled water sticker/label, then placed it on the back of the elderly woman - who probably had slower reflexes and did not realize what had just transpired. The three siblings then started pointing at the woman and laughed out hysterically, even dancing behind her back, with so much glee.

Just as I was beginning to frown, the parents went over to see why they were making so much noise. Finally, I thought, someone will straighten them out.

The father saw the sticker behind the woman's back, then asked one of the children, "Who did this? Did you do this?"

The guilty child looked woeful and muttered, "Yeah, I did."

Then the father erupted in laughter.

He then explained what happened to his wife, who then joined in on the laughter.

Just when I thought this unreal scene couldn't get any lower, the father then rushed back to the table (where they had a maid waiting): "Yung camera, bilis! Kunan natin tapos ipost natin mamaya! Hahaha!" (Get the camera, quick! Let's post this online later!)

I guess my death stare hasn't been functioning well, because I bored my gaze right through the parents, who seemed oblivious. (Operative word seemed, because I know that they knew I was giving them the evil eye, but they pretended not to notice.)

I turned around and got up my seat to remove the sticker from the old woman's dress, but she was lost in a sea of people fighting it out for tempura, Indian curry and mushroom lasagna.

When I took my seat again, the parents were high-fiving their kids, beaming with pride.

Just because you can procreate doesn't mean you should.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

It's Official: I'm Retro

(Courtesy of pinterest.com)

For my friends who I've already told this snippet to, bear with me.

I was driving along C-5 one hectic afternoon, and when I turned on the radio, Waterfalls by TLC was playing. I got out my rusty pipes and started singing my heart out - I was in the privacy of my own car, anyway, and not mutilating a song over a videoke machine, inducing homicidal rage in the neighborhood cats - and when the song ended, the DJ then said, "That was Waterfalls, from the girl group TLC...part of our Retro Day!"

 Whatthehell.

The first thing that shot through my mind was, this is NOT retro. Hello. Retro would be bell bottoms, Saturday Night Fever, ABBA...until the DJ continued her spiel: "This song is 20 years old...all the way back from 1994."

What the hell, indeed. And for this DJ - who might have been barely a toddler when this song debuted, this really was a blast from the past. I've mulled about this for some time, and I think the reason I reacted so strongly is because of what it means in terms of how many years have gone by in my own life.

When talk of retro and revisits are front and center, another R word comes to the forefront: relevance. Am I no longer relevant? Will I be replaced by someone more relevant? Are my contributions less relevant now that I'm older? As my birthday tomorrow signals the inevitability of time marching on, and this being the last year I can cling on to the statement "I'm in my thirties," I find myself wondering what the hell it is I've learned about life so far.

With no embellishments, or lengthy explanations, this is what I've come up so far.

1. Life isn't fair, and it doesn't give a flying fig. Suck it up.
2. Happiness/being positive about any SNAFU is sometimes a choice. Sometimes it's hypocrisy/a lie.
3. Feelings are more important than the pop treatment we see portrayed in TV and movies. Always listen to them.
4. Families come in so much, much, much more shapes and forms than the traditional mode. In fact, the "normal, regular" family - one pop, one mum, 2 and a half kids - might soon be like Caucasians in America, a minority. Not one is better than the other. Period.
5. We all have sh*t and baggage to deal with. Knowing this helps in imbibing empathy. But sometimes, people use it as their get-out-of-everything-free-card.
6. 1000 Friends in Facebook doesn't mean you have that number of friends. The real ones are extremely rare. Seriously.
7. I've knocked fashion and material things - but let me quote a friend: "When you're sad and crying, it's better to be and do so inside a Mercedes Benz than on a tricycle with 5 other people crammed into a space meant for 2."
8. It's not wrong to want more, earn more, have more. It's just politically incorrect to declare the same.
9. Never work with friends, if you value your friendship more.
10. If you've found the one, hang on until your fingernails fall off. Besides, kung talaga siya nga, you won't have to. 

Older, not necessarily wiser, but learning that even the most effed up experiences have their value. I can live with being labeled retro - while listening to some really great music.