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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Call For Financial Literacy

Having woken up a little later than usual, I decided to hail a cab (which is not so easy a task in Makati, where everyone seems to be hailing one). Thankfully, I was able to snag one as our area has a nearby tambayan for taxi drivers.

As I occupied the back seat, I noticed the driver had to be pushing 60, at least. He was definitely hard of hearing as he had to ask me twice for my destination, and he drove in a rather tentative manner. No, it wasn't because he had just gotten his license, but rather, he had a hard time turning his head to watch for oncoming vehicles. His reflexes - or lack of it - gave me pause, but since I needed a ride ASAP, I considered myself lucky enough to have snagged a cab.

As a financial advisor, I am confronted on a daily basis of an uncomfortable truth: so much of this country's population cannot afford to retire.

At a time when we should be savoring the fruits of the labor we have toiled for decades, people like my taxi driver that day are still working because they don't have a choice.

(Courtesy of

It's easy enough to pass it off as "unavoidable": prices keep going up, the exchange rate is dismal, the government keeps piling on taxes, family members keep asking for help, loans have to be paid, etc. Much of these factors are beyond our individual control, so it behooves us all to ask ourselves:

What part of our finances can we control?

And did we do our part in matters within our control, to ensure that we will see an end to working out of need, at an age when we are, to use that phrase, put out to pasture?

I submit that much of our financial woes are due to the fact that our financial literacy is quite low. And while I'm sure our parents, in one way or another, did impart to us some "tips" on saving money - like turning off the iron 30 minutes before you're through pressing clothes, or having us open "kiddie" bank accounts - we don't seem to have a formal structure for learning about finances in our educational institutions.

We are unaware - and thoroughly unprepared - for how pervasive the matter of financial management will permeate all of our adult lives.

It contributes to why we have so many OFWs, or people having more than one job: we aren't earning enough, we aren't saving enough, we fall for the "easy way out" - using credit cards and going to loan sharks as a way to cope with financial demands, not realizing the grave we are digging ourselves, we don't keep track of our expenses and continue railing against the wages we get but don't find it contradictory that we will pull out all the stops just to have the latest Galaxy or iPhone model.

I wish our schools taught us the basics of personal finance. I remember taking up Economics in third year high school, but that isn't the kind of education I'm referring to. Yes, it's important to know what comprises the Gross National Product, but it is essential and vital to realize why we should save first before spending.

I was taught that inflation means being able to buy less goods with the same 100 pesos I had in 1984, but no one told me about why finding the right savings or investment vehicle is vital in blunting the effects of inflation.

And while some parents always run away when an insurance agent comes around, you only need to see the survivors of Yolanda, Ondoy and countless other calamities on TV wailing "Paano na kami?!? Siya lang ang bumubuhay sa amin, kinuha pa siya?!?" to realize how important risk management is for all families.

My line of work has given me a glimpse into some very interesting financial habits, and by interesting, I mean quizzical.

I was able to talk to a call center agent who told me she was hard pressed to save a thousand pesos every month, but during the course of our conversation, proudly reveals that she spent 25,000 pesos a few months back to see a foreign pop act, "the best show I've ever seen!"

Or the fashion ingenue who had all the designer bags, clothes and accessories a human body can carry, but revealed to me that it was all on installment basis, and that her relatively large salary is already bondaged to three credit card companies for at least 3 years.

So it's quite amazing to be able to meet an office worker - who earns a little over 20,000 pesos a month - who is able to invest almost half a million in one fell swoop, proof that what matters is not what you have, but what you do with it.

It is often said that education is the key to a better life.

And an important life lesson I wish everyone learns early on is that we have to take control of our finances, lest they take control of our lives.

1 comment:

  1. I agree to this, I am one of those who have more than one job. I wish I am good at handling my finances.