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Friday, October 31, 2014

A Fine Apple This Day

As I was about to close my Facebook News Feed, my eye caught an article shared by a friend who lives in Mindanao: Apple CEO Tim Cook has come out of the closet.

Apple CEO Tim Cook
(Courtesy of

I needed to hear it from him directly, so I searched out for the article he wrote for Bloomberg Businessweek entitled Tim Cook Speaks Up. He talks about how inherently private he is as a person but he now realizes that it is imperative that he be public about his sexual orientation. 

It was this particular passage that resonated the most. "I don't consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I've benefited from the sacrifice of others. So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it's worth the trade-off with my own privacy."

I first heard the phrase "the personal is the political" at a time when Debbie Gibson and Tiffany were battling it out to be The teen pop sensation. At the time, I never made much of it. But as I grew more interested and involved with how politics is played out in our country, that phrase has come back to remind me of its veracity, over and over, and what it signifies to me is that the causes I champion and will continue to fight for have values that are dear to who I am and what I deem important.

When I support laws that will empower and encourage women to report rapes, it is because I firmly believe in equality, and any act that seeks to highlight femaleness as a weakness to be exploited must be arrested. 

I strongly championed for the Reproductive Health Bill to be passed, because I believe that what you do and what happens to your body is your decision, not the government's, nor any religion's to make. 

And when I speak out against politicians who have been in power for decades, fielding their spouses, children, uncles and even assistants to "take their place" because they've reached the amount of terms they can stay in a particular elective position, it's because (1) our Constitution prohibits political dynasties and (2) public office is a trust, not a birthright to be passed down like royalty.

So when Tim Cook announced he has come out, I couldn't help but wonder: what kind of backlash would he be getting for being open about who he is? 

Make no mistake: coming out is a political act. It is a decision that no gay person takes lightly, because of the horrible repercussions that may ensue once it is done.

You can be denied a job, or fired from your current one, just for stating this.

You automatically define yourself as "abnormal" in a statistical sense, although some sectors would gleefully remind us that, in their unscientific view, this abnormality extends to our mental faculties, or worse, that we have been "possessed" by an evil spirit and that an exorcism must be performed posthaste.

There's the (ridiculous) notion that gay men shouldn't work in banks because they'll be stealing nonstop for their papas. (Boyfriends) If that's true, then our banking system should have collapsed a long time ago, because I personally know many bankers who are gay. And in high ranking positions, too.

I have been together with my partner for 18 years (which I wrote about a few months back, and it was published by Rappler) - and from what my straight friends tell me, that is an achievement whether one identifies as straight or gay, in these times - but we are not offered any legal protection nor benefits, hospitals can bar either one of us should we need to be confined in a medical facility, and we can't declare each other as beneficiaries in our insurance policies because, despite sharing bank accounts, mortgage payments and silverware, we are not legally recognized as having "insurable interest".

The rejection by our own family - the people who we were taught would stand by us, no matter what - would probably rank as the highest cost that one incurs as a result of coming out. And in a society as family-centric such as ours (not to mention our predilection to ignore privacy boundaries), this is cause for great stress and strain for the individual, who is facing the rejection and at the same time is being blamed for "tearing this family apart!"

As I looked at the local comments on social media about Cook's announcement, it dawned on me just how far we have to go, to the destination being A Time When Sexual Orientation Doesn't Matter One Bit.

There are comments about why the iPhone 6 bends - "no wonder, the CEO is gay!"

A little hand wringing about "bakit ba ang daming baklaaaaa?!?" (Why are there so many gay men?)

But most of the negative feedback stemmed from a statement that Cook himself wrote: "I'm proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts that God has given me." It didn't matter that Cook never specified which God he was referring to. Each comment simply assumed that they shared the same faith and that Cook was an evil man.

"God punished Sodom and Gomorrah! Apple is next!"

"How dare you take the Lord's name in vain! You're going to hell!"

"Nakakasuka ka! Ipinagmalaki mo pa kabadingan mo!" (You disgust me! You dared flaunt your homosexuality!)

It didn't matter that Cook must have worked his butt off - bad pun, I know - to get to where he is now, commanding a company that is admired worldwide. (Even Android users have to agree - albeit begrudgingly - that Apple has the loyalty card played to a tee.) Cook even frames his declaration as just a mere facet of who he is, "an engineer, an uncle, a nature lover, a fitness nut, a son of the South, a sports fanatic, and many other things," but that doesn't mean anything to these people who fancy themselves as definitive moral guardians who must bend this world to their world view.

Personally, I'm happy that a successful man who didn't need to come out decided to do so. Every act of coming out represents a chipping of the "quaint" world view, the one that likes to paint gay people as loud, obnoxious, flamboyant, good for laughs and not much else, sex-starved and driven only by lust, child molesters and irresponsible good-for-nothing members of this world. 

We aren't there yet, but one day, sexual orientation won't matter. I doubt I will see it in my lifetime; but then again, I never thought I'd see an African American be President on the USA. Twice. 

Anytime I feel optimistic, what grounds me is that we are one of only 2 countries in the world that still doesn't have divorce and some of us still giggle when we say the word "condom". We are supposed to be a secular democracy but Senate meetings begin with a prayer. So, the road may be longer for this country.

But I'm much more interested in the road that Cook is trying to build. At the end of his piece, he reveals that he has pictures of Dr. King and Robert F. Kennedy in his office. "All it does is allow me to look at those pictures and know I'm doing my part, however small, to help others. We pave the sunlit path toward justice together, brick by brick. This is my brick."

As Aesop's Tortoise showed us, slow but sure wins the race. Brick by brick, towards equality.

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.)


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'.


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

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?