“I’m stuck between I need to save money and you only live once (YOLO)”
I came across this funny quote and it made me reflect on my experiences as an OFW’s wife. I experienced being a one-day millionaire at times when the remittance would arrive, but also a pauper weeks later waiting for the next payment.
It was particularly hard for me because I had to adjust from having much more to living with much less. When my husband left to work abroad in 2014, I still had a fulltime job that paid quite well and I received my salary twice in a month.
There was a significant positive change in our finances. Just a few months in, he bought us the latest smartphones and he resolved to come home twice a year, at his own expense, even for two weeks only. We then acquired a second-hand car so we could go around local tourist destinations. We went as far as up north of the Philippines in Vigan and Pagudpud which cost us unexpected hotel incidentals. We had road trips in Central Luzon and dined in fancy restaurants.
In 2016, he booked a trip to Singapore for the entire family. Each time he came home, he had pasalubong for relatives and friends. To state the obvious, we definitely seized the moment!
After some time, however, my job as a teacher was wearing me out; not only because of the take-home paperwork but more of my desire to be a hands-on mom to my children. I wanted to be able to compensate for the absence of their father. I did not have time to cook so I relied on take–out food, which was not always healthy and it was also getting costly for the budget. It was also difficult to get someone trustworthy to help me with the kids.
I found myself often falling ill so I had to miss work. But even if I had to skip going to work, it was hard to avoid my mommy duties. I was guilt-laden during the few times that the kids had to take care of me when I was too sick to move about. It was a bitter pill to swallow that I was not doing good in work-life integration. Eventually, I had to make a tough choice. My decision to take a sabbatical leave was unconventional for some because that meant I was not going to earn for the duration of my leave.
Hence, began one of my roughest transition, so far, from a modern career woman who was used to having her own money and making her own decisions to a stay-at-home-mom who had to be financially dependent.
I realized how financially immature we were as a married couple, as we had no savings and I was not mentally and emotionally prepared for the experience.
I was struggling during the first few months as the remittance came in once a month only. When I was working, I planned our expenses within a two-week period and the days came by so swiftly. When I went to the grocery, I did not have a list. The kids and I enjoyed picking up things that seemed interesting or delicious.
But now, waiting for a monthly remittance seems like an eternity as the expenses seem to snowball each day. My grocery list is already written down even while waiting for the allowance. It’s funny that, sometimes, the list becomes shorter each month.
After some time, I somehow learned how to stay afloat with the family budget. I learned to work within a financial plan which involved plotting each and every due date and taking note of every expense no matter how small. It was a trial and error strategy.
I guess this is what financial trends, forecast, and analysis are all about (Pun intended!).
What made things worse at times was when I feel down and out. I am not used to this. I am not also used to asking for money from my husband and I don’t even know how to say it when there is a shortage. I feel embarrassed and powerless. To be honest, I haven’t bought any new clothes, shoes nor make-up for myself in over a year now. I don’t have a “me-budget” compared to everyone and everything else having their own column in the excel spreadsheet.
I started to look into ways on how to augment the family income hoping I could have some money for myself. I tried to venture into selling cooked and baked stuff that I made myself but I found a lot of competition. I also tried arts and crafts which I also enjoyed doing but did not interest many.
The more I was thinking of ways to earn, the more I was reminded why I had to take a leave in the first place. I didn’t have enough time to allot between taking care of the family, the household and making an income. Running the household is a big feat in itself while the chores never seem to end.
My husband suggested that we get a helper and he was willing to add that to our monthly budget. Of course, I declined the offer! I don’t know why I did not say it, but I wanted to tell him, “can’t you just give me that money for the all the things that I do?”
I guess that’s one of the harsh realities of a wife and mother. Maids and housekeepers are paid for the same things a stay-at-home-mom would do on her own, but would not be paid. Why? I don’t want to know the answer. When I want to buy something that is not on the monthly list, I will have to make sure I find other ways to come up with the money. Maybe I have heard enough stories to scare me about other OFW wives who are admonished by their husbands when they don’t adhere to the monthly allotment.
It can be depressing at times to accept that money does cost too much. Sometimes I think that the reason I find it hard to manage the monthly remittance that I am entrusted with is that my children have been used to a lifestyle when we had more to spend. It is even more heartbreaking for me as a mom to make my children learn to live with less.
Being stuck between needing to save money and wanting to seize the moment (YOLO) somehow doesn’t seem funny anymore.
If there is anything I have learned from living on remittance, it’s that prudence and frugality are virtues that an OFW wife should possess.