How to Build a Strong Financial Foundation as an OFW
Updated: Oct 28, 2021
Congratulations! You just got confirmation that your contract has been finalized and you will now get to work overseas! After months, even years of job search and interviewing, not to mention researching and planning, you finally got an offer lucrative enough to entice you to leave the Philippines for greener pastures.
Your mind is now filled with visions of a better life. The future looks so much brighter. Somehow, the sun is so much sunnier. You are full of optimism and magnanimity, saying yes to a parent’s request for new home appliances and agreeing to finance your sibling’s children’s school fees.
You can’t wait to leave the Philippines and get to work ASAP, earn them dollars, and start buying things you and your family have only dreamed of.
In the excitement of things, you forget one crucial thing: money is a finite resource.
Money does not grow on trees and if you fail to plan properly, you risk spending the rest of your working life abroad just to keep up with runaway expenses and likely to go back home to the Philippines without anything to your name.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Luckily, you’re here now. In this post, I outlined the things you should be doing to secure your future by laying down your financial foundation while still preparing to leave the Philippines to work abroad.
COME UP WITH FIGURES
First things first: you need to temper your excitement with a strong dose of reality. You need to have a clear picture of what your financial situation will be once you’re deployed, including how much you will be receiving each payday, your living expenses, and any fixed financial commitments back home and in your country of deployment. At this stage, it is hard to come up with exact amounts but try your hardest to arrive at a reasonable estimate. These figures will serve as your basis for financial planning. These will be the basis of how much money you can set aside for savings and investments, as well as disposable income for fun things like travel, gifts for loved ones, and helping extended family.
Calculate how much you'll receive every payday
Based on your contract, compute how much you will receive every payday. Depending on your country of deployment, you may have to consider into your calculations income taxes, mandatory contributions, and other deductions. Include fixed bonuses and other benefits that you are entitled to and take note when you will be receiving them. For instance, holiday bonuses are usually received towards the end of the year, mid-year bonuses are of course, distributed in the middle of the year. Include the time when the income will come into your pocket in the planning. Don’t include in your computations non-fixed income and bonuses such as overtime pay or commissions. For planning purposes, compute how much you will regularly receive so that you can fix your budget accordingly.
Estimate your living expenses
You need to find out how much you will be spending for living expenses. Try to get reasonable estimates by contacting people you know who work in the same country, Filipino coworkers, or by checking the cost of living information available online from websites like Numbeo. Of course, while you want to reduce your living expenses, don’t use the lowest possible cost during this stage of financial assessment. Even if you know someone who was able to subsist on rice and beans for their entire stay abroad, don’t budget for that same level, even if you do plan on just eating rice and beans during your entire stay overseas. Assume that you will be eating the same way, buying the same clothes, and engaging in the same hobbies as before. This applies even if your housing and food expenses are shouldered by your employer. You should still budget for things that you commonly spend money on such as personal toiletries, gadgets, communication expenses, and entertainment, like your Netflix subscription. Why? Because moving into a new country is stressful enough as it is without the added stress of just suddenly cutting off some minor luxuries from your life. Sooner or later, you will break your tight budget, which may demoralize you. Extreme budgeting is not sustainable.
Financial commitments and payments
Many of those who decide to work abroad do so because of various commitments to loved ones. Some of these most common commitments include sending siblings to college, building dream homes for long-suffering parents, and saving up to start a family business. These are your reasons for leaving the comfort of your home country and the company of loved ones. Because you’re sacrificing so much, you should keep these commitments foremost in your mind and include them in your fixed expenses list. These are your non-negotiables that you need to set aside money for. I have to clarify though that even if you prioritize these commitments, it does not mean that you give in to requests or lambing, indiscriminately. You have to be able to differentiate between needs and wants. Again, money is finite and sooner or later, your contract will end and you need to go back home. Even if you plan on staying longer abroad, contract renewal is not guaranteed and finding a new place of work can take longer than expected. Aside from these fixed financial commitments to loved ones, you should also take note of fixed payments. For example, if you bought an insurance policy to protect your family in case of your untimely demise, you should include that in your budget. This also include contributions to government programs that you want to take advantage of while abroad like Pag-Ibig MP2, Philhealth, or SSS.
By now, you should have a clearer picture of your financial situation once you are deployed abroad.
You would already have a reasonable calculation of your monthly (or bi-monthly) income.
From this amount, subtract your living expenses and fixed expenses.
The difference will be your money for savings, investments, and disposable income.
Hopefully, writing down these numbers and doing these calculations will make the numbers more real for you and your family. You will realize that you still need to work hard for your money, even if said money is now in a different currency. This exercise will probably douse some sense into you and dampen your and your family’s newfound optimism. It’s better to face all these realities before you leave the country. This way, you know what you will be facing, how much you will be earning, and make plans for the future instead of laboring under the delusion that you have a lot of money when in fact, you just don’t know how to do maths. Take this time to talk to your spouse, parents, or whoever depend on you and be frank with them. Tell them how much you can reasonably provide AFTER your fixed commitments, in case they plan on bringing up some extra requests since “nasa abroad naman si ate/kuya/mommy/daddy/tito/tita.” Be sure to be clear who much you can and cannot afford. You also have to be careful about making your dependents understand the value of money. Based on my experience and observation, many people engage in magical thinking when it comes to money. People most susceptible to this are those who have no experience handling (relatively) huge amounts. Because of their inexperience, their perception of the value of money is skewed. They think that Php 100,000 is an unimaginably large amount since they have never handled so much in their lives. But if you’re living abroad, Php 100,000 is not as much because the cost of living is different.
EDUCATE YOURSELF ON GOVERNMENT BENEFITS
After doing the hard work of confronting your financial reality once you work abroad, you need to start finding out how to take advantage of programs the Philippine government has put into place to take care of OFWs. These programs are designed to be accessible and affordable since one of their main goals is to serve and support OFWs and their families. Through these programs, you, as an OFW, can:
Secure your family’s health through PhilHealth;
Prepare for the worst with OWWA;
Fund your mid-term savings with Pag-IBIG MP2;
Invest for retirement through PERA;
Supplement your pension through SSS Flexi Fund; and
Educate your dependents with TESDA and OWWA
Here’s a helpful infographic that you can refer to for the benefits you should be maximizing:
Working abroad is probably one of the biggest decisions you will make in your life. Make sure your sacrifices are well compensated. You should plan carefully and lay down your financial foundation even before you leave home by following the tips I shared above. My tips are based on my own experiences, discussions, and observations with other OFWs and are designed to give you a clear picture of what you can expect abroad in terms of cash flow, as well as arm you with the information you’ll need to have an honest discussion about money with your dependents. Equally important, if you follow the tips in this post, you will be ready to start investing as soon as you are able. You will hit the ground running since you are ready to go by setting up the banking and trading logistics ahead of time. You can start investing in Philippine stocks, mutual funds, and other investment instruments once you complete these steps.