I often say in my articles that Filipinos refuse to mend their ways. That includes not only their habits with Pinoy Pride, but also their habits with money. We attribute poverty in the country to many things.
But for me, one of the obvious things that people tend to gloss over is that Filipinos tend to keep themselves poor with poor money-managing habits. Filipinos tend to be careless with money, and often fail to use it in ways that generate wealth. They like to blame other reasons or other people for their poverty, but often, Filipinos refuse to admit their own mistakes.
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I believe the poor money habits of Filipinos can be blamed on these reasons:
1. Wasteful habits have been ingrained into Filipino Culture as tradition and custom.
Most obvious of this is the Fiesta tradition, wherein Filipinos seem compelled to come out with grand feasts, even to the point of driving themselves into debt. Some people will reason that because of the relative poverty of Filipinos, they deserve a momentary escape out of this misery. The problem is, this very means of escape not only brings false happiness, but it may also further drive them into that poverty, as the means by which they make this escape are expensive. In other words, Filipinos tend to shoot themselves twice in the foot with their traditions.
There is also this Filipino cultural meme of one person treating people out. I’ll call it the En grandeng painom sa kanto (grand drinkout at the street corner). This is reflected in one thing I hated about Filipino birthdays, that the celebrator is the one to treat people. Quite the opposite of the western tradition that other people pool together to give something to the celebrator. Sometimes, I think this tradition was created to keep people poor. Some people may say, this is to teach people to share their blessings. However, I think it has the side effect of making people expect these “blessings” nearly every time, encouraging mendicancy.
It also reflects an attitude of “one-for-all,” as in one person provides for several people. It seems to be a fixture in Philippine society, like in the family, where one provides for all. This is different from the attitude of other cultures saying that it is better for each person work for their own keep. Don’t depend on others, and teach others to work. Unfortunately, it seems Filipino culture deems this wrong and seems to make it normal that many should depend on one. Making them work is even considered evil. This attitude also contributes to mendicancy.
2. Sense of Entitlement
Consumerism is furthered by the notorious “sense of entitlement” that seems so common in Filipinos. Some Filipinos, when they want something they don’t need, will just say, “I deserve it,” with no valid explanation on why. Sometimes, this sense of entitlement is played upon by media and advertising, which Filipino consumers swallow hook, line and sinker. Filipinos can want things that they not only can do without, but may actually be harmful for them.
I have noticed, especially among old people (those who were young in the 50s and 60s), that some Filipinos value opulence. A display of wealth. For example, I noticed my mom, when we had our house reconstructed, she wanted designs that looked extravagant or expensive. She frowned on the simple, minimalist designs that tended to be cheaper. I’ve seen several people of the older generation who were like that. It supports my feeling that consumerism and opulence were ingrained in people in the 1950s, when American consumerism started taking the world by storm.
Columnist and artist Marivic Rufino wrote on this attitude of opulence in her article Flaunt It . Even just her intro sentences tell a lot: “The status seeker, the bored, spoiled dilettante and the arriviste share common characteristics. They live and spend extravagantly — sometimes, beyond their means. Making an impression and attracting attention matter to these shallow characters. The adrenaline high derived from an audience is addicting (KSP is the root of all evil, remember?)” And, in the end, like all those who are wise, she says it is all meaningless and vain.
Filipino emotionalism seems to play a large role in the above attitudes. Filipinos like to feel more than they think. Thinking is a task, it means having to work your brain. Many Filipinos do not like to work their brain; they just want comfort without working for it, which for some means to do nothing and receive dole-outs from others. This causes them to want the easy way, as business columnist John Mangun wrote of the tricycle drivers victimized by the Aman Futures scandal.
They also tend to get into the dig of a highly emotional promotion easily, as Marivic Rufino notes. Emotional extremes seem more attractive to Pinoys. Spending can give an emotional high, and some commercial promotions tend to take advantage of that. Or perhaps spending, then showing something that other people might be jealous of (“inggit”) gives them an emotional high. As Ms. Rufino would agree, it is empty.
We always hear the slogan, “live within your means”. It however seems that Filipinos are among the first to disregard this advice. It seems that living within one’s means is an insult to Filipinos – especially if they are poor. Most Filipinos still dream of opulent lifestyles, and feel that they deserve them.
With all this, perhaps I can add a fourth reason why Filipinos can have poor money habits.
Ego. When a person wants to be the the center of attention because of wealth, this is pride at work. Pride remains the center of all wrongdoing. It can be the cause of corruption, since after all, after embezzling the money, they go on to buy opulent stuff. It can also be seen as the cause of the shallowness of Filipinos which in turn leads to poor money-making habits. Yes, greed can be part of it, but that greed is often because people want to be proud of something. It makes them covets the things that they feel can make them proud, build their ego, but they sometimes hurt people while trying to get them.Business columnist John Mangun identifies wealth building attitudes in one of his very useful articles. In the article, he describes a certain experiment where a homeless man is given some money. The man, instead of investing, does exactly what the above describes: treats out friends, buys expensive but useless stuff. He didn’t even buy a house. In the end, Mangun mentions that the man never had the right attitude toward money.
While Mangun talks of a positive kind of greed, I think that it just a desire to be non-poor, or rich without pride. Practical richness. Perhaps that is the attitude the Filipinos should emulate.
Now that Christmas is around the corner, the Filipino’s consumerist habits will again be at their high. But it’s also the best time for Filipinos to take a good look at their culture, and their habits, and think, what should I change? Perhaps it should start with pride.
I believe, as my cohorts here do, that what Filipinos embrace as their culture is what actually pulls the country down. And those who seem to be anti-dictators, who may also believe themselves to be “heroes,” are the real dictators.