Rethinking Your Spending Habits During Recession

Here’s an article I wrote on how you can cope with the current economic crisis.

You’ve probably been spending freely like me before the global economic crisis hit us. Compulsively shopping, frequently going out for dinner, regularly watching movies, getting hour-long massages at spas, drinking designer coffee…

I used to do these things a lot before the recession happened, and I bet I’m not the only one.

Since then, I have managed to tighten my belt just enough so that I could still indulge once in a while but not as much as I used to. There was a big change with my spending habits. Instead of going to the movie theater once a week, I would just wait for the film in DVD. Instead of eating at a fancy restaurant, I would just settle for some fast food. And instead of shopping every weekend, I would just wait for the occasional sale. Even if the recession brought a drastic change to my lifestyle, I believe it has taught me to become more practical and more prudent with my finances.

Here are some tips on how to rethink your spending habits during the recession:

Cut Back on Luxuries

First, list down all your daily expenses so you can figure out what to cut back on. Of course you have to spend for your basic needs like food, clothing and your living expenses. But do you really have to buy designer duds? Or do you really, really need to go to Starbucks everyday? You could live without these luxuries, you just need to do some adjusting.

Buy Used or Refurbished Items

You don’t always have to buy brand new. It’s perfectly fine to get a second hand items as long as you check that they’re it’s in good condition. For instance, if you’re in the market for a car, instead of getting brand new wheels, you could get a used sedan for a fraction of the price. Aside from spending less, you’d also contribute less carbon footprint (Mother Earth would thank you for it.) The same goes for refurbished gadgets like computers and mp3 players.

Ask for Promos or Discounts

Internet, cell phone and cable providers usually offer promotions from time to time. All you have to do is ask about it. Even restaurants and stores sometimes have ongoing promos or discounts. Again, just ask – you’ll have nothing to lose if you do. I actually tried asking for a discount at a sports store once and they gave me an additional 10% off at the counter. I was pleasantly surprised when they granted my request. It could happen to you too.

Pay in Cash

When you’re buying something, I suggest that you pay in cash rather than charge it to your credit card so that it would be easier to keep track of your finances. You’ll know exactly how much money you have left and not be in any risk of credit card debt. Even if these cards are convenient to have around, it’s also risky to have one especially if you have a tendency to go wild with your spending. At least when you’re using cash, you’ll know when to stop – when there’s nothing left in your wallet anymore.

Since the world is still experiencing financial crisis, you can’t do away with spending freely anymore. You can’t just sit back and relax. You need to adjust to the circumstances and welcome change in your life. You need to re-think your spending habits so you can stay afloat of the situation. After all, you don’t know when the recession would end. That’s why you should physically and mentally prepare yourself for whatever may happen. In the meantime, why don’t you try out my suggestions above so you’ll be equipped to face the financial challenges ahead?

(Published in www.PepperVirtualAssistant.com, October 19, 2009)

Typhoon Ketsana: The Aftermath

Here’s a piece I wrote a couple of days after Typhoon Ketsana hit Metro Manila and left it underwater.

No one was prepared for the wrath that typhoon Ketsana (local name Ondoy) released when it hit the Philippines last September 26, 2009. That was the day when Metro Manila experienced the worst rainfall in its history. Imagine getting 341 mm or 13.4 inches of rainfall in just a matter of six hours. That’s about a month’s worth of rainfall that the country usually gets. And although the Philippines is no stranger to typhoons, this was, by far, the worst ever and the one that left the most destruction.

From 8 AM to 2 PM that day, practically the whole of Metro Manila turned into a water world. The water filled the streets, underpasses, major highways, and buildings and residences. People were forced to seek higher ground – on top of their cars, rooftops and whatever stable structure they could get a hold of. And even if you get to the top, you’ll still feel scared when you see what’s happening on the ground – people needing rescue, objects being swallowed by the raging waters, parked cars moving along with the waves (yes, there were waves on the streets that used to be solid and dry). It wasn’t a pretty sight. I guess you really can’t put it to words. I think this video would tell it all.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcbTckGR-1o&feature=fvst]

This was taken inside a local hospital somewhere in Manila.

Typhoon Ketsana spared no one. Everyone was affected – the old, the young, the wealthy, the poor… The worst hit areas were Marikina, Rizal and Pasig, where the water level reached the second floor and people got stranded on the rooftops for hours, and others even more than 24 hours. They were drenched, cold, hungry and scared to death. Even when the rains stopped, rescue efforts couldn’t get to them right away because these areas became impassable and vehicles couldn’t get through. Those who had relatives on these areas braved the rains and the floods and went there on foot in the hope of rescuing them. The good thing that came out of this was that strangers were helping each other out – risking their lives to keep the others safe.

Even if the typhoon has already left the country, what happened is still fresh in the minds of the Filipinos. Ketsana left about 80% of Metro Manila underwater, more than a quarter of a million people displaced, more than two hundred dead, and millions worth of damage. The clean up has already begun and relief operations are ongoing. The Internet became a big tool in getting donations from other Filipinos abroad who wanted to help. People are updating their Facebook, Twitter and other sites on how to send donations over. A lot have responded, not only fellow Filipinos but other nationalities as well, even popular personalities like Demi Moore and Josh Groban have called for help to donate through their Twitter accounts.

Despite everything though, many Filipinos are thankful for having survived this ordeal, including the Pepper team who are all safe and sound – thank God. This tragedy has brought out the best in many Filipinos. Those who are able have been donating their time, effort and money to those in need. As of now, many individuals and groups have set up relief efforts by accepting donations and distributing them to the affected areas, because the residents there practically have to start from scratch since their homes were destroyed. If you want to help them pick up the pieces, you can do so by sending over cash or goods (clothes, food, drinks, medicines, blankets…) If you’re abroad, you can donate online or by phone.

Donate Online:

PhilippineAid.com
Ayala Foundation (select AFI-Typhoon Relief Fund in drop down menu)
World Food Programme
TXTPower (Paypal) 
Ateneo Alumni Northeast, Inc. 
Xoom
HOPE Worldwide
Australian Red Cross

Donate by Phone:

USA: Call the American Red Cross at 1-800-435-7669. Please choose the 3rd option (International Donation), then tell the operator that your donation is for the Ondoy (Ketsana) typhoon victims in the Philippines.

Local Hotlines:

Red Cross donation through SMS: text REDAMOUNT to 2899 (Globe) or 4483 (Smart)

For people who need assistance:

National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) Emergency Numbers: (+632) 912-5668, (+632) 911-1406, (+632) 912-2665, (+632) 911-5061. Help hotlines: (+632) 734-2118, (+632) 734-2120

(Published in www.PepperVirtualAssistant.com, September 30, 2009)

Top Five Stress Busters

Here’s a short article I wrote about how to handle stress, which you might find useful at some point in your life.

Do you feel easily irritated or annoyed recently?  Is there a significant change in your eating or sleeping habits?  Are you feeling listless or having trouble concentrating?  Hopefully, you haven’t answered “yes” to all of these questions or else you would be on the verge of being stressed out.

It’s easy to manage stress once you’ve identified it but the thing is, people experience it differently.  Its signs and symptoms vary from one person to the next.  You just have to be attuned to your body and know whether you’re acting normal or stressed out.  But don’t worry, you can easily relieve stress by doing the following things:

1.    Manage Your Time

Sometimes you may feel that you have so many things to do and so little time for it.  Yes, it all might be overwhelming and stressful so it would be a good idea to be more organized and learn to prioritize your tasks.  Make a to-do list if it helps.  It would also give you a sense of accomplishment when you tick off each item on your list.  And if you’re becoming too stressed with so much work, why don’t you try getting a virtual assistant instead of waiting for a nervous breakdown to happen?  Delegating tasks to others is an effective way of reducing stress.

2.    Have a Support System

Have you ever felt so tense or anxious that you just want to let it all out?  Well, instead of hurling expletives at an innocent bystander, you would be better off talking about your concerns with a close friend or family member.  Communicating with someone can help you calm down and take the pressure away.

3.    Exercise Everyday

Bring out your sweat pants and go to the gym!  Getting fit is a nice way to loosen up and alleviate stress – a 30-minute run on the treadmill or a boxing session might do the trick.  When you do strenuous exercise, your body releases endorphins, which actually act as natural pain relievers and make you feel good as well.

4.    Reflect and Unwind

When was the last time you did nothing at all?  Sometimes it helps to just take a break for a while, think of nothing and do nothing.  This would clear your mind and help you de-stress.  Or you could choose to relax by getting a massage, listening to music, or even do some retail therapy.  These would all uplift your mood.

5.    Veer Away from Vices

Taking advantage of that “Happy Hour” won’t really do you much good.  Although having a drink or two after a hard day’s work could temporarily reduce your stress, it would actually leave you feeling bad since alcohol has an effect of giving you a depressed feeling.  So stay away from vices like alcohol and drugs to guarantee you a stress-free life.

Remember, once you notice that you’re getting somewhat stressed, just try out some of these stress busters to see which one works best for you.

(Published in www.PepperVirtualAssistant.com, September 25, 2009)

Mineral Mania (Mango Magazine)

What’s all the hype about mineral makeup?  Compared to ordinary cosmetics, it doesn’t have preservatives, alcohol, dyes, and other harsh ingredients that cause skin irritations.  Its chemical-free properties make it safe to apply on your face as often as you want, whether you’re heading to the office or going out for cocktails.  It also contains antioxidants and other properties that help enhance skin.  Mineral makeup is the way to go if you want to prettify yourself while you get that healthy, radiant looking skin.

(Published in the premier issue of Mango Magazine, November 2009)

Travels With Tumi (Mango Magazine)

Whether you’re flying to the Mediterranean or jetting off to New York City, the T-Tech collection by Tumi is the ultimate traveling companion.  This new luggage collection (starts at Php 24,790 / US$509) has a set of hard cases that is relatively lightweight but very strong and durable.  It’s so sturdy that even if you put 100 pounds of weight and take it for an eight-hour walk, its wheel system will still roll smoothly.

It doesn’t hurt to know that many famous personalities use Tumi bags as well — one of whom is President Barack Obama, who carries around the Tumi Alpha Leather Briefcase.

Tumi T-Tech is available at the Travel Club branches in the Power Plant Mall, Ayala Center in Glorietta 4, Alabang Town Center, Ayala Center Cebu, SM Mall of Asia, Trinoma, Shangri-La and Flight 360 at the Podium.

(Published in the premier issue of Mango Magazine, November 2009)

Organic Living (Mabuhay Magazine)

“Organic” may be synonymous to “expensive,” but that isn’t the case with Human Heart Nature.  This local company produces organic personal care products that make use of purely Philippine ingredients.  Their shampoos contain aloe vera to soften your hair and are infused with scents like peppermint to make bath time more enjoyable.  They also have handy pocket soaps and hand sanitizers that don’t dry out your skin.  Another must-try is their facial moisturizer with royal jelly, which makes your skin smoother and healthier.  Aside from being chemical-free, all these products are very, very affordable, too.

Visit myecostand.multiply.com; mobile no. +63908-8925510

 (Published in Mabuhay Magazine, December 2009)

Taal Trippin’ (Mabuhay Magazine)

Forget about the volcano for a day.  To learn about Taal, Nikka Sarthou decided to walk through its quaint streets lined with historical ancestral homes.

Did you know that Taal was considered the second most important city during the Spanish era?  Even though it was not able to maintain its pre-eminent stature like Manila, Taal boasts a rich history with its involvement in Philippine politics, economy and society.

 I joined La Isla Pilipinas’ Taal Experience tour to visit this historic city.  It took us more than two hours to get there as we passed through the more scenic route in Tagaytay.  I realized we were there already when I saw 19th century Spanish-style colonial houses along the narrow roads. 

1st stop: Don Gregorio Agoncillo ancestral house 

This was built during the early 20th century.  Agoncillo was a prominent banker and his affluence was apparent in his home with its Edwardian chandeliers and custom-built furnishings.

2nd stop: Villavicencio ancestral homes

Don Eulalio and Doña Gliceria Marella de Villavicencio were be

lieved to have an integral part in the Philippine revolution.  They own a couple of houses made of

 stone, with imported tin ceilings, and other fine pieces of furniture on display that were all well preserved.

While we were there, a balisong (butterfly knife) maker showed us how the country’s most famous weapon is made.  Although the origin of balisong is uncertain, the definite thing is that it could be a very lethal weapon, whatever size it may be.  It is usually made out of Damascus steel and other materials like horse bone, deer antler or wood.

In the same place, we saw how the unique burdang (embroidery) Taal is created.  With this skill, the Taaleños could make intricate detailing in clothing wear and accessories by doing their special hand embroidery.

We also got a taste of the flavorful Taal cuisine as lunch was served inside the grand dining area of the house.  We were treated to a buffet meal that consisted of bulanglang (light vegetable soup), adobong puti (stewed chicken with turmeric), tapang Taal (marinated beef), and suman (sticky rice) with chocolate-eh (Batangas hot chocolate).  

3rd stop: Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay 

This Blessed Virgin is said to have miraculous powers.  I went inside the church and took a chance by touching the image and prayed for a miracle.

4th stop: Basilica of Saint Martin of Tours 

This is the largest church in Asia.  It measures 88 meters long, 44 meters wide, and 95 meters high.  I had a difficult time trying to fit the image of this imposing structure in my camera screen.  

Last stop: Taal public market

This place features many great finds – from handmade barong Tagalog and embroidered tablecloth, to special suman and cacao tableas.  I just had to grab a souvenir for me to take home.  

For more information, call La Isla Pilipinas Tours, Inc. at tel. no. +632-4260093 or +632-4366581; email [email protected]

(Published in Mabuhay Magazine, November 2009)

Italian News (Mabuhay Magazine)

They say that you shouldn’t order anything you can’t pronounce, but that should not be the case with Il Ponticello.  For 10 years now, this Italian restaurant has been serving authentically prepared traditional Italian cuisine, but now they’ve added some dishes with a modern twist.  The Branzino Tartufato E Risotto Rosso or simply put — truffled wild seabass with beetroot risotto — is a recommended dish.  The freshness and tenderness of the fish perfectly complements the flavor of the risotto.  Best to hit this restaurant in the evening so you can enjoy listening to the live bands or the house DJs while savoring some good ol’ or new Italian dishes.

Il Ponticello – 2F Antel 2000 Building, 121 Valero Street (corner Rufino), Salcedo Village, Makati City; tel. nos. +632-8877168, +632-8874998; Open Mondays to Saturdays 12:00 – 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. onwards.

(Published in Mabuhay Magazine, May 2009)

Chi’s Brick Oven Kitchen (Mabuhay Magazine)

Popular for their wood-fired brick oven dishes.  Must-tries: Puchon or brick oven style lechon kawali (pan-roasted pork) with soy vinaigrette, and the scrumptious dessert pizzas like the Blueberry Cheesecake Delight.

Chi’s Brick Oven Kitchen – Unit 105 Aguirre Ave., B.F. Homes Paranaque City; tel. no. +632-8207210; website brickovenkitchen.multiply.com.  Closed on Mondays.

(Published in Mabuhay Magazine, April 2009)

Porcelain (Mabuhay Magazine)

Cool, urbane, with white-colored light balls adorning the ceiling.  Grab some tasty dimsum treats and mingle your way into Porcelain’s bar.  Feel like taking a punch?  Order the Pacquiao Punch — a splendid mix of brandy, tequila, rum, vodka, gin, orange and pineapple juice, and more —  a total knock-out.  Best to drop in during Crazy Hours, from 5 p.m. to 12 a.m.

Porcelain – Ground level, Fort Strip, Fort Bonifacio, Global City, Taguig; tel. no. +632-8567442; email [email protected]

(Published in Mabuhay Magazine, April 2009)