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How to Live Cheaper in the Philippines

How to Live Cheaper in the Philippines

With the US Dollar to Philippine Peso exchange rate continuing to slide (41.75 PHP to 1 USD at the time of this article) and rising inflation in the Philippines, we've tried to institute some ways to live cheaper in the Philippines. 

But let's take a quick look at the Philippines inflation rate first. According to the  Trading Economics website, the inflation  rate in the PH was recorded at 2.82 percent in June 2012.

Historically, from 1958 until 2012, the Philippines inflation rate averaged 9.1000 percent reaching an all time high of 62.8000 percent in September 1984. The record low of -2.1000 was set in January 1959. Here's a look at the Philippines inflation rate courtesy of Trading Economics and the National Statistic Office.

Philippines Inflation Rate Google Chrome   AM

How to live cheaper in the Philippines and beat the exchange rate and fight off the rising inflation? Here are some suggestions that we practice:

1. Use public transportation.DSC

I've covered this topic before, for example, in this post.  I cannot stress how unnecessary it is to own a vehicle in the Philippines with all the available modes of cheap transportation here. Jeepneys, tricycles and FX vans abound here. 

My new American expat friend living in Iloilo City, Scott B, was only here a couple of days before he started using the local jeepneys which only charge P7.50 (18¢) and get you across town and anywhere throughout Iloilo City Proper for that small amount. 

Why waste your money on monthly car payments along with the high fuel and maintenance costs? You don't need automobile insurance and that's another savings. I know some expats do own their own vehicles in the Philippines, but I personally don't miss the stress of driving in traffic or the costs involved.

2. Go "Native."luau

Now I'm not suggesting wearing coconut bras and grass skirts as in the photo above (source: lifestyle.allwomenstalk.com) though I certainly don't have a problem with attractive ladies wearing them.

I' m suggesting you adopt a simpler lifestyle.  Being frugal or saving money doesn't have to be boring. You'll probably discover that many of your neighors in the Philippines cannot afford cable or satellite television. That's a luxury not everyone can afford.

I plunked down P250, six US Dollars, for a deck of UNO cards. My nieces and nephew that live with us love to play it on a weekend. Beats sitting in front of the TV all night. Scrabble is also popular in our home. 

I realize that these activities might seem like a throwback to the Fifties, but if folks are having fun without playing the latest video game on their PS3, why not? I recommend a simpler, more laid back lifestyle. You really don't need to spend money on the latest gadgets or fad to be happy. Really, you don't.

And going native with your diet can save you a bunch of money, too. I'm the biggest offender of buying too many western foods at our local SM Supermarket in Iloilo, but more fish and vegetables in my diet is healthier and cheaper. 


3. Use less electricity. Downloads

Cutting down on our air con just one hour each night from eight to seven hours reduced our latest electric bill by around P1500 for the past month. That's a savings of almost 36 US Dollars.

I would also recommend using more energy-efficient CFL's, compact fluorescent lamps, though I doubt you'll find any with Angel Locsin inside one as my photo above depicts. Replaced all of our standard bulbs in Guimaras with CFL's and noticed a reduction of several hundred pesos in our monthly bill.

The bulbs do cost more than standard light bulbs but will pay for themselves over time.

Another possible solution to reducing electricity costs is to install solar light bulbs made of plastic soda bottles. Here's the link to that story I did some time ago.  

4. Stay at home more. DSC

As noted earlier, our family in the Philippines entertains themselves at home sometimes by playing UNO and Scrabble. Yes, I know it's not exciting as going to watch the latest flick at your local SM Cinema, but it's cheaper. 

While the boredom level can certainly rise during the day with the rainy season in full swing, we've cut all unnecessary trips to SM City and Robinson Mall in Iloilo City. Every time you go shopping or even "window shopping" you're bound to spend money. 

We're planning day trips to nearby Guimaras to fight off the boredom. But with parks and a swimming pool in our subdivision, there's plenty of ways we can find to entertain ourselves. 

5. Do more local shopping. Visit a Ukay-Ukay shop.ukay ukay

My asawa can garner some substantial grocery savings by visiting our local wet market only one jeepney ride from us. There are smaller markets just outside our subdivision gate but the larger markets at Mandurriao Plaza have some better bargains. She can save 40-60 pesos (96¢-$1.43) per kilo on fish and buy a good variety of rice for only P36 compared to the prices at the SM City Supermarket.

Mandurriao also has a large supply of ukay-ukay shops (see above photo from aboutmyrecovery.com) thrift stores which offer everything from used clothing to children's toys, and found throughout the Philippines. Kind of like a Goodwill store in the PH. 

Honestly, I've never shopped at a ukay-ukay, though my American expat friends Scott B and Tom Cat have. You can pick up some substantial clothing bargains at these places. 

6. Be your own barber.DSC

Whoa, Dave, you're really reaching on this one! Yeah, I know with haircuts only running anywhere from P30-P40 pesos, being your own barber probably will not help you live that much cheaper in the Philippines. 

But look, things like that add up when combined with other small money-saving tips such as the recent post I did about being a rain man in the Philippines.  My own asawa has stopped going to the Ricky Reyes Salon at SM City (see photo above) and visited a local beauty shop for her last trim and style. Paid P40 (96¢) versus P200 ($4.79) at Ricky's. That heat treatment my wife endured cost her P400

She also cut our nephew's Sharwen's hair last week.  My spouse also trims my hair. Another P60-P80 saved. Again, these small savings do add up. 

7. Hire the barangay handyman.DSC

When we lived in rural Guimaras, the mango province, our brother-in-law was our resident handyman and took care of all of our chores. He was an invaluable help to this American expat

But in our subdivision we didn't know of any local handyman that could help us. Our neighbor, Jesus, a carpenter, charged too much for his work, but a chance remark from my asawa to her traveling manicurist hooked us up with a new handyman. 

Our new helper fixed an electrical problem in our kitchen. We didn't have any lights in there for over eight months. He only wanted enough money to buy a kilo of rice. My asawa was going to give him 100 pesos $2.39). I kicked in another 100.

It was worth it to me to have someone  reliable we could go to. Plus, the guy knew there was a kano in the house and didn't overcharge me (But that's another money saving piece of advice; if you have a generous spouse, let the stingy one hand out any tips.) 

8. Grow your own herbs, vegetables and flowers.DSC

My asawa has a green thumb. She had a yard full of flowers and plants back at our home in the States. When we moved to the Philippines three years ago, she started a small garden in an empty lot next to our home in Guimaras. When we moved to Iloilo last October, she also began planting flowers and vegetables. We had a steady supply of okra an green bell peppers for months. Another way to save some money and stretch that food budget in the Philippines,  or anywhere else for that matter.

9. Use the Internet to save money.Downloads


How can you use Al Gore's invention, the internet, to save money? Well, not by lounging around on it all day and looking at images such as the one depicted on the laptop above. But the internet can be a valuable tool for research and a great place to find some bargains.

I use it to look up Google maps to find new places in Iloilo City my asawa and I have to go. My twin nieces, April and Michelle, use it for job hunting. That's how my niece April found her job at SM City.  

There are endless ways to save money by searching the World Wide Web. Here's just a few possible ways to save a peso or two.

  • Use the internet to make calls over Skype or magicJack. I've saved thousands of dollars in the past three years by using my high speed connection from Smart Bro.  which only costs P999 ($23.92) a month for unlimited usage, to make calls to the United States.  
  • Save money by streaming musicm tv shows and films. Sure, you can buy pirated DVDs for as little as 3 for 100 pesos if you like, but with all the file-sharing websites out there,  why bother?
  • Research. Research. Research. If you're planning a move to the Philippines or just a vacation, the internet is a great way to do that right in the comfort of your own home. 

10. No spending days. No Spend Days

That's right. Set aside one day or more each week where you absolutely resolve not to spend any money at all. You would think that living in a secluded subdivision outside of Iloilo City, it would easy to have a lot of "no spending" days. But with four kids now living with us, that has become more difficult. But it can be done. 

Ask yourself if you really need to go to the market or SM City that day? Because every time you go out to spend money, you usually end up spending more than you planned. 

I think it would be a good challenge to see how many "no spending days" a person could reasonably have in one month. Keep a log of your daily expenses for a couple of month which should also help you to get a handle on your expenditures. Keeping a budget and planning your shopping trips should help.

What money saving tips to live cheaper in the Philippines do you have? I know I've just barely scratched the surface. I'm curious to see what suggestions, you, my highly intelligent readers, have. 

58 thoughts on “How to Live Cheaper in the Philippines

  1. I haven’t visited your blog in a long time. The Cock Crows at 4 a.m. is now Philippine Plus.com but just the same, I enjoy reading your experiences about life in the Philippines. It’s really
    fun in the Philippines especially if you’re a Kano. ๐Ÿ˜€

    • Thanks for checking out my new home, MsRay, good to hear from you. ๐Ÿ˜€ Yep, just like “blondes have more fun” back in the States, kanos have more fun in the Philippines. It’s a blast! ๐Ÿ˜€

  2. hey dave,its sunday and i am lookin forward to our trip on monday.Today is sunday and i am headed out on a jeepney excursion in which i will just grab a jeep and sit in the front seat and see where it goes and for 7.50php its a free tour of parts of iloilo i have never been,i tell the jeep driver i am just along for the ride.

    I have also been hangin out with a woman friend and she has me playin the philipino card game which you see most playing and i really enjoy it eccept i am a little slow on making my card decisions and i slow the game down and they get a little restless,it also gives me the opportunity to practice my illongo and they usually are laughing at me instead of with me which makes it more fun in the philippines.

    I may buy a board game at the mall and bring it to her place and see if there is any interest in playing,i will keep it a simple game like SORRY or LIFE because i will have to try to explain how to play it but its something to pass the time and make friends.

    ukay-ukay stores rock,sometimes its tough to find shirts that fit,a XXL is still to small for me and i am 5 9″ 180 so what i have done lately is i brought 15 sweat free wick shirts from the usa and some were long sleeve and i brought the long sleeve to a tailor and he cut the sleeves and made into short sleeve shirt for 20php per shirt.I also bought some pants at ukay and they were to long so the tailor shortened them for me.New top quality clothes in the malls here are very high priced,twice as much as in the usa,a pair of dickies,lee,fubu, or freego cargo pants in the ph will set you back 1669php,in the usa i can get the same pant for 700 to 1000php,i know as i brought 9 pairs of cargos with me from the states.so if you are comin to live stock up on clothes or be prepared to shell out lots of money and it can kill your budget.

    I stopped buying fruit at the big stores and now buy at the outdoor market and cut my costs in half as i eat lots of kiwi,oranges and apples bananas.

    I also cut my beer consumption down and switch to a better quality tasting beer,the San Miguel Negra,i get more pleasure out of 2 negra dark beer per outing than a bucket of pilsens but maybe some of you guys wont want to cut on this item.

    My achilies heel is dinner,i make my breakfast and lunch,i have just now started to make my own dinner,i am not a cook but i have started to make egg sandwiches,tunafish sandwiches using century brand tuna which kicks ass over any tuna in the usa,chicken sandwiches by going out and buying some barbequed chicken breasts and making sandwiches using wheat bread,mayo and hot sauce,this save me more money as there are so many good restaurants to eat out at in iloilo that its easy to drop 300 php for a good meal and that adds up.

    • Scott b, looking forward to the trip to tomorrow, also, to meet Brian and his asawa. Always a treat to meet folks that read this website such as yourself. Sorry about your comment being held in moderation. My automatic spam moderator will sometimes hold remarks that it thinks could be spam because of it’s length. Also, if a remark has more than two links embedded within it, it will hold those. I never check my spam. Currently, I over have 15,000 spam remarks.

      Man, I’ve got to check out those ukay-ukay stores. You’re getting some great bargains. Don’t you just love the low prices the tailors charge? Melinda has taken my jeans to get hemmed, only P20 for a pair. I’m going to have to make a trip to one sometime and do a story on it. Do you think they charge you the “skin tax?” I’m curious. Have to have “the boss” negotiate a price with me off in the distance and go back to see what kind of price I can get.

      I’ve purchased a lot of Maxx brand t-shirts at SM City. Because of my gut, I need a 2x or 3x. Sometimes I can get them on sale for as low as P150 but have paid as much as P299 if it’s a design I like.

      Century Tuna IS the best. I love it! I haven’t had the guts to try the Century brand hot dogs, however. But if I can eat balut, I guess I can try tuna hot dogs. Fish and chips for me at The Shirven tomorrow. Good stuff! Some of the best I’ve ever tasted. I think the rain is supposed to go away so we should have a safe trip on the pump boat. Great info, Scott, thanks.

    • Hi Scott,

      I have a food suggestion for you. I am not sure what malls that you have there but here in General Santos City we have a KCC mall. They have a mall cafeteria where you can get great food dine in or take out for less than 100p per meal. I have teased my wife that since I only eat once a day I could easily have a food budget of 100p per day and live in a pension house until my next sugar momma comes along and rescues me. JOKE LANG! You might consider bringing along a twister game and a six pack of Tanduay Ice. But thats just me talking since I am a romantic! haha!

  3. Dave,
    Thanks alot for the good tips on saving money. My g/f is good at saving a peso. She sells clothes and jewelry to individuals, businesses and schools as her business. So she’s used to trying to get the best deal she can from buyers. It’s to have someone who knows how to save money. Take care have a nice day

    • Good to hear your g/f is frugal, PapaDuck. Unless you’re extremely rich, it’s key to survival in the Philippines. My asawa is the bargain hunter in our family. I let her do any bargaining and stay far away from her when she does to avoid the dreaded “kano tax.”

  4. Dave,

    Firstly thanks for your continuing blog, which I have followed since its early days.
    Your common sense money saving ideas cover most ground I think. One large expense on your budget is of course the rent you pay. If someone coming to live in the Philippines is comfortable about, and can afford it, then buying or building your own house is the way to go. (In ones wifes name of course!)I know it is something you have planned Dave, and look forward to seeing how you progress with that in due course.

    In the UK we downsized and bought an apartment there and a house here in a sub division near(ish) my wifes family. We will spend a few months each year in the Philippines, and probably more in later years. Hopefully living the dream like you are Dave!!

    Paul

    • Thanks for the comment, Paul. It’s appreciated and good to hear from you. Yes, if your asawa doesn’t own her/his own home than renting can take quite a big chunk out of the budget. Our rent is P6,000 a month. A little over $140 USD.

      Some folks build here and some folks continue to rent. We’re planning to build. In fact, we’re meeting this week with my Webmaster Supreme Rich Pawly who is on vacation from the States and Bob from My Philippine Life. Rich is building a house in Mindanao and Bob has already built a home in Iloilo. Hope to pick up some good tips from both of them.

      Looks like you’ve got your dream all planned out, Paul. That’s great. Good luck to you.

        • Yes, that’s a good option for someone to looking to buy a house in the Philippines, Maria. That plus unfortunate homeowners who have had their homes taken over by the banks. There are a lot of empty houses in our subdivision that have been abandoned. If a person did want to build their own home as we plan to do, they could check with their local banks as this could be a good money-saving option for some. You might possibly want to hire a trusted real estate agent to help with inbthat process, however.

  5. For me, I think just the fact of eating out less will save us a bunch of pesos. Having family around means there will always be something to eat. I guess I could also give up getting my hair done! ๐Ÿ˜€

    • I know if I ate less we could save a bundle of money, Randy. I’m resolving to eat more fish. It’s healthier for me and cheaper than the red meat and pork products I buy.

      • I suppose having something to help keep you occupied, like a hobby or something, may keep you from getting bored and snacking all the time. Just sitting around eating all the time could more than eat up a few pesos.

        • That’s why I enjoy working on this website, Randy. I would go absolutely crazy with nothing to do. With our twin nieces now living with us, I do less than what I did before and that wasn’t much. Melinda and I came home from an all day trip to Guimaras yesterday to meet Brian and Carol, a nice young couple from New York City, and followers of my website. American expat friend Scott B joined us. My niece Michelle bought me a glass of water as soon as I sat down. Life is good. ๐Ÿ˜›

  6. The Philippine Peso, Don, is at it’s strongest point in almost 4 years. Currently the rate is hovering around 41.87 pesos to 1 US Dollars. Here’s a LINK to a site I use to check the rates.

    How much do you need to live in the Philippines? Depends on your location and lifestyle, Don. You mentioned “blue collar.” You can rent a three bedroom home in our subdivision in Iloilo, the Western Visayas region of the Philippines, for about 140 USD a month. An American expat single friend of mine that recently moved here recommends having $1200 a month to live on.

    I would recommend coming over a visit and see how you like it. A lot of people recommend checking out different areas and living there for awhile to see how you like it. We moved to this area because of my wife’s relatives and since she already had a home in nearby Guimaras. We’ve since moved to the big city and love it. Not as big as the Metro Manila area but big enough for us.

    Great to hear from you, Don. Take care.

  7. Don, check out the link below to a popular cost of living evaluator called the “Big Mac index”. Looking at the index, one can see that the overall cost of living is approximately 30% less as compared to the USA. Of course there will be many variables and if you choose to live a “western” lifestyle in the RP, then you would expect that to erode that percentage. This is just a guide that many have claimed to be fairly accurate.
    http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2012/01/daily-chart-3

    • I should also mention that this index is based on country averages and indexed valuations of currency exchanges. Keeping this in mind, Manila would be much more expensive than say, living in some provincial cities and towns.

      • Yes, that’s what I’ve heard, too, Randy. I know I have some readers that live in the Metro Manila area but I believe living in the province would generally be cheaper than Manila and less stressful.

  8. my achilies heel got nicked again this weekend,i went on a restaurant eating binge,i need to gain weight so the calories arnt a problem but here is an example.

    I ate out with a lady friend friday night and cost me 450php,i then ate out alone saturday night at a upscale restaurant in smallvile and cost 395php,then sunday night i was so hungry for pizza i wet alone to pizza hut and spent 385php for a medium supreme pizza and ate the whole thing.Thats about $30.00 american for evening meals only in 3 straight days.

    Now my budget for the ph per month is,$300.00 for rent,
    $300.00 for food and $300.00 for entertainment and everything else,thats $900.00 a month budget and if i can keep it there i am doin good but i still say $1200.00 a month income is a necessary Minimum!!!! for a stress free lifestyle.And i must stress that you have a pretty big emergency fund for medical emergencies and if not than i would think hard and long about risking coming over here to live.Note that these quotes i gave on my living expenses are for a single man dating not supporting anyone else other than dinner and a night out twice a week with the ladies.

    • Good info, Scott B, thanks. I think your budget figure for a single guy, $1200.00 a month, is realistic. Sure, you could live cheaper than that but you wouldn’t have the few extra’s that you enjoy now. Taking your lady friend out to dinner can certainly add to your expenses, but I know you’re not the type of guy to go overboard. I’m impressed by the way you do keep track of your expenditures and that’s good advice for anyone (myself included.) I would suggest to anyone coming over to the Philippines to expect it to cost more than you originally planned for.

      • Dave, you said that Scott’s $1,200 a month budget is realistic for a single guy in Iloilo. If you don’t mind me asking, what is the total monthly budget for you, your wife and the 4 nieces and nephews living with you?

        • Don’t have the figures in for that yet, Lance. I’ll be keeping a detailed record of expenses next month, August, and post it as a follow-up to this article. We had some extra expenses in July with the kids moving in, so I want to have a detailed daily record of what we’re spending money on.

            • Nope, couldn’t really give you a figure on it, Lance. I’d rather wait until the end of August and add up all our daily expenses. I can tell you it is costing us more with all the kids here of course, but we’re managing. Melinda is in charge of all the kids’ expenses and I have no idea what they are. Have to get back to you on this, Lance.

    • scott
      for $300 per month, what kind of place are you living in (ex: made service and all utilies included, garbage pick, internet, cable, kitchennete, furnished, gated, laundry service included)? dave says he rents for less than half than that, so i am curious what you get for $300. would moving into a less expensive rental cost less with paying your own utilities, furnishing it, laundry lady, internet, ect. ect.?
      what drew you to iloilo city?

      • Hi maria,my budget for housing is $300.00 but it actually costs me less.I am staying in a dormitell,its a hotel but has extended stay rates.My private room has a refridgerator,air con,hot shower,2 beds,2 huge closets,a desk,cable tv,and wireless which i can lay in bed and use my computer as i am now.I make my own breakfast in my room,my own lunch and bring in chicken barbeque and put it in the fridge and make tuna fish and there is a small restaurant in the building where i have them fry me some eggs and i bring them up to my room and make egg sandwiches,I just cannot have a hot plate or rice cooker in my room as its a fire hazzard

        I pay $185.00 a month for rent,i paid $45.00 last month for electric and $6.00 for water,everything else is included so i spent a total of $236.00.

        I am a 3 minute walk to robinsons mall, 8 minutes to sm degato mall and marymart,i have all the food and restaurants at my doorstep including the movie theatres in robinsons and my health club.I am a 10 minute jeepney ride away from smallville and sm mall in smallville,i like where i live because it is so close to all my needs.

        If i was to rent a house,most are way out in mandurio or jaro,well away from my fun spots,dave lives out in the boonies in savanah and its nice but takes a long trip to get to where the action is in iloilo and there are times dave has trouble gettin a jeepney home if its later in the day and leavin his place at night the jeeps dont even run.Also dave only has running water 3 days a week coming out of his faucets and i couldnt and cant understand how the sub division can do that to the people whom live there,dave has explained the no water issue in an earlier post about jesus his water guy.

        Also to rent a house i would pay around $150 to $250.00 a month for a unfurnished house in a nice place and then still have to pay electric,water,get internet set up,buy refridgerator,bed,air con,couch table,tv and the cable and on and on so the initial costs would skyrocket and i am wanting to in the future buy a condo in which i as an expat can own a condo in my name but not a house as we all know that expats cannot even if married own the home in the philippines,it goes into the wifes name.So if you ever get separated from each other good luck as you will probably get kicked out of a house you bought with your life savings and end up in a dormitell,maybe even next to my room LOL.

        I moved to iloilo because i had lived in dipolog city in mindanao and it was to small and boring with no movie theatre or much to eat for expats and had only 1 small mall so i was searching for a new town to live in i came across daves website and he reccomended i give iloilo a try so i am and i like it alot.

        • Thanks for all the detailed info, Scott B. It gives the readers a good idea on what the “start up” costs could be when they make their own move. I would recommend to any single guy the same plan of action that you have. Being close to the nightlife capital of Iloilo City, Smallville, and all the shopping areas you mentioned is really convenient. We drove by your condo location yesterday and think it’s a good place for your future base of operations. I’m really glad you’re enjoying living in Iloilo City. I like having an expat friend to hang out with and happy when one of my recommendations work out. Iloilo City should hire me for their tourism dept. ๐Ÿ˜€

          Looking forward to more day trips to Guimaras as we had yesterday with “the boss,” and more adventures in Iloilo. Again, thanks for your input. It’s very helpful for any “newbies” out there and gives them a good idea of what they could expect.

          • hey dave,i had a good time in guimaras and may go back next week to just hang out for the day with no planned agenda and see where the road takes me and if i needed to spend the night i will just get a room at the pension next to the shriven hotel for 500 php a night,cant beat that for air con,shower,kitchenette and tv.The owner told me they always have rooms available.

            • Sounds good, Scott B. Guimaras is a good place to hang out in, lots of friendly folks. Wouldn’t be surprised if you pay a visit to the Tom Cat. He’s always good company.

  9. I now download all my movies and programs I miss that I used to watch, as earlier stated I get these for free therefore saving money on not buying the pirates at the market, and these downloads are virus free, the quality is usually better as well.
    h**p://torrentzilla.org/
    This is now free to join, and you get free assistance in forums if you have problems.
    Try it, you will not be sorry.
    I am only a member of this site, and have no other lnks to it what so ever.

    • Thanks for the info, John. I’ve heard some of my expat friends remark that the quality of some of the pirated DVDs they buy are terrible quality. Thanks for letting us know of a good alternative.

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