How to Avoid Over-Extending Your OFW Career

Pardon the redundancy: over-extending.

It’s intentional because that’s what is happening to millions of overseas Filipino workers (OFW). The initial plan of working abroad for five years becomes seven years, then ten — and before we know it, it’s been twenty or thirty years. Many OFWs spend their whole adult life alone in a foreign country.

Decades of overseas work have made them miss birthdays, graduations, weddings, funerals, and Christmases. Long years of absence have alienated them from the very people they have worked hard for. This is tragic and unfair.

As an OFW, how can you prevent this over-extension? The first step is to come up with a realistic goal. It is essential that you and your family set an achievable target. Maybe, it’s saving up for the college education of two kids or siblings, or building a simple house, or putting up a small business. Choose just one, or at most, two goals — depending on your salary. Then, go home for good when you have reached those goals. Do not bite more than you can
chew.

Do not sacrifice twenty or thirty years of your life trying to achieve so many things. Let other members of your family take care of the different economic goals. The sharing of responsibilities is better for everyone.

Make sure your plan is clear to your loved ones — even to young children. Communicating with your family members is, therefore, very important. However, “money” is a sensitive issue to discuss. Miscommunication and misinterpretation usually happen. Many times, the intention is positive — but the message is received as unfavorable. If you carelessly blurt out words about proper budgeting, your family would likely feel hurt. They may think that you are telling them that they are a burden to you, or that you are suspicious of the way they spend the remittance. Therefore, plan your words and rehearse your tone.

Contrary to what most of us believe, practicing what you want to say is not only for public speaking. It’s also for intimate and personal communication. Using kind and gentle words and tone — tell your family what you intend to accomplish and for how long. Tell them that you don’t want the separation to be indefinite. Explain clearly how each family member can help to achieve the goal at the allotted time.

The second step is to have financial wisdom and discipline. After you have narrowed down your goal, start crunching some numbers. How long will it take you to save for the college education of your kids? How long will it take you to build that house or to put up the restaurant you’re dreaming of? How much should you keep every month for that goal? You may need to seek the advice of someone who is more knowledgeable about financial matters, or you can get tips from the internet.

Now, when you have done your math, stick to the game plan. You and your family should not get distracted by the worldly temptations around you. Do not buy unnecessary things — even if they are cheap, more so if they are expensive. Keep a low-key lifestyle. As any expert will tell you, it is the most uncomplicated people who can achieve great things.

A caveat at this point. Don’t fall into the trap of so many investment schemes being peddled these days. You have to be vigilant. Many scammers are eyeing OFWs like you. If you don’t have enough knowledge yet on investing and business, it’s better to hold on to your money and stick to the basics: be thrifty. In these times of “get-rich-quick” media hype,
the proverb “A peso saved is a peso earned.” may sound so stale and simplistic — but it certainly goes a long way. It always will.

The third point is somewhat complicated: make all healthy and able adult members of your family work or earn their income — no matter how small. Do not encourage dependence. More importantly, do not tolerate laziness. It’s terrible for you, and it’s awful for your family. Your wife or husband should be able to help earn money. If your spouse can not leave the house because there are small children to be taken care of, a small home-based business is okay. The profit may seem a pittance, but if that accumulates over time, it can be a big help. Family members can sell small items like cell phone loads, merienda, or pastries. Instead of buying expensive furniture and gadgets, you should purchase income-generating appliances like a good cooking range or a sewing machine.

It must be emphasized that going into business is something that needs planning, training, and re-orientation of the mind. It should not be rushed. Many people have wasted hard-earned money by hastily putting up a business that eventually failed because they did not make adequate preparations first. Even if it’s just a small venture, like baking and selling pastries —or making and selling accessories, a business has to be carefully planned and executed. Nowadays, there are many sources of information about the company: the internet, educational TV shows, and government-sponsored training. Avail yourself of these resources. You and your family members should be equipped with the right knowledge and attitude before starting a business.

If an able adult family member has no valuable skill, invest in the training of that person. There are many organizations and government agencies (such as TESDA) that offer affordable or even free vocational training. People can learn useful occupational skills from this training and get connections for a possible job. There are also a lot of online jobs available these days: encoding, writing, research. People just have to be resourceful. If you can lead someone to gainful employment, then you have extended the highest form of charity: giving someone the chance to work for himself and thus avoiding the shame of a lifetime of dependence.

Moreover, if your teenage children or siblings can work a few hours a week at a portion of fast food, or in some other companies — that’s fine. Don’t feel guilty. They can gain a lot from those experiences. Aside from earning money, they learn the value of hard work and self-reliance.

As much as you love your children, you don’t have to provide everything to them. If they have healthy food to eat if they have decent clothes on their backs and a safe roof over their heads, and if they are in school — that’s already fine. Grant them pleasures or luxuries — but not to the expense of your own life. If your children ask for so much, remind them of your goals.

Make your grown-up children work for the other things they need and want. You don’t need to finance their master’s degrees. You don’t need to buy a separate unit of real estate for them, or a different car. Providing everything to your children in a silver platter is a sure way to handicap them. They won’t survive in the real world once you’re gone. Leave out something your children will struggle for, and that would make them sturdy enough to survive during hard times. This way, you also give yourself a much-needed rest from financial obligations. Your purpose in life is so much more
than just paying bills.

The fourth step is to limit your “charity” work. It sounds selfish, right? Well, if you feel guilty — go ahead. Help every person who asks for tuition fee assistance, help every student who needs a new bag, helps every neighbor
who needs to be checked up, help your brother-in-law who needs to be bailed out of jail every six months. Then, you wake up one morning: you’re already 65 years old, sick and broke — and still far from your goal.

But if you want to reach your goal at the intended time, you have to be selective with your charity work.You should differentiate between people who need help and people who simply want help. Some people really try, who work their fingers to the bones — but are just down on their luck. They should be given a helping hand. Just a little push and these people will be on their way to economic independence — because they have the right attitude. Old and sick family members — especially parents — should receive help. As for the others with genuine needs, you can give a little amount and then help them to get help from government institutions, politicians, and NGOs. If people are resourceful and persistent enough, they can squeeze help from other sources. Don’t try to be a superhero. You can’t
help everybody.

Being kind is different from being gullible. Giving a helping hand is different from allowing yourself to be taken advantage of. This is not to advise people to be cynical of others. But sometimes, we need to be. No matter how much we believe in the good nature of humanity, there will always be some people who will find an excuse not to work, who will try to scam you, who will pretend to be helpless, who will spend on vices and vanity, who will never pay you back. You have to turn a deaf ear to the requests of these people. People should be accountable for their actions. If they are suffering, it’s their fault — not yours.

The fifth step is to keep money matters a secret — even from your own family. For example, have a secret bank account. This account should not be touched for regular expenses. It’s where you keep your spare money and the money for your goal. A secret account is immune to social pressure. Unfortunately, many times, we can not trust our own family to protect the money we are trying to save for them. Many times, the OFWs’ husbands, wives, parents, or children pressure them into shelling out cash for trivial reasons. So, it may be necessary to lie about money. You
have to teach yourself how to do this. (Are you feeling guilty again? Go ahead, tell your family that you have already saved a hundred thousand pesos. Let’s see what happens next.)

When money matters are kept the secret, the OFW can simply say, “I don’t have it.” No outside pressure. Just personal guilt, if ever. But should you feel guilty when you are just protecting your money?

Remember, your family’s future is at stake.

The sixth step is to make your spare time productive. Ask your colleagues and the locals if they can recommend you for part-time work. However, you should only do a part-time job if your health allows it. Otherwise, you would only lose more money if you get sick. If you do manage to get part-time gigs, it’s better to keep it a secret from your family. Do the same thing for overtime pay. (Do I need to repeat the reason? Reread the fifth step!) Another right way to spend your free time is to learn new knowledge and skills that you can use in the future.

Time is of the essence. And time spent with your loved ones is priceless. Therefore, as you sail on into your journey overseas, keep in mind that you need to be reunited with your family in the soonest possible time. Focus on your goal, and stick to the strategy you have laid out to reach it. Best of luck, kabayan!

Marily Sasota Gayeta is currently an English lecturer in Salalah City, Oman. She has held this job since September 2013. Before coming to Oman, she was also an English lecturer in Sebha City, Libya, for three years. Marily studied Bachelor of Secondary Education major in English at Tomas Del Rosario College in Balanga, Bataan ( her hometown ), and earned her MA in English Language Teaching from the Philippine Normal University. Her career, which spans more than 20 years, also includes teaching Vietnamese refugees in a training camp in Bataan and teaching collegiate English in three private colleges in the same province. She enjoys watching action movies, listening to rock songs, reading, and writing. Her articles are available on her blog at www.gardenerofthoughts.blogspot.com. Marily is married and has two children.

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