A couple of the most popularly searched posts here on PhilFAQS, the authoritative blog about traveling to, retiring in and in and living in the Philippines are this one What Things Cost — Department Store 1 and this one What Things Cost — Department Store 2. I have hesitated to write much about my personal living costs manly because such reports often seem to attract people who want to argue about what the reporter spends, criticize how the report is laid out or find some other kind of fault. But a lot of people want to know, so here’s an update current as of 23 Sep 2008 … a day I picked because I just took care of my last regularly scheduled bill for the month of September and I’m a “rich American” until October rolls around and starts the cycle over.
Some things, of course, can’t be predicted, but next month is our 24th month living here in the same town, in the same house, so in general I have a pretty good understanding of what to expect.
Rent: Our monthly rent for a 3 bedroom, one bath, single story concrete house is PhP 7,000. That’s $150.55 USD at today’s rate. This house is about 1,000 square feet and is walled and fenced all around with gated off street parking for two cars. The first thing every American I meet seems to ask is, “OMG, why are you renting and not buying”? My answer to that is, “Because in my case it would be financially stupid to buy.” My landlord, who lives and works in the States, half-heartedly wants to sell this house. The last figure I heard was PhP 2.5 million … almost $54,000 USD. The most generous financing plans here involve a 20 or 25% cash down payment … about PhP 625,000 or nearly $13,500 USD … nearly 7 and a half years of rent payments … just for the privilege of then owing millions (in Pesos) at 12% or higher interest. Thanks, but no thanks.
The usual next moan is, “Oh but the landlord might come back and turn you out.” Yep, he sure might. Or he might not. But one thing for sure is, there’s a house for rent on nearly every block, so if he does come back, so what? I’m going to go millions into debt for a 40 year-old bungalow style house just to avoid the remote possibility I might have to move into a substitute house? No.
I essentially owe no one anything except my regular monthly bills. No mortgage company can send me a past due notice, no insurance company can write and tell me all my investment stocks have lost 90% of their value (sorry AIG investors). I have no weight on my shoulders and I like it just fine, thank you. I enjoy living within my means, it’s refreshing.
For them who do insist that buying is the only way, there is a lot to buy here, some of it I occasionally feature on the blog … so enough on that subject. To each his own (no pun intended)
Food: This is the hardest to pin down, for sure. My wife and I eat out occasionally … like every time we go to the mall for groceries we normally plan it around lunch. Today we spent something like PhP 300 at one takeout place and I bought 3 orders of excellent calamari take out at a little kiosk on the way out … each order is 5 piece of squid for 20 pesos so my indulgence there was 60 PhP or $1.29.
Yesterday I walked to a store a few blocks away that sells empanadas (they look like mini calzones and come packed with your choice of ground chicken, ground beef, ground pork, pork afritada (ground pork and veggies), ham and cheese and usually several other fillings for 10 Pesos each … ($0.21 USD each for a nice little meat pie). I spent PhP 120 and that took care of a hot lunch for the two of us and left-over’s to heat and munch that evening while we watched TV.There’s a Chinese restaurant nearby that specializes in call-in delivery service. You can get a meal with more than enough for 5 or 6 people for a typical price of PhP 350 … ~$7.50 USD delivered, on time, hot, rain or shine. So a couple or a single person could live very well here never even going to a grocery store … but no one wants to eat out all the time.
“Real” groceries/raw ingredients for cooking vary widely in cost. We have a couple ladies who come by the house 3 or 4 times a week. They sell everything from standard vegetables to the “exotic”, like broccoli from Baguio that they have sent here specially for the ‘kano’. Every day they’ll have something different in the meat line … sometimes just everyday chunks of beef or pork (meat cutting in the Philippines typical seems to involve the use of a hand grenade .. beef and pork apparently are routinely blown into unrecognizable fragments of meat, bone, gristle and fat which are sold by weight without labeling or apology), other days fresh fish, shrimp, Rellenong Bangus (a good size fish competently opened, deboned and stuffed with the meat that came out plus tangy vegetables. Somtimes, on special order, they’ll bring my favorite … pork tenderloin … you cut it into little medallions and sauté gently with home fry potatoes …. mmmm.
We spend on the order of a few hundred pesos every time these ladies stop at the gate and call out to us. Some days, nothing, other days when they are delivering a pork tenderloin or some other delicacy quite a bit more.
In the supermarket … pretty much comparable to most US supermarkets, we generally spend the Peso equivalent about $150 to $200 USD per month. Sorry if these figures are not the “accountant-grade” costings that many people expect, but I just don’t track food costs to that level of detail.
One thing I do know, and you will too if you make the move, despite Hurricane Ike, the latest George Bush bailing out his rich friend’s financial charade or the complaints about the price of a gallon of gas … Americans have by far the cheapest and most abundant food on the planet … and we seldom realize it. Plan to spend more on food overall in the Philippines.
Electricity: This is the third highest cost every month. The majority of our kilowatt hours go to air conditioning so the bills vary quite a bit from the hot months of ‘summer’ … April, May and June to the cooler ‘ber’ months like SeptemBER, OctoBER and so on. Fortunately our electric supplier here, Meralco prints me a nice 12 month summary on each bill. Since last September we have consumed an average of 377 kWh per month for an average daily cost of PhP 115 per day. For estimating purposes you can figure an averge of $75 to $80 USD per month … depending on the Peso exchange rate, of course. Right no It works out to nearly 20 US cents per kWh, typically two to three times what the average US electric consumer pays. So far as I know from the last figures I saw, only Japan has higher consumer costs for electricity than the Philippines.
Everything Else: OK, this is already getting unmanageably long. What else do we pay every month? Landline phone … zero, don’t use one. Cell phone(s) zero monthly bill, we buy ‘load’ as we use them .. $10 USD per month if you talk a lot. Internet .. PhP 999 per month for unlimited wireless. It’s specified to be 256 kbps, sometimes it is much worse but often very much better. We have a TV cable system that is Internet cable ready but our local provider has so far declined to offer ISP service. In Manila there is readily available US equivalent cable modem service for US $25 to $35 a month and up, depending on options. Cable TV … 50 something channels including HBO and several other movie channels, as _ton_ of sports (limited US sports though), and much of the other cable TV trivia and drivel, (and a couple gems … like the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Network, not the other ABC)), PhP 550 per month. Water , 300 to 400 PhP per month. This is the community provided water and alleged
safe to drink, but we don’t drink it. We buy reverse-osmosis triple filtered filtered bottled water for about PhP 60 per week, delivered in 5 gallon jugs. Garbage? Weekly pickups by the municipality … tax supported. Since we rent we don’t pay property taxes directly, but annual property taxes on this home are about PhP 1,000. Sewer? Like about 90% of the Philippines. we’re on a septic tank. So far, so good. Pozonegro is a word you will just as soon not learn while living here. Gas for cooking? We use bottled gas, about PhP 600 and something for what most Americans would recognize as a barbecue size bottle (20 pounder). Lasts three to 4 months. Gas for the car? I use diesel and you will too if you are smart … too infrequent to judge. I last bought diesel on the 27th of August while I was on a trip to Angeles City. I used the car yesterday and noticed the needle is now below half-full so I guess I’ll need to buy more sometime in October … not bragging, just don’t use the car all that much.
Over the past year gas and diesel prices have stayed pretty much on par with the AAA US national averges, when converted to dollars per gallon, except that diesel here is always cheaper than gas, becuase in the US diesel gets socked with extra taxes
OK, this is probably long enough to bore my average reader, I hope it is of some use to those pondering the economics of a move to the Philippines.
Please ask if you have any questions, if there’s something you feel I haven’t covered or if I have not been clear on some issue. Remember that according to my new editorial calendar here at PhilFAQS, the Frequently Asked Questions about the Philippines, I am due for another Q/A post tomorrow. I don’t yet have a long list of questions to answer, so get yours in now while opportunity is still knocking.