Can you afford the low cost of living?

Something’s been bothering me as of late. Just exactly how much is this “low cost of living in the Philippines” we hear so much about at #StartUpPH meetings, VC summits, and investment fishing expeditions?

If you are a twenty-something freelancer/startup entrepreneur living in Makati, you spend about P15,000 including association dues for a small flat in the less-shiny-but-far-more-cost-effective part of town, P35 for six gallons of drinking water, and about P300 if you just had six light-bulbs and a fan in your house. That’s P15,335 each month, or P184,020 a year.

Okay, let’s assume that you’re not a Buddhist monk or a plant and that you need more than water and sunlight to live; a food budget of P4,000 a month is a sensible budget for modest eating. That’s just under P45 per meal, three times a day, for 30 days. Heating: one canister of butane costs P89 and that is enough to power those little tabletop stoves that you buy at the Korean supermarkets for one week. Get a fridge, tack on perhaps P450 more to your electricity bill. Need to clean the dishes? Shower, maybe? Running water, about P100 each month. You’re now spending P20,330 each month, or P243,960 each year.

A lot of people believe the basic needs of survival include mobile phones and Internet, but little do they know that you’ve already been spending 20 grand a month just to have food, water, electricity, indoor plumbing, and an “indoors” to speak of. Buy P150 worth of phone credit a week, and an Internet dongle for P1,000 a month. Have meetings and paying gigs? Add transportation expenses of P60 a day. Don’t forget your multivitamin so that you don’t get sick and have to pay for medicine and doctors’ bills down the line – P7 a day. You need P23,940 a month, or P287,280 a year to say you’ve got all the essentials.

What about debt? Say you are about P200,000 in debt because of those shiny electronic gadgets you need for work, you pesky millennial, you! Let’s also assume that Mother Teresa’s ghost is in charge of collecting on your loan, because there are no penalties. Paying debts off in one fell swoop, if you can manage it, would be wonderful – even if you have to go hungry, sweaty, and thirsty in the dark for a few days to manage it. But with no other payoff on the horizon, you need to space that out. Just so that you don’t necessarily have to die because you wanted to be debt-free. Debt eradication: P16, 666.67 a month. You’re spending P40, 606.67 per month for a hand-to-mouth existence.

Say you need clothes because everything you own is either a t-shirt or has more holes than the explanation of Hacienda Luisita: P1,000 a month for new clothes or the services of a tailor. And hey, a little air-conditioning once in a while won’t hurt, right? Add P450 more to your electric bill. All the dry air in your house makes you thirstier, so another P35 for water. Running cost of living like a gypsy is now at P42,091.67 per month, or about P505,100 per year.

Need to attend training seminars/join networking nights like all effective freelancers/startup entrepreneurs? P4,000 a month. Do you miss your friends, eating at restaurants, dancing in nightclubs? P4,000 a month. Want to see the country you’ve spent so much money in, or travel the world as the international equivalent of sabit sa jeepney? P3,333.34 a month. Decide that your flat is not a prison cell and zhuzh the place up a bit? P3,000 a month for really beautiful things if you buy at Crate & Barrel. Get into yoga or fitness, because nobody wants to spend like this, alone, forever: P2,000 a month.

Someone who is seen as doing well, yet still living as frugally as possible, spends about P58, 425.01 each month in order to live comfortably. Throw some luxury reward-buys into the mix at P20,000 a pop three times a year, maybe a persistent nicotine habit (P13,505 a year, pack a day at P37/pack), or play the stock market with a basic portfolio of P10,000 a month, and you’re spending P74, 535.01 every 30 days. That’s P894, 420.02 per year.

If you don’t want to be 60 years old and worried about your next meal, you’d better be saving at least 30 percent of every paycheck. In order to do that with your expenses, you’d better be taking home P96, 895.50 net of taxes each month. Can you afford the low cost of living in the Philippines? Maybe if our salaries were competitive, our utilities weren’t priced like cocaine, our Internet so slow that we’re just a wee bit faster than Af-fricking-ghanistan, and our currency weren’t so flimsy, we could actually enjoy this so-called perk of our “rapidly developing economy.”

Low cost of living? More like high cost of surviving.


Tired of spending so much to live broke? Send me an email at, tweet or Instagram me @ArmchrPilosopa, or follow my tumblr at

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