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Every new member asks how much enough to live on is. Dedicated members seem to get tired of the question. Yes, it's been answered a thousand times. I asked it. So did many of you. I've made six trips to the Philippines, and everyone was a learning experience. My longest stay was a month. I read every article, and website on living in the Philippines. I personally am moving to Cebu in February. The plane tickets are purchased.
I know that new members sign up every day, so here's my two cents on how much is enough. 50% is based on personal experience; the other 50% is based on friends and family living there. My brother, who is in the military, was stationed there for six years. He provided security for the embassy. He has been a wealth of knowledge.
So, how much money do you need? My fiancée and I will have $1450 a month to live on. Most people have less than that. Some people have more. You do not need this much to live on. I'm going to speak to those of you on $800 a month or less. First let's pretend all you have is $800 a month coming in.
Rent can be as cheap or expensive as you'd like it to be. I've seen places for $85 dollars a month. I've also seen places for $2000 a month. I'll say this. You need to plan on spending $200 a month on rent. For that price you can get a nice two bedroom in Cebu. You can easily spend more or less, but it depends on your tastes. Mine are simple. I don't want to live in a dump, but I don't need marble counter tops either. That leaves us with $600. Now you know you need/want a maid. Even if you don't, I'm telling you to get one.
According to my brother, a good maid will actually not only make your life easier, but will save your money. Here's how. My brothers’ maid often goes into town to pick up grocery and household items that my brother needed. He would give her lists. She knew where to go and where not to go. She knew where to get the best prices on everything. I mean after all, wouldn't you know where to get the most for your money in your own hometown? You know which grocery gives the most for your money. So does the average Filipino. I'll give you an example. My brother wanted to get a king-size bed.
He found one for sale, and thought it was a good deal. He was set to buy it, when his maid found out. She told him it was too much. He asked her if she knew about a better deal. She took him to a local man she knew in town that deals in the bedroom furniture. She negotiated for my brother.
In the end he got a nice king-size bed for $80 less than he was going to pay. My brother puts an extra $10 bucks bonus in his maids pay that month. He told me she has saved him money on a lot of stuff. Even a charted fishing trip he took. She hooked him up with a local fisherman, and he paid about half the going rate. He also caught a bunch of nice fish. Now how much does a maid cost? Well you can get a live in maid for $30 a month. If you don't like to live in, you can find daily service for less. If your maid lives in, your usually responsible for her food as well. You've got a maid and rent. That leaves us $570 left. Now you need utilities. Water and garbage, along with electric will cost you more than $200 a month. This includes air conditioning (used mildly), washer and a dryer. If you have no aircon, you can expect to pay about $80 a month less for electric. My numbers are average. I personally cannot live without Air Conditioning. That $200 covers, electric, water, and garbage easily, in fact it is actually an overestimate, but it's better to overestimate than to underestimate. So that leaves us with $370. Now if you're reading this, you will want Internet. There are several options available to you.
First, there are numerous internet cafes all over Cebu and most major cities. They vary on prices, but my brother told me a good shop with decent high-speed connections is about a dollar an hour. Some are less, some a little more, but not much more. If you want it in your home, you can get prepaid cards. They are your cheapest and best bet for internet. The cards are everywhere, and allow you to hook up cheaply. I, however, need a faster connection. A cable modem will cost you about $51 dollars a month. They give you 75 hours of use between 8am and 8pm.
However, after 8pm it's unlimited. Kind of like a cell phone plan in the U.S. Also, cable modem is not available in all areas. There are their options available as well, but too many to list here. A friend of my brother did use Star band. Its high-speed internet pumped in through your satellite dish. I don't know much about it. If you get the cable modem that leaves you with $319. Add cable to your TV, and it costs about $9 a month extra were at $310. You will want a phone with service, and that's $20 a month for basic service. Your long distance is not included in that price. So after telephone that leaves us with $290 bucks. Now you will need food. My estimates for food are always high. (keep that in mind). If you eat and cook at home you will only spend about $150 a month. That's for two people. You can spend more or less. A typical meal out costs about 4-5 dollars a person. For $12 a person you can eat at a high end restaurant. I'm talking class. Of course there are many places here where $2 will get you an all-u-can-eat meal. It's true. However, if you like most people, you will probably eat out only once or twice a week. That leaves us with $140 a month. Let's cover miscellaneous toilet paper, toothpaste, soap, etc. I'd say about $20 a month for miscellaneous leaves you with $120. Now, one thing I didn't mention was transportation. You can use local jeepneys and trikes, for taxi service. Expect to spend around $20 a month for this service. This again is a high estimate. My brother actually spent around $12 a month for transportation. For special trips, to Manila, my brother hired a car and driver for $22 for 12 hours.
He later found out through his maid that he could be gotten a car and driver for around $16 for 12 hours. He didn't consult his maid and he paid too much. So after you take out taxi service that leaves us with $100. Now we've covered:
Rent/Utilities/transport/food/cable/internet/phone/miscellaneous. I think we've covered everything. Now let me say that some of my estimates were high. You can easily rent a place for $150 a month, and drop that expensive cable/internet service. Use prepaid internet cards. Use fans instead of air-conditioning. If you cut all that excess out, you can end up with $200 or more left over at the end of the month.
Of course at the other extreme, you could spend another $1000 a month, and get a five bedroom house, live in driver, live in gardener, two maids, two helpers, eat steaks and seafood three times a week, etc. You see where I'm going with this don't you? It depends on your tastes. A frugal person can make it on $600 a month. A high maintenance person might need $1500 a month.
What SOLID advice can I give you? It is my "personal opinion" please note this is my opinion, and mine alone: I would not come to the Philippines with less that $600 a month income. I recommend $5000 in the bank for emergencies. I know that's a lot for some people, but keep at least $2000 in the bank if nothing else. (5000 is better). I would never go with less than $2000 in the bank. NEVER, EVER. I say this because you need enough for deposits on your apartment there, and miscellaneous furniture, etc. In the U.S. you know when you move into a new place, it always costs you for deposits, and to have stuff turned on. It's no different in the Philippines. If nothing else, at least you will always have enough for an emergency plane ticket back home.
What else can I tell you? Well I can say, get your personal finances in order before moving to the Philippines. If you leave outstanding debts unpaid in the states, it will catch up to you. Make sure you have 10 copies of everything important. (passports, birth certificate, etc.) I'm not joking, keep copies of everything, in a secure place. Give copies to your family, so in the event of an emergency, they can send them or fax them to you. Make sure you have someone to receive your mail here in the U.S. or use a service to forward it to you in the Philippines. I have set up all my bills here in the U.S. to be paid by my bank automatically every month. I only pay $4 a month for this service. Of course I can bank online from anywhere in the world. So that allows me to check monthly statements, etc. A bank debit card with the visa logo on it, is accepted everywhere. I can access my funds from an ATM in the Philippines, and just as easily pay bills online with it. Like my brother says, with a visa debit card and a laptop, we can conduct business anywhere in the world. (Well, almost anywhere) Well I'm sure I left something out, but hopefully you know what things cost now. Electronics are more expensive, but you can still get a nice used computer for around $400. A movie will cost you $1 video game cartridges around $1-2 dollars.
My goal here is to show you that you can live on $600 a month, if you're on a fixed income. You can live comfortable on $800 a month, and for $1000 plus, you won't be doing without. No matter what your income you can do it. I recommend you come here and stay in a cheap motel for a couple of weeks while you look over the area. Allow yourself time to find a place to live. I personally, will live for a month to two months in a hotel with my fiancée, while exploring places to live. We are not going to jump on the first thing that comes along. We will take our sweet time. Of course you know what they say: To Each His Own!