OFW families saving; junk cars, new homes

by JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO
www.ofwjournalism.net

LOS BANOS, LAGUNA (OFW Journalism Consortium)–RECENT central bank data doesn’t bode too well for those selling cars and houses to families of overseas Filipino workers. Majority of OFW families are either deep in debt to lenders for the overseas stint or they prefer to save money.

Whatever’s in between the latter two major spending, as cited in the recent consumer expectations survey of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, are spent on food and education.

Just ask 44-year-old Clarita Quisel, a housewife and fish vendor here.

Her husband, who’s now in Qatar, had just finished repaying some P65,000 in debt prior to his overseas trip last year.

Despite that, she says it’s still an uphill climb to save P20 a week or nearly a dollar within 14 days.

“We’re still hard up,” Quisel told the OFW Journalism Consortium and sweeps her hand to their one-bedroom house on a 70-square meter lot.

With the strengthening of the peso against the American greenback, Quisel says she augments the P9,000 (US$219.50 at $1=P41) remittance her husband sends every month.

Much of that takes care of our daily needs as well as for the children’s schooling, she explains. All three of their six children are in school.

Scratch out Quisel among either the 1.4 percent of OFW households who said they would buy a car or the 1.1 percent who said buying a house is a spending priority.

These figures represent a poll of 2,526 Filipino households in Metro Manila and 2,561 outside of NCR polled by the BSP for the fourth-quarter consumer expectations survey.

The survey got responses from 2,445 households in Metro Manila and 2,524 from the provinces, out of the targeted 5,087 respondents.

With a 96.8-percent (2,445 households) and 98.5-percent (2,524 households) questionnaire retrieval rate from the NCR and the provinces, respectively, the survey methodologically represents all Filipino households.

Some 469 of the total number of respondents to this first nationwide consumer survey are OFW households, says Winecito Tan of the BSP’s Department of Economic Statistics.

And most of these households are saving than spending.

Indebted

MAJORITY of the total 469 households, according to the survey, are still focused on repaying debts they incurred prior to working abroad.

Only 17.5 percent of the total that have dependents working abroad allot remittances for saving while paying loans.

The numbers also point that most OFW households who save money are outside the NCR.

This development surrounding the number of OFW families who save is while these households allocate remittances for daily sustenance in the household, for schooling, medical expenses, and repaying debts incurred prior to migration such as placement fees, membership payments, among others.

The year-end consumer survey figures for OFW households show that almost all OFW households (97.3 percent) use remittances for food and other household needs. While some 61.2 percent of these same households use remittances for education, 29.3 percent of OFW families use the monies for medical expenses.

Repaying debts incurred to facilitate the overseas migration of the household member is what some 34.0 percent of OFW households do.

“Good thing we have written off that debt,” Quiles said. “That (repayment) affected our family’s spending.”

“What I have is some P3,000 in Kawayanan (referring to the Kawayanan Bayanihan Multipurpose Cooperative in Malinta village here),” she said adding that that comes from her own savings selling fish from Laguna Lake.

There are some “lapses” to the weekly habit, she admits, especially when there are urgent expenses at home.

But Quisel goes back at the Kawayanan’s weekly Sunday queue once again to make another deposit.

“Somehow, I have learned the habit of saving,” she says, “and I have learned to set aside some amounts from the daily expenses for my next deposit.”

She also learned one new thing with Kawayanan: “If you want to save, you have to work harder.”

Boom

DATA from property brokers like CB Richard Ellis emphasize the notion that unlike the pre-Asia financial crisis levels, OFWs are pushing market demand.

In their presentation during the Asian International Real Estate Expo and Conference in December, CBRE said that foreign investors and local and foreign end-users like OFWs and overseas Filipinos are the drivers of the current property boom experienced by the country.

Notably, as the percentage of OFW families that save reached at least 17 percent of the surveyed households, only 5.9 percent of these use their incomes for investment.

The figure was 5.2 percent for OFW families in Metro Manila, and 6.6 percent for provincial-based counterparts.

If matched with the BSP survey, these OFWs may be part of the high- and middle- income groups polled.
But they are the minority in the survey.

Majority of the respondents (59 percent) of the consumer survey were in the “low-income group,” or those families who earn less than P10,000 monthly.

Nearly 36 percent of the total 4,952 respondent households were in the middle-income group (P10,000 to P29,999 monthly) while five percent or 254 households belonged to the high-income group (over-P30,000 monthly).

It is only this latter household group who showed optimism that will run up to the next 12 months.

The results from the consumer survey for OFW households contrast what previous studies from Economics students of the University of the Philippines point to: the conclusion is that OFW families have a hard time saving.

A study by Ramon Jose Idang and Cheddie Yap, titled “Determinants of the Saving Behavior of Filipino Households,” finds that as more Filipino families increase the number of members going abroad and their remittances, “the need for relatives back home to increase their savings lessens”.

“As the number of overseas Filipino workers increases, income tends to decline,” the authors contend in their 2002 study that looked at data from the Family Income and Expenditures Survey.