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Poverty and Priorities

About Gerrard Panahon

Finance expert and host Gerrard Panahon comments on all things money. Liberal. MBA. http://www.youtube.com/gerrardpanahon

When I was growing up in what I now know was a less than desirable neighborhood in Los Angeles, my parents had money. Not a lot of money, but enough to make it so my brothers and I couldn’t get lunch tickets, which were reserved for students from families of lower income. I didn’t know that and I was jealous that I had to pay for lunch while other students got a free lunch after submitting a yellow ticket. It’s no fun being an outsider.

My brothers and I ran to the front door when we heard a truck double park in front of our house. That meant we were getting a package! This happened at least once a week. My mother ordered clothes through the mail for my father. What a luxury, to turn the pages of a catalog and place an order without ever trying the clothes on! What if the clothes didn’t fit?

My parents purchased a few musical instruments. I remember my father owned an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, and an amplifier, but he never took lessons. Like many Filipino families, we had a piano in the house that no one knew how to play. I took piano lessons for a couple of months, but not enough to justify keeping a piano in the house.

In the beginning there were six of us: my parents, my two brothers and me, and my maternal grandmother. Living with my grandmother was awesome! She stayed home all day and cooked while watching her soaps on ABC, then picked my brothers and me up from elementary school. As a family, we appreciated this. Financially, this system worked well; the cost of housing my grandmother was severely outweighed by the benefits she brought to the household.

Then my mother’s sister came to live with us. She was newly divorced, with an infant. My aunt required more than my grandmother did, so expenses to help her find work (such as a car, clothes, etc.) were realized. This also meant two more bodies in our three-bedroom house. If I’m doing a decent job describing how I lived while growing up, then you know the headcount went from six to eight with the addition of my aunt and cousin.

Then my mother’s brother came to live with us. Like my aunt, my uncle was willing and able to work, so some money was spent to get him going with a car, clothes, etc. That puts the headcount at nine in the same three-bedroom house. The shrinking amount of living space wasn’t important when I was young, and might have been permissible if that was the only consequence of my parents supporting more and more family members.

Fast forward to my senior year in high school, when I spent the income from my minimum-wage job on a used car and auto insurance. Insurance rates for 17-year-old boys are sky high, so I didn’t have much money left. I resented my aunt and uncle because my parents got them cars with no strings attached and I spent senior year rushing to work during my lunch hour to earn money for the independence that came with driving.

Shortly after high school, my parents filed bankruptcy. The details are hazy, so I cannot pinpoint the exact year, but I was angry about our socioeconomic situation. I figured that my parents wouldn’t be in financial trouble if my aunt and uncle never came to live with us. It didn’t help that this was in the late 1990’s, a period of abundance for many Americans, yet we were struggling.

It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I considered the possibility that my aunt and uncle should not be blamed. Anyone in need would have acted the way they did, staying as long as possible because it was more comfortable than any other situation, and not considering leaving until independence was reached. Maybe that’s why I’m angry. Independence takes years, decades even, and I was cut off before I was 10 years old.

That’s where my parents went wrong. Many cultures take family in and I understand and support that, but to help siblings at the expense of one’s children is inappropriate. Let’s call it what it is: neglect. My parents failed to find the balance between helping my mother’s siblings and raising their own children.

I’m not mad that I currently pay several hundred dollars on my student loans each month, but could I be paying less if my parents diligently put money in a college fund for us three boys before they decided to support my aunt and uncle? Absolutely.

I know this because my parents made a decent living. I never envied other students in school that had stay-at-home moms or nicer cars or anything else that comes with families with money, but I wanted what we had. My parents came to the United States in the 1970’s with undergraduate degrees and found white collar work shortly after they arrived. They easily took home a middle-class salary.

Here’s what I’ve learned from this:

• First, a financial education is important. My parents were spending, not saving or investing, and I honestly believe they would have filed bankruptcy even if my aunt and uncle never came to live with us.

• Second, prioritize. I don’t care if my parents spent $5K a year gambling, as long as they had money: for a tutor if one of their kids was struggling with a subject in school, to subsidize an SAT prep course, etc.

• Third, learn how to say, “No.” Each of my parents is one of 10 children, which means there could have been 16 more aunts/uncles in our three-bedroom house. When does it end?

• Fourth, set boundaries. If you’re going to let someone live with you, discuss how long the stay should be, and how much rent, no matter how little, should be paid each month.

What is your take on the situation? What do you recommend?


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  • Pia Pascua

    I went exactly what you went through Gerard. When we were growing up (and i have 5 other siblings) our home in Manila was never devoid of cousins, children of my mother’s siblings from the province. Every year, a new cousin would stay with us for 2 to 3 years, and when that cousin goes, another one takes his or her place. My father would do anything to keep my mother happy, but sometimes, growing up, we began to resent this perenial intrusion. Everything had to be shared, especially food, and when you any of us came to the table late, we ended up with the dregs or what was left of prime choice. That always sucked. I see your side of the coin, and i absolutely agree with you. I also see though the deepset culture and christian values my parents made us live through: charity begins at home. I try to teach my own children these values, hosting friends and family when they come over to visit us in Rome, Italy (it’s where we live.) But I do put a limit to anyone’s stay in deference to my italian husband who may accept everything but a long-lasting intrusion, because as the saying goes: Guests are like fish: after three days, they stink.

  • Thanks for reading! Stop by my Facebook Page for more of my work! –Gerrard http://www.facebook.com/gerrardpanahon

  • Marlon Rueda

    I so feel you in all aspect of the debate……..a limit or others might call boundaries has to be set accordingly…..To help our family (family refers to not just our immediate ones but tagging along the entire family tree as far as one can identify)is the primary reason why 10 million of us filipinos are abroad. I even have to skip and forget my dreams for a while since the need to bring food on the table seemed to be more eminent thing to do. after all as it was said in the holy scripture give them fish and they’ll eat for a day but teach them how to fish you’ll feed them for a lifetime. That has been my goal ever since i stepped on to that yellow lane at the airport on my way to my first job assignment abroad, that is to help them, my family, help themselves. And soon when i know that they can strive on their own i’ll start re-building mine……i am thinking of taking business admin when i come back to school, luckily for me don’t have to shred a lot of money to get myself educated here in finland since education is highly subsidized by the government( though tax here is so overrated at least one can see where it’s being use)

  • are u sure you’re posting in the right page?

  • I totally agree with the four things you learned. I think people need to remember that money is a resource that needs to be used wisely. Your first priority is yourself & your immediate family (spouse, children), so money should go to their needs first (food, clothing, shelter, other daily needed expenses, then saving & investing). Kung merong sobra, then you can help others. Helping others is always a good thing, but not at the expense of yourself & your immediate family.

  • jennifer

    First of all…I am so proud of you because you are a great and loving son to your parents. You were raised in a very wholesome filipino culture that has a strong family ties…that most children listens and obey their parents no matter what they say or been decided.

    Yes…I agree to all your points here, Gerrard!!

    Your parents loves you Gerrard. You are so lucky coz you have two parents here in America. Did you know that some children has one parent to take care of their chldren, mother, aunts, and uncles. They’re filipino parents/parent that really love and takes care of whole family …more than themselves.

    My point is …be thankful of having a very loving parents, a loving grandmother…you are such a strong-willed Man now…you’ve seen how it is to help and love extended relatives/families…And it is now up to you if u want to follow that road that your parents did for their own extended family/siblings.

    As long as you love and care people…whether its your relatives or strangers..GOD will blessed U through the rest of your life…Some of the points you mentioned are material things but you missed the essence of all — LOVE and SHARING…Peace be with us always!!

    Thanks Gerrard…

  • Di naman pero ma misarable if you marry or love the wrong person di ba….kaya chillax lang din

  • nag eenjoy ako sa pag babasa sa mga post ng admin dito sa Definitely Filipino 😀 love it 🙂