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Peso Mentality for Foreigners in the Philippines

Sunday we started our day as usual, Elena left before I woke to go to Church. My alarm woke me at 7am and I had my juice and a few cigarettes in the Sala (Living Room) as I watched CNN. By 8am I was dressed and drove to the Church to pick Elena up. From there and we headed to Agdao Palengke for or meats, fish, vegetables and fruits. A friend from England has been joining us to get his provisions for the week so we picked him up on the way. After the marketing we stopped at McDonalds for breakfast.

After we go home and relax a little and then shower and head out to Gaisano Mall, the nicer mall that is close to our home. Well because of the Kadayawan Festivities as decided to go to SM City mall in Ecoland. SM City is the newest mall in the city with the most modern look to it.

After we had lunch, we headed into the Market. Elena was to start shopping and I was going to buy my cigarettes. As they scanned the carton (ream as called here) a price showed that made me gasp. It was 360 pesos. Prices do vary somewhat and I do not mind a few peso difference but Gaisano charges 313 pesos. Other prices are 314 at Victoria and 316 at the new Robinsons Cybergate.

After I walked out of the liquor and cigarette area and met up with Elena, she was seeing the same problem with food items. A lot of the items are 5 pesos or more higher then we pay at Gaisano. You might be saying, what is the big deal 5 pesos is only approximately $00.10 USD.

Yes, I remember when I first visited here and compared prices in America and thought everything was so cheap, I had no problems buying anything I wanted.  But, when I visited the Philippines, I was still employed and making a decent salary. Then when I moved here, at first I continued that thought about the prices.  Well, after you have lived here for a while and on a fixed income, a peso here and a peso there add up.

Even with restaurants, when you first move here, and have not gotten used to a more Filipino style of eating, you go to the more continental style of restaurants and have no problem spending 400 to 500 pesos for an entrée. To you, 500 pesos is only about $10 and you will think about how the same plate of food would cost so much more back in your home country. This is true, but for me, at those times I had a job and was making a lot more money too.

Now, if you were smart in the old life and invested, saved and built up a nice investment portfolio and your receiving you’re Social Security and maybe other pensions, that is great. But most foreigners who have moved here did not do that and have a smaller monthly income. Many move here without visiting before and had heard or read from others that you can live here on $1000. Yes, you probably can, but you will not have a large home, or even a 2 story townhouse. With that income you will be living in a small apartment with the basic needs.

One of the best ways and hardest thing to do is change your mind set to a peso mentality. What I do, since I still at times convert the amount into dollars is I think about what I pay for lunch here or there. What I spent before at another place or what else I need to do that week. If I spent a large amount on the weekend, I eat home or eat at an inexpensive place if out lunchtime.  For instance, lunch for 2 at McDonalds it will cost close to 300 pesos. There is a Chinese style Filipino restaurant around town named Mandarin. There 2 people can have a nice lunch for 200 pesos or less.

Just as I talked in the beginning about going to the Palengke to do our shopping for meats, fish, vegetables and fruits. There prices are less than the Mall markets and I notice the quality of the fruits and vegetables are much fresher too.

Some will also think, well I will spend more now and reduce my lifestyle as time goes on. You need to consider costs of things that will pop up; medical, family emergencies especially if you’re married or living with a Filipina, her family tree extends in many branches and they all will come to you for help. Then there is always the change of the peso conversion. When I visited here the rate was 50 pesos to the dollar but when I moved here it was down to around 40. Now it has been staying in the high 47 to lower 48 ranges. You need to put money aside for those times the rate drops and we can just hope it never drops and stays down, then we will all be living on a diet of rice and dried fish.

59 Responses to “Peso Mentality for Foreigners in the Philippines”

  1. maria says:

    hi bruce
    thanks for posting this. my husband drove me crazy when we went on a cruise and on our stop over destinations, his money mentallity was sooooo american. man, he really made me mad with him so “free” with the money because he felt everything was so cheap.


    • Bruce says:

      That is the problem. It is not so much on vacation if you will go home and back to work. The big problem is for expats moving here, or to a 3rd world nation. Unless you have a huge pension, when you first move here, you buy, buy buy and then realize you do not have enough savings to survive after a few years.

  2. Tom says:

    Well I guess what is cheap is relative to you financial standing. I’m sure if I hit the Power Ball I would consider a lot of things cheap that I might have to do without otherwise. 😎

  3. jan says:

    The problem with a lot of expats her in the Philippines is that they still think in dollars or Euro or Pound). They should forget their old currency and start thinking in pesos.
    To do that, it would be better to compare all prizes with how much a kilo of rice costs, or porc, or an other item. Only in this way they can learn to spend more the Filipino way and can live on a budget lower than 1000 dollars.
    By the way: I also smoke and I am only paying 280 for my marlboro: on the Palengke, where the sari-sari store owners buy their goods. It saves you about 40 pesos every time with is about 1 kilo of rice. That is Peso thinking.

    • Bruce says:

      That is good advice. To save money, I should by my Marlboro in soft pack, but since I usually carry them in my pants pocket, I know how they can get crushed and broken.

      • Ken Harmes says:

        There is of course another way of saving money on cigarettes?hehe.

        • Bruce says:


          Yes there is, smoke them slower.

          • Tom says:

            I gave up cigarettes years ago to have more money to spend on beer and women. Haven’t regretted it even once. 😎

          • Bruce says:

            I knew I would be told how many had quit. For some it is easy, for some difficult but accomplished, and some like me who has not been able to do it.

          • Per says:

            hummmm…. strange how this site works… I left a reply to the article, but it ended up in the middle of the replies… as a reply for one of the replies and therefore is totally non-sensical in context. Sorry, maybe I am too tired.

          • Bruce says:

            Since your a new commenter, your comments are moderated and needed to be approved by me. Now your comments will just post. Also to post a new comment, use the box at the bottom. If you want to reply to an existing comment, click the “reply” under that comment and it will stack in below the last reply.

  4. Marvin says:

    You guys need to switch to Champions.

  5. Vanessa says:

    Marvin, i’m laughing so hard here. I don’t think Bruce will even sniff it hahaha. Definitely cheaper.

  6. Evelyn says:

    bruce,did you know that you will consume more rice if you eat it with dried fish?hmmmmm i’m salivating…esp with suka or fresh tomatoes….yummmy

  7. BrSpiritus says:

    Ok Venice and I live off of around P25-30k a month and are perfectly happy, but I also understand that yu have more obligations living in your house. $1000 a month is still doable if you are willing to make changes.

    • Bruce says:

      You are correct, it can be done for less. But as you mentioned, you have less obligations. It is just you and Venice in the house, We have 5-6 people if you include Amar who visits regularly. At times though we all go spend more for things we miss, even if it is over the budget.

  8. grayspirit says:

    Hmmmm … don’t worry my dad wakes up each morning for coffee and starts puffing on a nasty cigar for the rest of the day. I’m hoping I inherited his genes as I’m a Marlboro addict myself. 28 pesos if I buy them by the carton at Robinsons. Used to spend over $7 a pack back in the states.

    • Bruce says:

      I prefer the flip top box as I explained in an earlier comment. I pay 313 pesos at one mall. The interesting thing is the Warehouse store here, which is supposed to have discount prices charges close to 330 for a carton.

  9. The peso changeover is a bit of a mentality thing but also you have to look not just in the Philippines but worldwide. I remember in the UK for example when the supermarkets decided to destroy the bakery industry loaves of bread hit 19p how much now? Around £1.20 for the same bread because there is no longer any competition they can blame wheat prices and everythng else but thats a huge price difference over 10 years which just doesnt make any sense except commercially. But getting back to my point it is also about pre-planning the move from the West. Im not to keen on the bread in the Philippines which is why I am sending out a breadmaker aswell as the fact my wife is good at making bread as its something shes practiced while ive been away. Same with most goods that may be difficult to source or have more uses. E.g. Sausage skins so you can make your own sausages and freeze the extra. I bought a meat grinder last year list goes on but its all about cutting costs. Getting that retirement fund is easier to get even if semi-retired already by thinking of ways to save money at every opportunity and then building up the nest egg instead for investments. If your seriously into food though best investment is a cookery course! most ingredients can be found with a bit of research in the Philippines.. 😉

    • Bruce says:

      If your in Manila, look for Gardenia bread, it is more like the US white bread. less sugar. One thing I brought with me from the states was a pressure cooker. It makes the vulcanized beef and pork tolerable.

      • maria says:

        since you brought your pressure cooker there with you to use, did you buy your converter plug there to use with it also, or can i buy it here in florida at walmart? when i go there to visit for health reasons, i want to bring my vitamix blender to use. thanks for the info.


        • Bruce says:

          I have a pressure cooker that goes on the stove. At times I wished I bought the electric type to better regulate the heat.
          About converters, many of the ones you get in the states only reduce the 220V to 110V. In America electricity the 2 prongs are 110V and neutral (0V) and if a 3rd prong, that is ground. Here the 2 prongs are 110V on each. So with the converter, it reduces each 110V prong to 65V. I had bought 3 converters before I moved here and blew up a few items. What you need is a transformer or regulator. They are sold here, sorry I do not know the price. These create a neutral and gives you a proper circuit for US typle electric devices. The regulator is more expensive, but will regulate the power in case their are fluctuations.

          • maria says:


            my husband wonders if you can block off one of the 110 legs and use the ground for your neutral? and we are not sure what the difference is between the transformer and the regulator. thanks for the clarifications.


          • Bruce says:

            I think using one leg of the circuit and installing your own 8 food grounding rod could work, but I am not positive if it will cause an imbalance with the transformer. There is no neutral or ground here. I was told Davao Light and Power will install a 110 volt transformer, but you need to pay for it.
            The difference between a power transformer and a regulator is as follows. They both create a neutral for American 110V appliances and electric devices. The difference with the regulator is there are components, probably capacitors that will keep the voltage at 110V even if there are surges or dips in power.

  10. Lonnie Carreau says:

    I am not sure this is only a peso mentality. I know plenty of folks in the US who get behind in their bills and will complain to you about it as they are eating their take out order from a fast food joint. When you point out that they are eating out, they invariably will point out that this is only 5 or 6 bucks. Like Pesos, it adds up. No matter what your currency is, your income needs to exceed your spending over time. Its far more important as you get older because the potential for your income to increase gets lower. This is even more true for expats.

    $7 for a carton of cancer sticks seems cheap to me compared to what you would have to pay here. I am fortunate enough not to have the habbit, though I enjoy a good cigar every few years.

    One stark difference between the US and the third world is what poor means. In the third world, folks are skinny because they cannot afford more food. In the US, it is very common for poor folks to be obese.

    • Bruce says:

      Living anywhere with the state of the economy, watching your centavos is always a good plan. I think the obese problem for the poor in the states is they eat too much of the wrong foods.

  11. Ralph M. says:

    I always convert peso into Canada dollars when I am in the philippines. As my income comes in Canada dollars I use it as my currency refer point for everything that I buy using the peso. It is important to try and keep within your monthly budget xx Canada dollars. But it comes difficult when every month most items cost a few peso more. These extra peso will add up and you could easy go over your budget. One way to keep your budget on target is record everything that you buy and redo your itemized monthy budget every 6 months.

    • Bruce says:

      I have tried to keep a spending account, but the boss does most of the spending and will not pass along the info, so I just hope we can still eat by the end of the month. Another problem here is many Filipinos do not think about saving for a rainy day. When it is close to the end of the month, any money left burns a hole in their pocket.

  12. Tom says:

    You just need the right motivation. Cute girl stinky cigarette, Cute Girl Stinky Cigarette. Hmmmmmmm

    • Bruce says:

      Even though my girl, better know as my wife hates me smoking, I am still allowed. So, I have both.

      • Per says:

        Yes, the extended family can be a bitch.
        OK, what does one choose: to make them hostile or to help them and eat garbage to support oneself?
        I sent money to my friend and warned her that all twigs and branches of family will pop up and ask her for help, but I had sent this money for her, her son and her immediate family, to help build up an income and to buffer them for future needs. Once she gets on her feet properly and has a functioning income, THEN she can help them, but not before. Well, surprise… a distant cousin asked for help and she helped… and the distant cousin was still not happy, nor very good at managing the help she got. So my friend learned that what I said was true. I sent her some more money, so now she has a few pigs and a rice field going (and a small cushion) and once it starts making an income, then she can think to maybe help others, but not before. This help I gave is primarily for her and her children, secondary for her father and Kuyas, which help planting and harvesting the rice, so they get a share of the income as wage.
        I can add that in Davao, she lives in a squat… no water, no sanitation, no electricity, no nothing…. and still her second cousin twice removed wants her to give her money… extended family is a bitch.

        • Bruce says:


          When I was first working on bringing my wife to America, I told her I will not support her family. I told her that her brothers, sisters, and extended family existed before she met me and will exist without me. But you need to learn the extended family is important in a Filipinos life. For me I am lucky, Elena told her family when I moved here that I did not have much money, so do not ask. She even is the first to ask for collateral from friends when they ask to borrow money.

  13. jan says:

    When I was about 13 or 14 years old, my old man bought me some tabacco and a pipe. He said: “it’s about time that you start smoking”.
    In those years, the early sixties, it was common for a everybody to smoke. Health risks were not known then, that became public knowledge much later.
    So after having lots of smokes in all those years it is very difficult to just stop smoking.
    I think that every smoker should get a warning from his own body that is is too much. Only on such a moment it will be easier to stop this bad habbit of ours.
    For non-smokers it is easy to say: “just stop”. And there’s still a lot of people who have been smoking before a lot, and now promoting the non-smoking policy even with more fire than the gouvernment does. Those people are capable of calling the authorities when they see someone else smoking on prohibited areas. I hate those former-smokers who are now so heavily against smoking.
    I have tried to stop a few times, but I can say that it is very difficult to realy stop. But one day: I will try to stop again. I only don’t know yet when……

    • Bruce says:

      There is a funny story, when I was about 6 to 10 years old, my father was talking to a neighbor. I asked my father if I could try his cigarette. As my father was saying no, the neighbor told my Dad to let me try, I would get sick and would not want to try again. I took a puff and ran to the house coughing and gagging. I must have thought I did something wrong because a few minutes later I came out and asked to try again.
      If you really want to stop, I had stopped for 8 months using Chantex, sold in the Philippines under the name Champex. The only reason I started again was 2 weeks before flying here, everything was done and I was going crazy with boredom. Talking to a neighbor, she lit up and I asked for one. The next day twice and then the next day I bought a pack.

  14. maria says:

    did you buy your converter there in the philippines to use with your pressure cooker or can i buy it here in walmart to use with my vitamix blender i plan to bring with me there?

  15. Evelyn says:

    Bruce, you mentioned about filipinos not saving …but my question is “where in the world are you going to get the money for saving,when the income is not sufficient for a month’s expenditures?”..i think in the Phil, income power there does not match the standard of living..what i am saying is that– the salary of a minimum income wage earner there is not sufficient for his/her monthly expenses..i think that is what i have noticed there..the standard of living is sooo high but the income is way sooo low..that is why a lot succumbed to this 5/6 modus operandi…if you haven’t heard of this 5/6 thing, then you have to ask elena…i am sure she knows…

    • Bruce says:

      Even if you make 100 pesos, you can put aside 10. Look at all the money spent, even with the poor on cell loads, Red Horse and Tanduay? I feel at times the cell phone is more important than food. I know about the 5/6 loan and all the use of pawn shops. Once you start borrowing, if you do not have the money to repay, you get in a circle using one to pay the other and you end up poorer than before.

      • Doc says:

        I lived in the Pi for 5 years and am planning a return in the next 12 to 18 months (can’t wait). What I came up with as to why pinoys don’t save is that, if they do, the family / friends inevitably find out and come asking to borrow it. Pinoys are generous by nature and most have experienced difficult economic times so they find it very difficult to say no to the potential borrower. If they do hit a small jackpot, they’ll often buy jewelry as a buffer against future hard times (they can easily pawn it) and they won’t have to loan it.

        • Bruce says:

          In some ways I think you are correct with the generosity and not being able to turn down a friend or relitive in need. But also is the instant gratification mentality where an extra peso is burning a hole in their pockets.

  16. jan says:

    @ evelyn’s comment.
    The problem with Filipinos is that the moment they HAVE some money, what is not needed for food, they spend it immediately to buy something else. Money is burning holes in their pockets. That’s the reason they are not able to save and are always short.
    You should see how busy the malls are every 1st and 15th of the month, the day after payday. All fastfood restaurants are loaded with people: spending. A week later they don’t have money anymore and go to the 5/6 bombay or to the pawnshop.
    The result: Filipinos are always short of money. But there are exeptions of course.

  17. Cliff Martin says:

    Hi Bruce,
    Yeah, Excellent post. After 10 months here I found myself becoming very AWARE of the cost of living. The peso mentality is essential for most people coming here for long periods of time. Visitng and living here are TWO DIFFERENT things.
    You have some great information on this site….You should edit the essential information/posts/chapters and make them into a downloadable E-Book for sale.

    Clifford Martin

    • Bruce says:

      Thanks for enjoying my site. Good also to see you tonight at the meeting. For me, it is interesting and a fun discussion with my mom in America. I am a High School dropout and English was my worst subject. Now with this blog, I have gotten comments about being a good writer. Now I have an other job, part time, writing content for a service that sells content to some big sites. About a book, organizing with chapters is new to me. If you are experienced in this area, I will work with someone and share the profits.

      • roy says:

        Yes Bruce. I appreciate your clear writing and very sharp observations. You must realize that I discover this blog just last week. I’m trying to read as much as I can and had to stop myself from commenting here and there, otherwise I won’t be able to read the rest. Keep up the good work!

  18. Evelyn says:

    thanks,mr jan,for commenting on my comment..
    and to bruce, my congratulations for another job u have…
    anyway, i think i have to disagree with your comment that filipinos go to the mall right away after the payday…what i know is that they go to the mall for window shopping only and try to be cool there with its free airconditioning …hahahahaha
    anyway,kidding aside…..and back to our discussion about saving…..the minimum income there i guess is around 10-15k a month…while expenses range from 20-25k monthly(this is just the basic needs) where is the balance here?…it’s SHORT?????

  19. Bill Bartmann_ says:

    I’m so glad I found this site…Keep up the good work I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say GREAT blog. Thanks,

  20. Bill Bartmann- says:

    I’m so glad I found this site…Keep up the good work I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say GREAT blog. Thanks,

    A definite great read…


  21. J.C. says:

    Hi Bruce, This is the first time reading your site and I think it’s good. Keep up the good work, and I will be back..J.C.

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