Normally I’d like to give you a little teaser and get you to read the whole article, or at least skim most of it. This time I’m going to spill the beans right off. The secret to living cheaply in the Philippines is the same as anywhere, buy cheap (inexpensive) things – especially those that are local.

Sounds obvious, right? Well it may be a little harder to do so for those of us that have lived our whole lives elsewhere, but with a little effort you can learn to get by with what’s here and not try to buy so many imported items. Some things, like services, you don’t need to consider. You are going to get those here anyways. At least most of the time.

I decided to start making a little list of things that are cheaper here. It’s not all inclusive of course, but things that I can get easily here, some of which I choose to and some I have no choice. A couple I don’t bother with, but others find them useful. The point is to take advantage of what’s here and not try to make it the same as “home”.

Buying imported gets expensive, no matter where you live. I still buy some imported things but I try to keep it at a minimum, and whenever possible find a local substitute for it. Not all things have decent alternatives, so those are the ones I splurge on.

  • Cellphone Load – Whether for text, calls or internet you can find very reasonable deals to meet your needs. I currently have one that is good for 30 days and includes unlimited text to all networks, 3 hours of calls to all networks but Globe, and 100 MB of data usage. It costs me P250 for 30 days (less than $6).
  • Haircut – I sometimes shave my own head but I often get a haircut here for P30 at the corner barber. Even with the big tip I give (P20), it’s still just barely over a dollar.
  • Massage – Prices vary according to location and services, but my current local favorite is P150 for one hour. I give them a big tip, too, but I find that a great value and try to get one every week or so.
  • Movies – I don’t take advantage of this often, but you can find good deals here as well. P100-P200 were the prices at GMall Cinema today. Others may be higher or lower.
  • Mineral Water – I’m talking the kind that comes in the 5 gallon jugs for home use. I’m getting it for P35, and I know I could be paying P25. I like the service I receive from my supplier, so I shell out the extra P10 since we only go through about one a week.
  • Budget Hotels – If you are on a tight budget you can find rooms for much less than anything you’d see in the US. I stayed at one in Cagayan de Oro for P400 a night. It was very, very small but had a bed, aircon and CR with hot shower. Met my needs for that night. Your need for this when living here would certainly be less, but if you travel around a bit you might have an occasion to use one.
  • Karenderia (sidewalk restaurant) – I don’t eat at the local food stalls, as my vegetarian diet doesn’t allow, but one can eat very inexpensively there. The locals know the good, safe ones. Just ask around, or watch which ones are busy.
  • Transportation – Owning your own vehicle may or may not be cheaper, but if you can ride the tricycles and jeepneys you can definitely save money here. A typical tricycle ride is P7, while you can take most jeepneys within town to one destination for P8. Transfers and longer distances cost more of course. I live further out but went to GMall and back for P72 ($1.68) today. That’s a long ride, with transfer, all the way to and from my subdivision. Taxis are inexpensive, comparatively, too. If you ride those all the time though, it can add up.
  • Cigarettes – I don’t smoke but understand that those that do enjoy quite a break on the heavy taxes imposed in the US. I know that singles from the sari-sari go for about P4-5 each. I’m sure packs are much cheaper.
  • Health and Dental Care – I’ve had some very fine dental work done at a fraction of the cost to do so back home. Even if I had dental insurance back home, I’d still pay less in some cases here. I’ve been to the hospital/clinic and their labs a few more times than I’d have cared to. Even so I was able to cover all of it within my budget. Most of the lab work was very inexpensive. I had an Ultrasound done for under P1000 (less than $25). Maybe it wasn’t as extensive as in the US, I couldn’t say, but they were able to look at what they needed and determine the issue.
  • Coconut Water – This one is hardly a fair comparison. I was drinking a lot of coconut water before I moved here, as I was still doing my Bikram yoga. Being that I can go to the corner and get a fresh young coconut for P15 or less, including the meat, this one is truly taking advantage of supply and demand.
  • Smoothies/Shakes – I can go to any mall in town and order a fresh fruit shake with 4 or more fruits for P50-60. Is there sugar and milk? Not if you ask them to leave it out. Same thing at my local health food store cost me about 4 times that much. This is my go to lunch when out and about.

Well that’s my short list. Everyone has their own, of course. I’ll continue to find local products and try to reduce my expenditures, or at the least have more to spend on other things.

P.S. – I didn’t do the math on all the peso prices. For those that don’t follow it, the rate is about P43.97 to 1 dollar as of the writing of this article. So, divide the peso amount by 44 and you’ll get a fairly current US dollar conversion.

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