Appliance Shopping in the Philippines – Or Comparing a Consumption Culture vs. a Simple One

Today’s blog is about appliance shopping in Dumaguete which let’s face it, is a boring topic unless you are looking for a ref (that’s what they call them here) in the Philippines. Even then it’s boring, if useful. But trust me, I’ll meat it up because the experience reminds me of the difference between the West and the 3rd world. But bare with me in the meantime.

As I’ve talked about before, Janet and I rented a month to month apartment so we could arrive here with a decent place to stay and to ship our stuff to while we looked for a house to lease. The Hermogina Apartments filled the bill if not much more. I figured it would take us a couple months to find a rental house but we were motivated to act quickly. The process was not simple and perhaps I will blog about that later. The bottom line is we found a small house in Valencia (10 minutes west of Duma) that met our needs and signed a one year lease. While many houses for rent come with furniture, ours is unfurnished and the price reflects that. We debated about whether to get a furnished house or spring for furnishings but in the end rationalized that we will have to buy stuff in a year when we will more than likely build a house, so we might as well do it now.

Unfurnished in the Philippines generally means pretty bare bones. Our house actually has an oven/stove; lots of unfurnished houses don’t even have that. It’s got a couple aircon units and 2 water heaters in the showers, but that’s it. There is no refrigerator, for example. So we knew we needed a ref, washing machine, and TV and thus began our journey into appliance hell – or was it hell?

Let me step backwards in time for a moment. Just a few short months ago we sold our house in Portland, preparing to move to the Philippines. The appliances in our home were functional but old. Frankly, I liked them – but I too am functional but old. It became quickly clear that the kitchen itself and its appliances were a stumbling block in our desire to sell the house for the massive killing I imagined. The house was built in ’43 and the kitchen was efficient but small. As a single father (which I was when I bought the house) I liked it; why waste space on a kitchen, I said often. But there was no room in the kitchen for a modern refrigerator; you know the ones the size of an SUV with a price over $1000. Nor was there a breakfast bar or one of those cooking islands. What did I care – I was cooking frozen pizzas most of the time.

Janet and I began to wonder whether there was anything we could do to update the kitchen without spending thousands to blow the whole thing up. We focused on the refrigerator; I’m guessing it was from the 70s or 80s. I liked it. Hell it had an ice cube maker; that is it did until the water line started leaking and I turned the thing off. What, we wondered, would the kitchen look like if we put in a new refrigerator? But here was the problem. Like the rest of the kitchen the refrigerator was white and it was decidedly not the size of an SUV. We went to Home Depot in search of a smallish, white refrigerator. The salesman looked at me like I was a crazy old coot; OK he got that one right. They did actually have one that would fit our space and was white. It was $550. In the end our realtor told us not to bother and the house managed to sell with the old refrigerator.

A lot of guys go on and on about the cost comparisons between the US and Philippines. While many things are less, they say electronics and appliances are more expensive. Is this true? Yes and no – how’s that for being definitive. If you want the exact same model of something you are likely to pay more in the Philippines than on Amazon. But in many cases, can you find or do you really need the same model. And here finally we come full circle, to appliance shopping in Dumaguete.

We went into Robinson’s Appliances and made a bee line for the refs. For me it was ref heaven; unlike in the US where 90% of the models were those SUV types with prices to match, here 90% of the available models are what I think of as “normal” refs. Most are stainless steel, which Janet loves, and most were major brand names (Samsung, Panasonic, Sharp, even Whirlpool). But most were in the 9-12 cu. ft. size. Most were far less expensive than that lone white ref we saw in Home Depot, back in our former life. We saw several options we liked and moved onto washing machines.

Now, in the Philippines most people who own washing machines (and many many people do not) only own a washing machine. While a few dryers were available, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that the function of a dryer naturally exists in the Philippines in the form of 365 days/year of heat. So most people do what your mother or grandmother did; hang the clothes outside to dry. So now we had eliminated one appliance and could focus on what we actually needed, a washing machine for two adults. In the US, washers and dryers have grown larger and larger, their increased capacity paralleling the SUV-like refrigerators. I’m sure there’s a formula to compare food consumption to clothing size. The bottom line is that many washing machines in the Philippines have small capacities and are cheap! Janet liked the Samsung models and the grey (I wonder why). I liked the cheap.

BTW, speaking of cheap, it seems that in the Philippines the price marked on the appliances is not the price you pay. The experience was the same in several stores. The salesman opened a book and quoted the real price. The cash price was significantly less that the listed price but their notion of cash included credit cards. I think all it meant was if you paid, rather than financed, you got a nice discount.

So now I’m getting excited. It looks like we’re going to save money compared to what I was used to in the US, so it came time to look at the TVs. We once again turned to Samsung and looked at a 50″ Smart TV. While I went in with no particular interest in a 4k TV (there is no content broadcast in 4k in the Philippines at this point) the money difference between the 4k set and the 1080p set was small.

Next, I did what I always do: went to the 3 or 4 appliances stores in Dumaguete to compare. In the end we found the best prices at Imperial, a Philippines appliance store chain. I am always reticent to talk about what I spend on stuff (it’s the old guy in me) but I will say that for about the price I would have paid for one of those American SUV refrigerators, we got a Samsung ref, Samsung washing machine, and Samsung 50″ 4k Smart TV. The good price was not because things are cheaper here. They were because we didn’t need the excesses so common in the 1st world. In the US would Janet have accepted the 11 cu. ft. ref or would she have jonesed after the aircraft carrier models? And what would the washer-drier have cost? Even I would have been unlikely to get excited over 50″ when so many have 60+”. So we got what we needed and didn’t break the bank.

We had the same experience with furniture. I love wood and wanted something of a “native”, not Western, style. Janet prefers the quality of rattan over bamboo, so that’s where we focused. In the end we furnished the house with a nice living room set, 6-seat dining room set, 2 queen sized beds with matching foam mattresses. Again, we spent about what we would have spent for one of those aforementioned refrigerators. And again, we didn’t save because things are fundamentally cheaper in the Philippines (though some things are) but because we didn’t need what we would have considered necessary in the US.

2 thoughts on “Appliance Shopping in the Philippines – Or Comparing a Consumption Culture vs. a Simple One”

  1. Samsung for the TV? Yes. For washing machine it is a no no as far as we are concerned. When our 9kg electrolux broke down, I went for a samsung cause it was cheaper. We crudely repaired the electrolux (jumps a bit). We were running them side by side for a year, and the Samsung became not worth fixing. We bought a second electrolux and it is going fine for a year with it’s older brother (still needing new shocks). We do however have our machines running up to 16 hours continuous per day. We have a Samsung ref/freezer in our house (60 cm). It never missed a beat in 6+ years. The US (120 cm) style one over in the hotel (samsung) required severe modification after a year, but is going fine since (another 3 years). Aircon….. never touch a Samsung split type. We have 2- 2hp, 6- 1.5hp & 1- 1hp split units. The outside unit’s panel boards go all the time. We have spent well over 150k on repairs of those 9 units since 2013. Our two ‘window type’ samsungs are going strong (one is noisy) for 6+ years. We have 10 low end Samsung flat screens. Only one developed a fault at a cost of 4k.
    Say Hi to The Boss 🙂

    1. Hi Pascal – Will say hi to her.

      Your experience is great since it encompasses many appliances, heavily used in your resort. I assume the TV should last awhile and the ref might outlast me 🙂 The washer is a convenience; Janet hand washes half of her stuff and always did in the US. And at this point since I exclusively wear t-shirts and shorts, the little Samsung should do me for awhile. For the price we paid if it craps out in a year or two I’ll re-evaluate. But really it was chump change. Like in many Philippines homes, it’s outside the house, so we’ll see how it survives the elements.

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