Tag Archives: appliances

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.

Dollars vs. Pesos

The first thing you have to know is that I am pretty darn good at math. No, I am not talking about Boolean Trigonometry or Differential Calculus or some such crap. I mean basic addition and subtraction. I can even manage multiplication and division if I really have to. I grew up long before calculators replaced that nasty rote memorization we had in school. My point of all this is that I can pretty quickly convert dollars to pesos and visa versa. It’s even made easier at this point in time since currently a dollar is worth close to 50 pesos.

When Janet and I traveled to the Philippines in the past, I just brought with me my human calculator skills and could tell her “Hey that taxi ride only cost $3.” We eat out fairly often and rarely pay more than 500 pesos for the two of us for dinner (including my ceremonial one San Miguel). The 500 pesos sounds like at lot but its $10 equivalent sounds dirt cheap.

A couple years ago while visiting the Philippines I got into a conversation with the Filipina girlfriend of a friend. She said that I had to “stop thinking dollars and start thinking pesos.” I agreed with her in principal but it was hard to turn off the human calculator. Janet and I on our travels occasionally argued about what we had spent, particularly when it involved services. In one particularly famous and humorous occasion we felt that we got beat out of 300 pesos for a trike ride and did a lot of finger pointing at each other. Using my human calculator skills, I finally reminded her that “Hey, it’s only $6. We’d pay many times that for a cab in Portland.” But the truth is that at a certain level, that’s not the point. You are talking apples to oranges if you’re comparing prices between the Philippines and the US. In the end the Filipina girlfriend was right and I have to learn to take the 300 pesos for what it was – a bit of an overcharge. Today we have at times argued with trike drivers over an extra 5 or 10 pesos. It sounds ridiculously petty (which sometimes I am) but in the end sometimes it’s the right thing to do.

Janet has been recently trying to convince me that I need a coin pouch for going around Dumaguete; that pulling out my wallet all the time looking for change or small bills is cumbersome and potentially dangerous. We went into Robinson’s to look for a coin pouch. I saw a few for 50 pesos but they didn’t speak to me lol. Then I saw one for 59 pesos that I liked better. But we had to decide whether it was worth the extra 9 pesos. There’s no point in saying that 9 pesos is only – well, you figure it out – it’s only 9 damn pesos. The point still was that it was 9 pesos more and was it worth it? In the end I decided it was; and so did Janet. She wanted one too. So now I was shelling out more than double, when I could have just bought the crappy 50 pesos coin pouch. This is what we get for having too many pesos 🙂

All expats say that there is a big difference between being in vacation mode and living in the Philippines and this is one of the differences. I am retired, living on a modest fixed income and I have to learn to work with my finite amount of pesos and not think “ooo that’s so cheap compared to the US.” While it is cheaper, it’s cheap compared to a life in another country where I had a job that paid a hell of a lot more pesos than my Social Security check.

We have recently rented a house and will move there in September and it’s unfurnished. So we spent some time looking at the appliances we will need. We want decent quality since they will eventually move over to a permanent location when we buy a house. So we looked at a Samsung refrigerator in Janet’s favorite stainless steel and a Samsung washing machine. The salesman told us of the big discounts we will get because we are rich Americans using a rich American’s credit card. I tried not to calculate but I couldn’t help it; the prices sounded good even in US dollars. And remember these were not cheap Chinese appliances – they were cheap Korean appliances – or wherever Samsung makes their stuff. So now the salesman takes us to the most important item – the TV. He shows us a 49″ 1080p Samsung set – nice and again a nice price. But next to it is a 55″, 4k Smart TV and with an even fatter discount and in the end it’s really not that much more. I quickly calculated what we had saved on the fridge and washer, and looked at Janet who nodded her approval.

Oh and have I mentioned we recently ordered a car? That story will come later.

It’s possible I am not totally in cheapassed retirement mode just yet.