Tag Archives: dollars

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 ūüôā

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.

“When in Rome” Don’t be a Kano with your Cash

Here’s a bit of a tip that it’s taken me 7 or 8 trips to the Philippines to start to understand.

A few weeks ago we’re in Camiguin at Ardent Hot Springs. BTW, the Ardent pools are very nicely done and¬†the cost of entry is cheap. The water is not hot – it’s bathtub warm, but do you really want 110 degree water during the summer in the Philippines?

So I am lazing in the hotspring and struck up a conversation with an Aussie of my age and his Filipina partner. Not sure if they were married or not and not sure that it matters.

Anyway, the conversation was about cash, retirement and cost differences between the Philippines and our home countries. His partner chimed in that the biggest mistake that “foreigners” make¬†was that we too often¬†“convert” to our own currency.

My first thought was to disagree. I am very good at math and grew up in an era where I actually learned to multiply and divide in my head without electronic assistance. Therefore, whenever I travel internationally I always quickly determine costs based on the almighty US Dollar.

But my new friend disagreed, stating that you must consider costs in pesos not dollars. I remembered a story I have told before about how Janet and I once argued about an overcharged taxi fare in Dumaguete and how I resolved that argument by saying, “Do you realize we are arguing about a fare that cost us $6.”

But now I have come to see the woman’s point and agree with it. If something normally costs 100 pesos you should not pay 300 pesos, despite the fact that from a USD standpoint the difference is tiny.

In other words, stop being a tourist and act like a Filipino, particularly if you want Filipinos not to treat you like a rich tourist.

Tips are a good place to start. I am old enough to recall a time in the US when tips at restaurants were based on good service, not on a set percentage of 15 or 20%. It is still that way in the Philippines. While I won’t tell you, dear reader, what kind of tip to give, I give a Philippines-appropriate tip.

Janet is particularly pointed in this regard. If the service is good she wants to make sure I gave the person a few pesos. If the service is poor she will ask me afterwards, “Did you give her a tip?” If my answer is yes, I get “the look!”

Many goods and services are negotiable in the Philippines. Hell, it’s almost insulting if you don’t negotiate. I usually throw out some kind of stupid line like “Is that your best price?” The price usually goes down without much argument. Do not feel that because the price is less than you would pay in your home country, that you are taking advantage of anyone. You are not! On the contrary, you are supporting them.

For example, like most old farts I like a massage once in a while. But I am too damn cheap to pay $60 – 100 for a massage in my home city. But it’s one of the things I look forward to in the Philippines, where even in a tourist trap like Boracay, a massage is $10 or less. Oops there I go again. Massages in Boracay are typically 350-500 pesos.

The first night we were in Boracay, I walked the boardwalk area and looked at massage prices. In general, the massage places on the beach are cheaper than the ones in spas by about 100 pesos. The next day I returned. As I say, since I am basically cheap, I was going to have one of the beach massages. But Janet and I passed a spa that looked very nice. I looked at the menu of prices. Massage – 550 pesos. I frowned and that’s all it took. The woman in charge noticed¬† my reaction and immediate said, “discount for you, sir. 400 pesos.” Sold! I asked whether they also did nails, since Janet wanted her nails done. Yes, I was told. “What’s your best price?” I asked. The price was magically reduced. Janet and I were led to a very pleasant room where we both lay on adjacent beds. I received a massage and Janet had her nails done. I spent an hour moaning while¬†Janet laughed at me and spoke Visayan to the girl doing her nails.¬†It was very pleasant, particularly since we paid an appropriate amount. The service was excellent and we tipped the women accordingly.

This concept of not converting currencies is not just applicable to inexpensive service items, like taxis or massages. It applies to everything. The housing market in my home¬†town is pretty hot again. My buddy just bought a place and proudly announced that he’d gotten it by paying 15k more than the asking price. It’s great for him and his family, so don’t get me wrong.

OTOH, don’t do this in the Philippines, where the asking price for real estate¬†is often an opening offer, no more valid than the 550 pesos that massage was supposed to cost.

Last year while we were in Alcoy, we stumbled across a very nice house for sale. The owner invited us in. Why not? We got the nickel tour and the place was in fact very nice. Out of politeness and curiosity I asked “how much?” “Six and 1/2 million pesos – firm,” I was told. “What about for cash?” I asked. “Oh for cash – six million.” Firm is apparently a fluid concept in the Philippines.

We left the house and I mistakenly gave the woman my local number. She assumed I was a real buyer and I got texts from her daily. It became annoying. Finally Janet laughed and said, “Just offer her 5 million.” I texted her back, “Sorry, but my wife says our budget is only 5 million.” I figured that would shut the woman up. Wrong! In less than five minutes I got a response, “We will accept 5 million, sir.”

So, think in pesos not dollars and remember, the price ain’t the price, and firm rarely is.

But also remember – that 5 million peso house sounds like a great deal, but only if the woman actually owns the house – another problem to consider in the Philippines.