How miserable are we? 1

How miserable are we?

Aneth Ng-Lim

Posted at May 03 2021 12:38 PM

“Life is not about the sum that we make, but the difference we made.”

I came across this uplifting quote when I was looking to interview people that have left high-paying and high-profile jobs to give back to their communities. Sadly I cannot attribute this to anyone, so let me declare this as a toast to so many Filipinos who are doing the best they can to in the midst of such miserable times.

And these are miserable times indeed. The Philippine Misery Index rose to double-digit level in 2020, reaching 12.9 percent, the highest in 12 years, according to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority and research published by SB Equities Research. 

Things haven’t gotten much better this year as it remained above 10 percent in January 2021. If you like your glass half full, you can console yourself that the January number is at least only about half of the nearly 20 percent recorded in the second quarter of 2020. You may recall that time as the height of the strict lockdowns and the start of the pandemic.

How is the Philippine Misery Index measured? Well, the original formula for the so-called Misery Index was developed by American economist Arthur Okun when the United States economy was facing high inflation and unemployment during the 1970s. To compute for a simple measure of economic welfare, he combined inflation and unemployment rates and arrived at a numerical equivalent for a country’s economic misery.

In its publication, SB Equities Research provided the country misery index at national and also regional levels. It found that the misery index in 7 regions, including three key economic areas which are National Capital Region, Calabarzon and Central Luzon even posted higher and worse scores than the national level in January. 

What does a rising misery index mean to you? It certainly can’t make you feel better but it can help you prepare for what may be worse times ahead. SB Equities Research argues that “persistently elevated inflation and unemployment – and misery index overall – could undermine current recovery efforts, to likely make it more uneven; worsen poverty and widen income inequality; and exert negative market sentiment and outlook.” 

With that miserable forecast, here are some tips to keep your head and your wallet above water.

#1 Stick to “needs” and say no to “wants”.

From Labor Day sales to 5.5 sales to Mother’s Day celebrations, temptations to spend are everywhere. Even at half the prize or zero installment schemes, paying for a “want” like upgrading your TV when the one you have is still working is not a good idea. Focus your spending on “needs” to ensure that you and your family will sail through these miserable times.

#2 Check on your emergency fund.

Businesses are struggling and this leads to either closing their doors or reducing their people. Job security is hard to find these days so it’s good to have an emergency fund ready in case you lose your job, or someone in the family falls ill. Emergencies are a huge drain on cash flows so make sure you have one or you add to it for your peace of mind. 

#3 Get better rates for your credit card debt.

If you’re paying the minimum balance on your credit card, you are being charged an interest rate of 2 percent monthly or 24 percent annually. That’s a steep price which you should try to negotiate now. You can contact your credit card company, or look for other credit cards that offer balance transfer promotions that can cut your interest rate by half or more. 

Once you have negotiated better rates to pay down your balance, likely on an installment schedule, do not use that card until you have paid in full. This way you avoid getting charged interest on interest, or have your balance balloon again. If you need a credit card, open another one and make sure you can pay the balance in full this time.

#4 Consider other sources of income.

If you are working from home a few days a week, and you have a spouse and kids that are also home most days, consider how you can have another source of income. In my community, the marketplace is thriving with neighbors selling everything from organic eggs to homemade gyoza to hotel-grade bacon. You can also get face masks, face shields, oximeters and alcohol by the gallon. See if you can be a producer or reseller and tap into your community chat groups to make this happen.

#5 Get your family on-board.

For your plans to become a success, get your family’s buy-in as early as possible. They need to know “needs” come first and that saving as much as you all can will help you get through the miserable times. Their “business” ideas may surprise you, and their support may make you even more grateful to have them on your side and watching your back until things get better.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.