House helpers need money lessons too

Aneth Ng-Lim

Posted at Jul 29 2019 09:22 AM

While my daughters were growing up, we needed to have two helpers at home. We paid them above average salaries and covered their needs from food to toiletries. After 6 months with us, I asked them if they were able to build some savings. They both said no.

One of them would send her entire pay to her mother who would start calling her days before her pay was due to remind her to do so. The other would start out by sending only half, intending to keep the other half for herself. But then she would receive urgent pleas for help from her sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts that in the end, her entire pay would also go to her relatives.

I sat them down and told them that after 6 months of honest work, we will offer them a modest increase. I advised them not to tell their relatives about their new and higher salary, so that they can keep that at least and begin saving. Much as I would like to keep them forever, I hate the idea that their life will revolve around washing dishes, doing our laundry and dusting our furniture. I encouraged them to finish high school when they return home so they can have better work opportunities in the future.

One of them followed our saving advice. When she had enough to open a bank account, she asked for our help and we went to the bank and completed her forms together. The other decided to use her money to get salon treatments, which sadly her mother noticed and she was grilled on how she was able to afford them. When she confessed about the salary increase and my advice to keep it for herself, the mother was so upset with me that she forced her daughter to leave our home.

They did say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, so there I was, one helper short, and was scrambling to find another when my other helper came forward. She told me she can take on the additional chores. I later learned she did the lion’s share of work anyway so this required little adjustment on her part. I was so grateful that I told her she can have the pay we were giving the other helper and that we will also do our share to lighten her burden.

When she left our home years later, she had money in her bank account, was enrolled to complete high school in her province, and had invested in a small business that her sister was running. We were so proud of her – especially since she never had to work as a house helper again.

My daughters are both teenagers now, and we no longer have live-in helpers. But if I have a do-over, I would have talked to our helpers the day they joined us about money. Maybe then I would have been proud of not just one, but 2 girls who found their way in this tough money-driven world.

Thinking about that do-over, here are at least 5 things I would have done differently for them.

#1 Offered saving incentives on their first day.

On day one, I was busy telling them the Dos and Don’ts as house helpers and did not talk to them about what to do with their salary. I should have told them to set aside at least 10 percent to 20 percent of their pay, or I can hold it for them until there is enough to put in a bank account. As an incentive, I would offer to give them a bonus when they hit saving targets. If you’re feeling generous, you can match the amount they saved, or set a ceiling to your match pledge. In our case, we offered our helper a free airline ticket home if she can show savings of P10,000 or higher.

#2 Discussed mandatory benefits

Because we are so familiar with mandatory benefits, we take for granted that SSS and Philhealth and Pag-IBIG are all new to them. Ideally, house helpers should be given access to all 3 and that they will understand the value of all these to them, even many years after they left your home. With SSS, note employers now pay the entire contribution for house helpers who are paid P5,000 or less so if they resist paying their share, you as an employer should set them straight that there is no cost to them.

#3 Bought microinsurance

My husband and I both have insurance policies, and we also invested in endowment policies for our two daughters. We clearly understand the value of protecting our savings and our standard of living, and yet I did not consider that it would be as useful for our house helpers. In my defense, there were no accessible products during the time they were with us. But now there are! And they are so affordable: one costs P660 for a year and comes with P200,000 for Accidental Death and Dismemberment, P40,000 for Death, P20,000 for Total and Permanent Disability, and P20,000 for burial benefit. You can consider this as part of their holiday bonus if you like.

#4 Engaged their families too

When I discovered after 6 months that all their hard-earned pay went to relatives, I saw red and avoided speaking to their parents. On hindsight, I should have reached out to them for my two helpers and discussed why these girls also needed to have their rightful share. I can’t help but think that the idea of incentives may have appealed to them, and in which case, they would have given their support. After all, as their parents, they too want the best for their children. Poverty put their backs against the wall and maybe they simply had no choice but to ask for the entire salary.

#5 Hosted financial check-up sessions

One conversation won’t be enough and having regular money chats with the house helpers will help them better understand the importance of saving and taking the reins for their financial future. I remember when I first asked them for their goals after they leave our home, they had none. They were thinking they will just go back when it’s time to marry! So I had to give them options such as go back to school (so you will have other job choices and get better pay) or set up their own business. One thought that when she had P10,000 in her bank account she was set for life! So I showed her how P10,000 can be quickly spent.

I can honestly say that raising my daughters and pursuing a full-time career were made easier by having trustworthy house helpers. They had my back when I was at work or would be called away on weekends. And so I wanted to have their back when it came to securing a better money future. And while we are proud of how one of them turned out, the one that got away makes me wish I made this do-over list sooner.

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