How To Be Penny Wise: Smart Money Tips (Third of a series)



People without plans drift aimlessly and get nowhere.  Planners and goal setters get somewhere.  Set financial goals for yourself, and that includes your family if you’re married with children.

Finances cover a multifaceted scope where savings, budgeting, spending, investment, retirement and estate planning are counted in.  In setting goals for each financial aspect, you should have a target to aim for.  Just remember the SMART principle:







In applying the SMART principle, start with the basic 10-20-70 principle based on your present net income:

10%       –              Tithing

20%       –              Savings

70%       –              Spending

Involve the family.  If there are plans for a family vacation, encourage everyone to chip in by setting aside a certain amount for the money pot.  This makes it more exciting for everybody.  More than that, it strengthens family ties, cultivates the spirit of cooperation and teamwork, and helps develop in each family member the good habit of saving.


Live within your means.  We’ve heard that often enough and we found nothing wrong with it.  But do you know that there’s a new paradigm shift?  Live below your means.  You can exhaust your monthly pay and still be considered living within your means, but that leaves you with nothing to spare for unforeseen emergencies.  But when you live below your means, you will surely have something extra to set aside as savings for future needs.

That’s where budgeting comes in, which is an integral part of financial goal-setting.  Before we even spend or think of how much to set aside for savings, we can control our purse and manage our finances by working backwards.  Budgeting is simply listing down your essential, regular daily expenses and adding them all up to determine your monthly expenditures vis-a-vis your monthly income.  You may be surprised to learn that you are actually spending more than what you’re receiving in your paycheck.  If that is the case, it’s time to review your expenses and identify which items can be tapered or which ones can be scrapped altogether.  Once you’re settled with your acceptable monthly budget, simply break it down into a daily budget for your daily expenses.  Be conscious of your budget and stick to it.  Don’t give in to temptations that will make you overshoot your budget.

Set aside the funds to be allocated for each expense item.  Safekeep the funds in separate individual, properly-labeled pockets or envelopes or folders.  There are available envelope folders with multi-layered compartments in bookstores.

Do not juggle funds. When money allocated for a particular expense item gets depleted, avoid touching the funds set aside for something else.  This requires discipline and self-control.  Over time, you will learn to master the habit.

(Featured Image photo credits:


How To Be Penny Wise: Smart Money Tips (Second of a Series)


Need vs. Want

How do you distinguish between a need and a want?  Being able to spot the difference is a fundamental tenet in wise, smart spending.

A need is something essential for daily survival and sustenance.  Food is definitely a must.  Need also includes what would be necessary to maintain dignity and decency in life.  Shelter and clothing fit into the criteria, and not to forget, necessities that fall under the personal hygiene department.

Those are just the basics.  But expounding on the subject expands its territorial bounds, extending to a whole gamut of incidentals required in the performance of work for our daily bread and butter.  Transportation fare for commuters or gasoline for motorists is part and parcel.  Home-based online jobs could not be accomplished without the aid of a computer.  In this context, needs are relative; they may differ in meaning and relevance depending on personal circumstance.  But I’m sure you follow the drift, right?

A want is something you can do without or live without.  It’s just about anything beyond or in excess of a need.   This can be a bit tricky, though.   People nowadays cannot do without a mobile phone (now smartphone).  While it is true that it has evolved into an important and necessary communication tool in this millennial age, it is an electronic gadget that, strictly speaking, falls under the “want” category.  As long as the mobile phone can deliver on functionality, that should be sufficient.  But itching to have more units than is necessary, or to acquire the latest, most expensive brand and model with the most sophisticated apps than what you can afford is considered a want.   A need item like clothing, when it becomes exorbitantly extravagant, is going overboard, unless you’re filthy rich.   When you buy new apparel to add to your cabinets already bursting at the seams with wardrobe, some of which remain unused, that is already a fetish, a caprice if you will, especially so if you are not a celebrity.

Know your priorities

When you have learned to distinguish between a need and a want, the next step is to learn to identify what is an immediate need and what can wait for a later time.  Recognize and admit that we can’t have it all at all times.   Learn FQ.

Have you heard of the marshmallow test?  A number of children were subjected to such test.  They were left inside a room with a plate of marshmallow, with a promise that they will be entitled to a double portion if they could wait till they got the go signal to eat.  The children obviously grappled with a tug-of-war inside them while they tried to resist the temptation laid before them.  You guessed it – most of them failed.  Click here to watch the video:

Self-control is the leverage.  And that requires discipline. The same is true with FQ or Financial Quotient, which is your ability to control and manage your finances.

It’s all about Delayed Gratification vs. Instant Gratification.  We are living in an era where patience is becoming more and more a rare virtue.  People are always in a rush, hence, the convenience offered by fast food, and any other stuff labelled “instant” like instant coffee and instant noodles.  There’s a growing generation of impatient people bent on satisfying their desires no later than NOW, only to figure out later how to extricate themselves from the mess they got themselves into.  Patient waiting buys you time to think things through.  It may be that your interest will eventually wear off, or you will come to realize that it’s really not necessary after all.  But a more rewarding prospect is being able to appreciate the beauty of waiting for the perfect time when the money for the item you’ve been eyeing becomes available.


Do not compare yourself with others.  Be content with what you have.  If you keep looking around you, you will see what your neighbour has that you don’t have, so the green-eyed monster rears its ugly head and cultivates envy.

Do not keep up with the Joneses.  We have different capabilities, capacities and circumstances.  Nothing rings truer than this quote from Dave Ramsey: “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.” 


(Photo credit:

HOW TO BE PENNY WISE: Smart Money Tips (First of a Series)



The Sad Truth

A study shows that 9 out of every 10 Filipinos have no savings, and 8 out of every 10 Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) end up broke.  What do these numbers tell us?  Filipinos rate poorly in the proper handling of financial resources.  Nothing can be more glaring than that.

The key to this social malady is education that will wean Filipinos from their old undesirable habits and develop new good ones.  Just imagine where our economy would be if all Filipinos managed their money wisely!  Money in banks and other investment instruments create a very conducive environment for businesses to thrive and fuel a more robust economy.  Not only will each and every Filipino family gain from it, but just think how you and I will be a contributing force to spur the country’s development and progress. Every small drop fills up the bucket.

I must admit that I thought I knew everything I needed to know about Personal Finance 101, until I worked for a non-profit organization whose advocacy is to promote financial literacy through the conduct of seminars. This is something that grew on me and later evolved as one of my Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) platforms in my last job as Corporate Communications Unit Head of a bank. The principles I learned then are the same principles I will impart in this brief course as a matter of personal cause.

But the very first thing we need to learn in the area of financial literacy is to UN-LEARN the wrong notions we have about money.

Ownership vs. Stewardship

We do not own what we have in our possession.  Got that?  Yes, you read it right!   The funds deposited in our bank, the money in our wallet, and the material goods we have acquired through the years are  not ours.  The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him (Psalm 24:1, New Living Translation).   We are just stewards, or in layman’s terms, managers of the resources that God has simply entrusted to us.  After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it (1Timothy 6:7, New Living Translation). The earlier we embrace this truth, the easier it would be for us to come to terms with our role as mere managers.  Then our perspective, attitude and behavior toward money will change according to God’s design.

In the final analysis, all our financial decisions are spiritual decisions.  We have the Best Financial Adviser in the whole universe to consult for decisions involving financial matters.  Getting divine guidance about our earthly treasures will keep us from erring and falling into financial sinkholes.

The Value of Work

Since God owns everything, even our knowledge, skills, talents, and abilities that enable us to work in order to earn and acquire material goods are from Him.  “But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.”- (Deuteronomy 8:18). It would, therefore, be arrogance to assume or claim that the success we may be enjoying now in our career or business is but the product of our own genius and labors.  We need to acknowledge that our qualifications and sheer hard work won’t get us anywhere without God’s permission.

What does the Bible, the life manual provided by our Maker and Owner of everything, teach about work?  For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” (2Thessalonians 3:10, New International Version).  As clear as daylight, it leaves no room for second guessing.  If you have nothing to eat, then you’re not doing your part.  It’s as plain and simple as that.  God gave us the ability to work.  There’s no excuse not to work; no reason why we can’t make money.  Work hard. Earn a decent living.

Your work earns your keep – it puts food on your table, covers your back and provides a roof over your head.  Love your work and it will love you back.  If you’re unhappy with your job, think of the many that are unemployed and without any means.  This is not to say that you cannot look for greener pastures.  What I’m saying is, never take your work for granted.  Do not bite the hands that feed you.  Instead, do your best while you’re there.  Be grateful that you are gainfully employed or are engaged in an income-generating activity.

Parents, start your children early in inculcating the right values about work and money.  Training and disciplining them in these matters while young will prevent children from developing an entitlement attitude where they become demanding because they think the world owes them. Don’t we just find it disturbing when we see children throwing tantrums inside the mall when parents can’t or won’t buy them what they want?  Children need to be made to understand that money doesn’t grow on trees.  Even the money tree (scientific name: Pachira aquatica) doesn’t bear paper bills and coins, does it? Learning to say no to their caprices, teaching them to wait till there’s enough money for a valid object of desire, and being firm about it will help develop their EQ (Emotional Quotient).  They will learn to handle disappointments and grow in the virtue of patience.  Likewise, they will realize the value of work and not grow old idle and be like a leech depending on others for financial and material support.

The carrot principle, a reward system that can be applied by parents for a child’s good deed or good behavior (good grades in school, doing a house chore, waiting for the right time for daddy or mommy to buy a toy, etc.) will, first of all, plant the seeds for proper motivation. More importantly, it will impart important life lessons for survival and successful living.  Wages are paid in exchange for work done.  But promotions, bonuses and merit increases are for those who do more and fare better at work than the average guy.

The Lost Earring

CEOs of business firms hire people to run the organization’s affairs.  Delegation of responsibilities to trusted officers to get things done down to the staff level is but the dictum of sound management.  Rank and file employees have no direct access to the CEO without following protocol by going through the proper channels according to hierarchy.  That is how the world operates.

Some people have placed God in a similarly-labeled box, thinking that He is too busy to be bothered with the small things.  But contrary to the world’s perspective, God is actively involved even in what we, humans, perceive to be tiny and trivial.

For a good number of years, I was actively involved in the Music Ministry of our church.  It branched out to the Funeral Ministry, an outreach arm that gives comfort and hope to the bereaved family of the deceased and guests through evangelistic memorial services.  During one memorial service, while waiting for the program to start, I made a quick detour to the rest room.  At the conclusion of the service, my team huddled in a corner where we engaged in casual conversation.  One of the girls called my attention.  “Are you really wearing just one earring?,” she asked.  Instinctively, I lifted my fingers to feel both my ear lobes.  At my discovery, I gasped, “Oh, no!  Where’s my other earring?“ Questions ran in my head.  “Did I forget to wear the other earring?”  “Could it have popped off somewhere?”  At the same time, I was saying a silent prayer.

I scanned the floor around us, with no results.  With a tinge of regret and almost resigned to the thought of losing the piece of jewelry permanently, I heeded the call of nature before our group departed from the funeral chapel.  “There’s still hope,” I thought, trying to buoy up my spirit as I headed for the rest room, for I hadn’t looked there yet.  My hope was dashed when I found no trace of it in areas within the reach of the limited, dim lights.  I had no expectations when I went inside one of the cubicles.  The inadequate lighting did little to illuminate the cubicle inside.  Then I felt my foot step on something.  Lo and behold!  It was the lost earring!  Only God could have brought me back to the exact same cubicle I entered the first time.  Only God could have placed the earring at the exact spot where He knew I would set foot on.

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Only God’s all-encompassing greatness can accommodate and treat with equal importance all major as well as minor concerns of ours.  You know what this tells us?  Each one of us is precious and valuable in His sight.  No one is too small or ordinary to get His attention; none too paltry a problem for God to dismiss or take for granted.  Our big God also has eyes for the minutiae.



(Please also follow me at and Violet Castro @violetvddcastro on Twitter)

Reserved Seats for Sunset Watchers

The Manila Bay – the front row to some of the best sunsets.   The sky becomes a huge canvass painted with mood-enhancing hues.


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Photos 1 -5 taken from the roofdeck of World Trade Exchange Building, Binondo, Manila


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Photos 6 – 9 taken at SM Mall of Asia







But what is it in and about a sunset that casts a magic spell?  Sunset gazers have watched enraptured.  Countless couples have tied the knot and innumerable more sets of love-struck eyes and lips have locked against the sunset’s enthralling backdrop.  Bards and musicians have drawn inspiration from it, just as this poem has been inspired by it:


Sunset heralds dusk’s descent,

light curtsies,

gracefully exiting

into the shadows

at curtain call.

Ebb tide conceives

pregnant musings

o’er whispering waves

in rhythmic cadence,

romancing  the soul

as twilight segues to nightfall.

Darkness shrouds

and the world rolls up like a scroll.


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Last 2 photos taken from Canyon Cove, Nasugbu, Batangas


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Quo Vadis, Philippine Cinema?

Filipino film professionals, students and aficionados have something to be jubilant about.  The Philippine film industry gets a shot in the arm with the inauguration of Cinematheque Centre Manila on December 2015 by no less than Pres. Benigno Aquino III.

Spearheaded by the Film Development Council of the Philippines, Cinematheque was established in Manila to reinforce the city’s stature as the bulwark of culture and cinematic arts in the Philippines.  In cooperation with the National Film Archives of the Philippines, Cinematheque will provide an alternative venue for the screening of Filipino classic and contemporary films of the mainstream and independent kind, as well as foreign productions under the Film Cultural Exchange Program.  Film festivals are mapped out in its calendar of activities.  Special screenings are open to the public free of charge.  Other films can be viewed for a minimal fee.  The day of our visit coincided with the Spanish Film Festival, which afforded us the chance to watch El Caballero Don Quijote (The Knight Don Quijote). 

Cinematheque will serve as the hub for the conduct of workshops and symposia delving into all aspects of filmmaking and cinema. Its primary aim, however, is to increase awareness and appreciation for film and cinema, with the end goal of equipping future generations for the development of the local film industry toward global competitiveness.

The center is also home to the Museo ng Pelikulang Pilipino (Musuem of Philippine Film).  Interspersed with a photo gallery of film celebrities and celebrated films, on display are antiquated film-making and editing equipment, plus statues of film icons, including some of their personal work paraphernalia.  Video documentaries featuring each of the legendary Filipino directors who made a dent in the industry provide a walk-through into their lives and careers.


Part of the photo gallery

Part of the photo gallery


Draft of shooting script of Manuel Conde's Juan Tamad Goes To Congress

Original draft of shooting script of Manuel Conde’s “Juan Tamad Goes To Congress”


1917 US-made semi-automatic continuous film printer

1917 US-made semi-automatic continuous film printer


1946 French-made manual movie camera

1946 French-made manual movie camera


Avellana's royal quiet deluxe tyoewriter with an original manuscript of a speech about the local film industry

Lamberto Avellana’s royal quiet deluxe typewriter with original manuscript of a speech about the local film industry



Statue of Manuel Conde

Statue of Manuel Conde


Statue of film director Lino Brocka

Statue of film director Lino Brocka


The chic and cozy coffee shoppe

The cozy coffee shop


Cinematheque souvenir shop

The souvenir shop

For past movers and shakers of the Philippine film industry, their labors are not in vain.  For present and future generations of local cinema insiders and enthusiasts, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

If it’s any gauge, a new age is dawning for Philippine cinema with the acting coup of Jaclyn Jose, the first Filipino and Southeast Asian to bag the Best Actress trophy in the recently concluded Cannes Film Festival in her portrayal in Brillante Mendoza’s film Ma Rosa.  Philippine cinema is suddenly making heads turn in the international film industry and gaining recognition for Filipino artistry.  Things are looking up!

Durian Outside Durian Country

At a barbecue lunch one Sunday in Antipolo City hosted by my cousin’s ex-classmate, it fascinated me no end to see for the first time a live durian tree right here in the metropolis.  I have been to Davao, the durian capital of the Philippines, in the line of duty, but I never had the chance to see much of the sights or discover things indigenous to the place.  Not having to go all the way to Davao to see a durian tree up close is, therefore, a rare treat.  And what perfect timing to catch its fruit-bearing stage!  From what I gathered, the durian seed was planted in the property three years ago.  Now that’s a short wait!  Only a certified green thumb could have accomplished such a feat.  And no way was I going to pass up the chance to capture nature’s work for posterity.  Wish I had the privilege to savor the taste of its ripened fruit……


For a bit of trivia, durian comes from the Malay word duri which means thorn or spike.  Characteristics of the durian include large fruits with thick spiky shell or husk and strong, pungent smell. They are native to tropical countries in Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines (specifically in Davao in Mindanao), Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.


Letter to Carina

Following is a posthumous tribute to a dearly beloved friend of mine in letter form, which I wrote immediately after her passing in April 2014, but which I got around to publishing only now.  This is a toast to true friendship that knows no bounds.  This, too, is to celebrate her life that had touched many other lives…..

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My dearest Carina,

There are “so-called” friends.  And then there are the true friends.  The real ones stand out, like rare, sparkling gems on a bed of sand.  You’re one among the few.

Remember how we started out casually as classmates in a special course in college?  One invitation to a prayer meeting in your house became the ticket to our journey together.  Into your life, into your home, into your family and inner circle of friends, you unreservedly welcomed me.  Your winsome ways won me over to you, and our common passions made us gravitate toward each other.   An inseparable dyad, like two peas in a pod – that’s what we were.

And how conveniently close we were geographically!  Lying below your former Blue Ridge residence atop a hill is the street where I live.  I was your frequent house guest, and our “sister act” would stretch for hours on end, extending to sleepovers, almost making me blend among your home fixtures.  We would do what we loved doing – sing, talk, giggle, and so much more of the same.  The steps carved out of the rock on the hill slope beside your house became our private tavern.  On other occasions, we would be out enjoying acoustic music at the folk house of Asian Institute of Tourism, hanging out at your cousins’ place in Loyola Heights, ball-rolling in Greenhills bowling lanes, attending parties here and there, or visiting your close kith and kin.

When physically apart, we would burn the telephone wires with our endless conversations.  Those phone marathons would have spill-overs to include your two sisters, Lisa and Patty.  Not surprisingly, we would dwell just a little bit more on the favorite subject of normal girls our age.  You and your sisters even went as far as setting me up on a date with your neighbor.  And how can I forget that weird but funny moniker you coined as our secret code for a schoolmate turned boyfriend of mine!

While we were later building our respective careers, we would arrange to meet after work, and together with your sisters, we would take our ride home in your cousin’s car which we jokingly referred to as our “school bus.”  A few times, you gave me the privilege of witnessing corporate prayer for your business concerns in your office premises.  In your unrelenting pursuit, you kept to your agenda to lead me to the Good Shepherd by bringing me to the ministry activities of the church you were attending.  It was there that I once tearfully responded to an altar call.

Then came the time when you and most of your family migrated to the U.S.  We lost touch for what seemed like ages (blame it on our constantly changing home phone numbers coupled with my wandering days).  Thanks to Mark Zuckerberg, our connection was restored.  But this much I will say: Our friendship was not rekindled, no.  Because neither did it diminish, nor was it ever extinguished.  Like an old pair of gloves, it felt just as snug even with the years and distance that came between us.  Time never rendered our friendship irrelevant.

Come to think of it, do you know what suddenly dawned on me as I was writing this?  How so alike our minds work!  Hmmm…..on second thought, I could be robbing God of the credit due Him.  I am fully convinced that as surely as you received His inspiration for your blog title, I got the exact same thing from Him.  You see, I was asked one time by my small group in church to lead a devotion.  After praying for God’s wisdom, lo and behold, the theme “I Am” was impressed upon me.  The confirmation came when I tuned in to a preaching on TV.  The topic?  You guessed it!  Coincidence?  I think not!

Writing…..that’s another validated item in our list of “commons.”  Dabbling in poetry in your youth had somehow rubbed off on your sister Lisa.  Do you remember how we all were in stitches reading Lisa’s funny poem about cockroaches?  Ha ha ha ha!  Seriously though, your giftedness in writing cannot be denied.

Through your “I Am” blogs, I not only saw how you have matured as a writer, but also how you’ve evolved into a woman of greater substance and depth. Underneath your musings are a profundity and vivid imagery that can only come from the God-breathed utterances of the heart, allowing us readers to take a peek into the windows of your soul.  Your dexterity at wordplay makes your work sound almost lyrical.  They are decidedly refreshing to the spirit, evidently the outflow of intimately close encounters with God.  In journaling your journey while you battled with the Big C, you were dropping golden nuggets along the way for us to pick up.  Words may never be adequate to describe just how much you’ve inspired and encouraged me (and I’m sure many more out there) by how you carried your cross with grace and how admirably strong you finished your race.  Yes, you wrestled with your giant, but you fought a good fight and you ultimately wrested the victory.

When I got wind of the news that you crossed the finish line, it hit me like a ton of bricks.  It was a bitter pill to swallow.  Tears kept my grief company.  I took comfort in the knowledge that you are now in the crook of Abba’s arms where eternal rest begins.  No more tears.  No more pain.

In the few weeks that followed your passage, I found myself revisiting your blogs.  Each time I did, a wave of unspeakable sadness would form lumps in my throat.  Earth has turned a little dimmer for having lost you, for you were a sliver of light that made the world around you brighter.  The life you lived is a tough act to follow.  Your unpretentious nature made you comfortable to be with. You made allowances for me to be the real me……embracing me for who I was even at my worst.  Not once did you judge me for my words, deeds or misdeeds.  You did not reckon it as an excuse to shove me away when the skeletons in my closet started to show.  Not one recollection do I have of any disturbing undercurrent that threatened to undermine what we had.  With patience and understanding, you lent me your attentive ears and offered your shoulders for me to cry on.

Gently, albeit slowly but resolutely, you goaded me to the direction leading to the quintessential essence of life and the afterlife.  I once was lost, but you showed me the way.  Surely, your fingers have pointed countless others to the path that leads to Life.  Your memory shall live on and your life of robust faith I celebrate, for the lasting legacy you left behind is more precious than silver and gold.  When you bowed out of the world’s stage and finally entered the pearly gates, God must have beamed with pride and said as He ushered you in, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

I miss you, my dearly beloved friend!  Yet I am redeemed by the thought that we have both made each other feel our genuine love and affection for each other, especially during the last stretch of your earthly journey, even if only in the virtual realm.  Owing to the vast ocean between us, the possibility of giving a eulogy at your memorial service was quite remote.  Let this message, then, be my special tribute to someone as extraordinary as you, with hopes that God will deliver it to you.  But for all I know, you may be giggling right now while reading this from the lofty places above.

For being my one-in-a-million heaven-sent friend, trusted confidante, wise counselor, first-ever spiritual mentor, soul sister and the other half of our singing duo, a big, fat thank you!  One day, we will see each other again.  Until then, our favorite duet of Sergio Mendes’ “Put A Little Love Away” can wait.  The song will, however, always remind me of you for defining what it means to unstintingly give love away.

As I think of you now, I hear jamming in heaven with you in the midst of the singing angelic host.


Your forever friend