I’m reminded of living expenses in various places by a single memory. My younger brother, Joel, once told me, “You’ve got to live where you’re at”. Grammatically incorrect, as he was always back then, he made a good point. The reason most people suffer from the cost of living in one particular place is because they can’t afford to move to another.
The things that bind you to a specific place can include your job (or profession), family, specific medical care requirements and more than I can list here. The only way to get away from that specific place is to unbind yourself from those things. It’s way easier said than done.
One of the reasons I moved to Olongapo in the Philippines was because I knew I could get American products nearby. The city is right next to the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, a former Navy base. That was more than six years before two big malls opened up, one in the city and one at the freeport zone.
Another reason is obvious. My wife, Josie, was born in the Philippines and her side of the family lived in Olongapo when we moved to Olongapo.
Some things are more expensive in the Philippines than in the United States, and some things are less expensive. It depends a lot on where you shop as well as what you’re buying. Some things at the public market are much less expensive than in the malls, but you take chances with quality and safety.
Take fresh whole chickens as an example. Unscrupulous vendors will inject them with water to make them weigh more. They charge by the kilo. That doesn’t happen in the mall grocery stores or the stores at the freeport zone.
You can survive on a social security pension alone if you own everything you use. If you’re making monthly rent or mortgage payments, you can’t. True ownership means you don’t have those living expenses to contend with. The same goes for car payments. True ownership means you only have to contend with keeping your vehicle insured.
A home is the largest purchase you’ll ever make. A car is the second largest. Remove those two obstacles, and you can live on far less than you might expect. Owning a car is a necessity in many places in the United States. Not so much in the Philippines.
I retired with a military pension in 1998. A month later, I received my first payment at 50 percent of my base pay. Because of congressional voodoo with numbers, that 50 percent started shrinking compared to active duty pay raises over the years.
Comparing pay charts from 20 years apart, I noticed I’m getting around $400 less than someone who retired with the same pay grade recently. My social security pension, when I start to receive it, will close that gap for a time, but not forever.
That original 50 percent wasn’t even close to being enough to live on while I was paying my mortgage and making a car payment in Phoenix, Arizona, after I retired from the military. My wife, Josie, was working full-time, and it wasn’t enough. Our living expenses didn’t suddenly change. I had to stay employed.
Living expenses in the Philippines can vary widely depending on what part of the country you’re living in. The cost of living in Olongapo is higher than the cost of living away from the city, but… you sacrifice convenience for cost. It’s only about five kilometers to the freeport zone from where I live. There isn’t any place I go to regularly that’s any farther away.
The Royal Subic store is about eight kilometers away if I take the route most people take. There’s a gate closer to where I live that makes it less than five, but it’s restricted to residences just inside the gate. That store is where Josie and I buy most of our groceries and some of our household goods.
I can live in various places in the United States on my military pension alone, but only if I don’t have housing and transportation expenses to contend with as living expenses. That’s exactly the case when I’m visiting with my children’s families in the United States. I can visit them, but I can’t live with them permanently.
The Philippines is my permanent residence because I have nothing to bind me to the United States. I don’t expect that situation to ever change.