The cost of living

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak - The Philippine Star

We have all heard the expression “making ends meet.” It’s a popular expression among those working and struggling to pay for their living expenses with what they earn at work. The idiom is more commonly broken down to mean paying for things you need to live when you aren’t making enough money or have little money. This has become more poignant over the past two years, as many Filipinos are barely making enough to get through each day.

As we continue to cautiously emerge from the pandemic and carve out a new way forward, making ends meet is becoming even more challenging than before. Before COVID-19 hit, it was already challenging to pay living expenses when the cost of essential goods and services kept increasing while employee salaries remained the same. The same is true today, but has been exacerbated more because of the challenges of the past two years.

These days, companies are barely surviving and can barely meet paying salaries and expenses, let alone raising wages. But while employees can clearly understand that, it also doesn’t help them make it through their day-to-day. One job is no longer enough for many Filipinos to sustain a family. Everyone is stretching themselves thin, trying to find more work to pay for what they need.

Many said the pandemic was a great equalizer, and in some ways, it was. Everyone was at risk during the health crisis, and no amount of money or privilege could keep the virus at bay. However, while we were all in the same storm during COVID-19, it was vital to point out that we weren’t all in the same boat. While everyone worried about weathering the storm, some people could do so in the comfort of a proverbial yacht, while many more were barely keeping their dinghy afloat.

And now, as we enter a new chapter in this journey, it’s become more challenging than ever. We are trying to remain focused on health and safety protocols, but at the same time, this is often taking a backseat to finding ways to just get by. Companies are starting to require more employees to be back in the office full-time, which means more expenses, including transportation, food, etc, which costs many may have taken for granted saving while working from home.

And while it is definitely good that business can operate fully now, it’s crucial to understand how we can be more efficient in all the financial challenges we’re facing. With the ongoing conflict in Russia and Ukraine, we’ve seen a consistent surge in fuel prices. While on the surface, this may seem like just one problem, the reality is that it impacts everything we do.

With gas prices rising, that means transportation costs are rising. This will impact daily expenses and profoundly impact daily household budgets. Coming out of a two-year pandemic where work was already difficult, this means that Filipino families will struggle even more. We need to find ways to help mitigate these rising costs or the bulk of our population will drown.

A survey on family income and expenditure conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority showed that roughly 40.2 percent of Filipinos belong to the middle class. In comparison, 58.4 percent were low income, and a very tiny margin of 1.4 percent made up the high income. I’m sure this has changed even more in the past two years, and most Filipinos now belong to the class struggling to make ends meet.

We need to find ways to ride this new wave that threatens our people once again. With no known end in sight for the conflict, there has to be other ways to cope with the burden of high fuel prices. One of the most obvious is to keep promoting work from home setups for companies that can operate this way.

The pandemic has shown that remote working works. While it’s understandable that employees and teams also need face-to-face interaction and collaboration, forcing the workforce back 100 percent every day without raising salaries to compensate for travel expenses is just going to tax already struggling budgets. Either a hybrid setup or a shorter workweek can do wonders with helping people save.

If you add up the travel expenses for even just one day, it can already amount to a lot. For a middle-class employee who drives to work, P500 for gas, P200 for toll, and P100 for parking. That’s roughly P800 a week in savings, which can significantly impact their ability to pay for the cost of living.

Currently, the government is exploring a condensed work week for government offices. This was also done during the energy crunch in 2008 and the Gulf War in the ‘90s. They are also urging the private sector to consider this scheme as well.

This means working smarter, not harder. Something that companies should already focus on. A team’s productivity should not be measured by the number of hours they spend at their desks, but rather by the quality of work and output they produce. Perhaps if we focus on re-training ourselves to be more efficient and not concentrate on hitting hour quotas, we can learn to be more efficient in all aspects of life – not just at the office.

Another step is to explore fuel alternatives. While this is more of a long-term solution that can’t do as much to stop the current bleeding, it’s still worth looking into for the long haul. The government can look into some alternatives to mitigate our dependence on fossil fuels: natural gas, hydropower, wind, solar, and geothermal. The world has been trying to wean itself off fossil fuels, and this crisis makes this need even more urgent.

We’re all moving forward and while keeping healthy and safe remains a priority, we also need to find ways to build a more sustainable future. One in which all Filipinos can make ends meet.


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