In today’s consumer-driven society, where nearly everything can be bought, is it any wonder why people are also looking to buy happiness? A quick trip to any bookstore will showcase a wide selection of self-help reading materials on the subject. It’s unlikely a one-size-fits-all answer lies between the covers of any book, so we thought of tackling the issue by providing answers according to a family’s basic needs.
From housing to education, clothing to health, we discovered there’s the ceiling of excess followed by aspirations that vary according to one’s tastes and demographics, then the grounding realities of what one has or can have.
HOUSING: LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
When it comes to real estate, experts say there’s only one thing that matters–location.
Last year, premier property developer Ayala Land set a new sale record for the most expensive high-rise residence in the country. Park Central Towers, which will rise on the site of the old Mandarin Hotel and boasts of a Paseo de Roxas and Makati Avenue address, sold a three-level penthouse unit for P477 million (US$10 million). The 1,635-square-meter penthouse comes with a 281-square-meter pool deck and 12 parking slots.
At over P290,000 per square meter, that’s more expensive than a property in Forbes Park, which Leechiu Property Consultants reported that as of June 2017 it was selling at an average of P250,000 per square meter.
Sadly, these prime properties are not in everyone’s budget. Does that mean happiness is also out of reach for most?
Not for Lalaine Fabian-Juan, who put her plans for her dream house on hold. A couple of years ago, she was driving corporate sales for the consumer arm of a multinational bank. An offer to work abroad changed her priorities. “Overnight, we went from looking to establish roots to putting a premium on mobility,” she says.
Currently based in Dubai, Fabian-Juan is staying in an exclusive residential condominium complex where most of her neighbors are also expatriates. Her husband Jojo shuttles between Manila and Dubai, as his work with a real estate company requires him to stay in the country for most of the year. For now, they've opted to rent a home in the same residential village where they invested in a lot, the site of their future dream house. Perhaps next year, they can start building their home.
“It’s a good arrangement because our two grown sons chose to stay in Manila for their studies. Because of the traffic, we leased a condominium unit close to their school for their use during the week.”
EDUCATION: THE PATH TO SUCCESS
In February 2017, HSBC launched an online poll with nearly 8,500 parents as correspondents from 15 countries to find out how much they spend for their child’s education.
Parents in Hong Kong spend the most with over US$130,000 (or P6.7 million) per child from grade school all the way to college. U.A.E. parents came second with around US$100,000 (that’s P5 million), trailed by Singaporean moms and dads at US$70,000 (or P3.5 million). The survey showed that funding their children’s education is a top priority for nearly nine out of 10 parents; and they are ready to make personal sacrifices, including cutting back on hobbies or reducing their leisure activities to set their children in the path to success.
While the Philippines was not part of the survey, parents here are also known to go to great lengths to ensure they invest in their children’s future. This includes paying for tuition fees, books, uniforms, transportation, and accommodation.
A survey of some of Metro Manila’s top high schools showed annual fees could range from P100,000 to P500,000. When it comes to the top universities, expect to shell out between P50,000 a year in the University of the Philippines or a high of P225,000 annually at De La Salle University.
Given the choice to move to Dubai or stay in Manila,Fabian-Juan's two sons, Isaac, 18, and Ivan, 16, opted for the latter. “They are both going to quality schools, ranked among the country’s best, so we supported their decision,” adds Fabian-Juan.
Annually, tuition alone for both costs close to P400,000. When the time comes, Fabian-Juan is open to supporting her children if they pursue post-graduate studies overseas.
CLOTHING: DRESS TO IMPRESS
The world’s fifth richest man, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, is known to wear the same color shirt to work all days of the week. Despite a 2017 net worth of about US$57 billion according to Forbes magazine, Zuckerberg’s sartorial choice every day is a grey shirt.
In a public question and answer session back in 2014, Zuckerberg candidly told the audience that he does not want to spend any of his energy on things that are silly or frivolous. And if you think he’s strange, turns out he’s in good company–former United States president Barack Obama also follows the same regimented approach to dressing.
“I know I need to downsize my wardrobe selection but I still splurge," says Fabian-Juan. "I did notice that as I got older, I’ve become more selective. I now lean more toward good quality pieces even if these are more expensive because they are for long-time use.”
And while she occasionally splurges, Fabian-Juan has set her shopping limits which are different for when shopping at home or in Dubai. “A piece of clothing that costs AED1,000 (about P13,800) is probably my ceiling in Dubai. I am more comfortable with spending between AED200 (or P2,700) and AED400 (P5,500) for clothes in either country.”
HEALTH: THE TRUE WEALTH
It’s been said that the loss of one’s health is the loss of all happiness. You might have also heard the adage that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. With only one mortal body to care for, you better treat it with respect, like the temple that it is.
Fabian-Juan has embraced running, and now even joins marathons. “I am aspiring to complete a half marathon this year,” she shares. Next in her plans: signing up for cooking classes so she can prepare healthier meals and learning yoga meditation.
You’ll be surprised that the cost of exercising regularly will hardly cause a dent in your pocket unlike a hospital stay that can quickly balloon to thousands or millions of pesos especially if you choose deluxe rooms (remember the P50,000 a night hospital room where former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo stayed in 2011? That presidential suite came with a receiving area, a La-Z boy chair, a TV console, a personal computer with printer and scanner, a 40-inch plasma TV with a wall-mounted sound system, a DVD player, a safety deposit box, an eight-seater dining table, a kitchenette, a bathroom with a jacuzzi, and a guest room).
TRAVEL: A CASUAL EXPENSE
In September of 2016, BusinessWorld reported that Visa, Inc. released a study concluding Filipinos among the highest spenders on travel in the world. The company recorded a combined $9.9 billion (or P465 billion) on travel in the year 2015, noting that the number of older travelers from the age of 65 and above has increased.
Ideally, the casual traveler would take at least two trips annually: one within the region and one to the U.S. or Europe. Expenses for regional travel to a country like Japan, and assuming it would be a week long, would cost around $300 (P15,580) to $700 (P36,354)* for airfare tickets. Accommodations at a comfortable hotel in a prime location such as the Shangri-La or the Park Hyatt in Tokyo would cost $350 (P18,177) to $380 (P19,735) a night. One must also allot money for meals—just lunch and dinner since breakfast is to be had at the hotel—and daily tours.
A second annual trip, maybe touring a few countries in Europe or visiting relatives in the United States, would take up more time and budget allocation. One would need to spend two weeks to justify the distance from home and the time spent on air travel. Airfare would be estimated around $4,300 (P223,320) for business class seats to Paris on an airline such as Emirates, which provides comfort during a long-haul flight. For a two-week trip to Europe, hotel accommodations and other modes of transportation taken within the trip would amount to $2,100 (P109,063) and $240 (P12,464) respectively, according to MoneySense, while entrance fees and tours would cost around $400 (P20,774). One must also have spending money for food and miscellaneous purchases.
LEISURE: JOY IN THE LITTLE THINGS
Little indulgences also account for overall happiness. Things like watching concerts, galas, musicals or other shows every quarter or the monthly spa trip are worth including in the budget. The Lion King musical at Solaire would set you back P6,500 to P7,250 for VIP seats, while An Intimate Evening with Stella Abrera tickets cost P4,000 to P15,000, to give you a rough idea. Basic beauty and wellness treatments such as a facial or a massage would cost around P1,500 to P3,000 per visit.
There are also smaller daily expenses, such as the odd Starbucks drink every so often or the car-booking services, which go for P150 to P250 per ride.
Those with the luxury of having help will also take a toll on the budget. The current minimum wage in Manila, as dictated by the Department of Labor and Employment, is P475 a day. Considering that you would pay your house help this amount every work day and give them one day off a week, this would cost P11,400 per helper.
GROSS NATIONAL HAPPINESS
In 1972, King Wangchuck of Bhutan coined the phrase “Gross National Happiness” (GNH). At that time, this predominantly Buddhist nation was beginning to open up to foreigners and the King wanted to make sure that their country’s status will be measured by the contentment of its citizens and not just the size of their bank accounts.
The King may be on to something. After all, the world’s economic growth has been on the uptrend, and in some parts of the globe, millionaires are made every minute. Yet there has been no commensurate rise in people’s well-being.
Before you start packing for the Himalayas, why not start small? Embrace GNH by looking at your basic needs and own up to excesses if any, or pat your back if you’ve been striking the right balance. Let’s hope you find your happiness bar in the healthy and realistic side of the GNH spectrum.
CRUNCHING THE NUMBER
If we total all the factors that make up the worry-free life, it would start at P500 million pesos. But along with miscellaneous expenses, it would involve a couple more millions—at least P100 million more. Not only would this amount set you up for life, but it will give you the best in comfort and stability.
Five hundered million pesos to P1 billion might seem like an outrageous amount, but compared to what Americans perceive as a happy life—$100 million (or about P5 billion)—that's a bargain.
Psychologist Robert Kenny, who's studied the ultra-rich for decades, says that “the most important thing for everyone to understand is that no matter how much money you have you cannot buy yourself out of the human condition. And that is that we’re all going to die.”
*$1 = P51.94
With additional reporting by Hannah Lazatin.