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Financial advice for migrant domestic workers from the team at Enrich HK

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This month, we’re talking about Christmas. Afterall, in the Philippines the Christmas season has already begun. From September onwards, our houses are lovingly decorated, trees are put up, and parol (Christmas stars) are secured in place. ‘Tis the season to be jolly, is what we say – but the truth is Christmas can sometimes be far from jolly for migrant domestic workers. It’s a special time of year for the family but a stressful time for finances.

Christmas will be very different this year. Most of you reading this will be unable to travel home due to lockdowns, travel restrictions or greater expenses, and you are probably feeling sad to miss this special time. But even though you’re far away, you can still create lasting Christmas memories with your family – memories that won’t break your budget.

Christmas on a budget
Usually when you go home for Christmas, you take gifts for everyone. This year, you feel you must send gifts by post but it’s very expensive to send so many. What should you do? It can be uplifting to give to our loved ones, but the most important thing to remember is that money and gifts do not replace love. Why do you feel you need to send so many gifts? Are you overcompensating because you can’t be at home this year?

If you’re giving aguinaldo (money traditionally given at Christmas in the Philippines), consider giving a smaller amount, reducing the number of recipients or even giving a nonmonetary gift instead.

You might already have been collecting gifts for your balikbayan box (cargo that is sent to family in the Philippines) but it’s worth pausing to consider whether you can handle this expense right now. The gifts you’ve gathered might keep for next Christmas, or for the next time you go home. Keep your long-term goals in mind: The money for the fancy mobile phone that you’d like to send to your son could help with a down payment on your dream house.

Incidentally, this is also a great time to think about planning ahead for next year – if you set aside a small amount as part of your budget every month, you can ensure that gift-giving doesn’t come as a stressful surprise in 2021.

Whatever you do, do not take a loan to buy or post gifts. When you borrow money, you have to pay interest on that loan, making your gifts even more expensive and taking you further away from your long-term goals.

Make a realistic list of everyone you really need to give a gift to and allocate a maximum amount that you will spend per person. This is important because the total amount spent must fit into your monthly budget – don’t forget to include the cost of postage. If you’re spending more than you can afford on sending these gifts, then you need to look at your list again and make some tough decisions.

Take the time to check different options for your gifts. Perhaps there is a better deal out there. Also consider if your gift can be valued as a second-hand item, which would reduce your customs charges.

The foundation of gift-giving is all about expressing sincere thought and love. So, why not post loved ones a handwritten Christmas card or letter, and either make your own gifts or send upcycled second-hand ones. You could also consider gifting books or classes that support your loved one’s interests. The personal touch speaks volumes.

Making special memories
You miss your family and Christmas is the best time for you to bond with them. How can you make this Christmas special if you’re not there?

It’s completely understandable for you to feel sad that you can’t be at home with your loved ones. You work hard throughout the year to provide them with a better future,
so of course you cherish this time with them. But you really don’t have to rely on gifts to make this Christmas ‘special.’

This year, make the theme ‘special memories.’ Plan some fun, inexpensive activities that you can do together online. Your loved ones will value the quality time you spend with them. You could sing Christmas carols or ‘share’ a special dinner together – you could even have a lovely meal delivered to them on Christmas Day.

Take the time to have personal conversations with your children or partners this Christmas. It’s been a tough year for them too. Talk to them about your Christmas wishes for the family, and allow them to share their thoughts and even their concerns if that’s what they need. These memories will last much longer than their happiness over a new toy or gadget.

Finally, don’t forget your happiness this Christmas. Be sure to treat yourself to a small gift or a special meal with friends. Take the time to recognise everything you’ve
achieved, everything you’ve overcome, and all your dreams for the future.

Enrich HK is an award-winning Hong Kong charity providing financial and empowerment education to migrant domestic workers. For a free, confidential one-to-one financial counselling session and to learn about the courses on offer, visit www.enrichhk.org. If you have a question you would like to have answered on this page, email [email protected].

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