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[OPINION] Home budgeting in the middle of a pandemic

The global pandemic has wreaked havoc on the economy. Countless have lost their jobs or businesses, and experienced other economic hurdles. As a mother of 3 kids who are all engaged in online learning, the daily struggle of putting food on the table is very real. 

Not only do I need to consider the cost of food items, but also the logistical and health components that go with raw materials procurement. As the sole adult in the house, my trips outside must be timed and planned in advance. This ensures I have minimal external contact.

To maximize everything, I plan our meals in advance; a 2-week menu is required to detail my purchases. I go to the market once a week and the  grocery twice a month. I try to stick to my budget by making a list. Things outside the list do not join the cart. My list mimics the grocery layout for efficient grocery shopping.

I get excited over promos and actually compute the price per gram or ml to check which packaging/variant is more economical. I try new brands so long as the specifications are similar. I figure 3-ply toilet paper, regardless of brand, still does its function. I even make my own disinfectant spray and toilet bowl cleaner – it's cheaper and more environmentally friendly. Since I have been consistent in these practices I usually am able to adhere to my budget. 

I share my menu with the kids. I seek their input and openly discuss challenges, since my youngest is already 17. We laugh about how we can maximize kangkong, which we intentionally call spinach to poke fun at the fact that we can't afford real spinach. We grind the kangkong stalk to make soup, while the leaves are sauteed with tofu. We celebrate the fact that a P20 bunch can be eaten twice. 

As a home cook, creativity and foresight are key tools. For example, the lowly saba can become turon, sweetened with sago, or boiled as a snack – and when you buy them unripe, they are cheaper. To stretch our budget further we consider food items we'd overlooked before. Now I buy adidas or chicken feet to make tinola more tasty. I add chicken liver to my chicken adobo not only for the taste but the volume as well.

In spite of the price hike, our home budget is relatively intact because we adjusted our preferences. We accepted that there were things we could not afford and simply skipped them. When pork was at 380-420/kg we bought just 1 kg for 1 week. We explored other veggies, mindful of our go, glow, grow requirements, but on a shoestring budget. 

My personal penchant for planning and cooking, and my solid relationship with my kids helped navigate the treacherous financial maze this pandemic created. We still had difficulties; sheer will cannot magically solve all our problems. Whenever I had no income and the expenses continued, we dipped from our savings.

Yes, we are anxious, but we hope and hold on. We discuss possibilities and factor in our finances in future decisions. My youngest, who is about to go to college, knows her options are limited to colleges without tuition. She applied for scholarships and state universities.

We hope our country will have the good governance needed to usher us out of this pandemic. As much as I am willing to spend for a vaccine, our government has yet to finalize the vaccination schedule. Without the security of a vaccine and the absence of state-funded hospitalization, a single hospitalization will wipe out our savings. This very real fear pushes us to be more cash prudent, and the way inflation has ballooned has not helped our failing economy.

Early in the pandemic, we ventured into food selling, but the rising meat prices and stiff competition made online food selling challenging. Currently, we have accepted writing-related assignments. We try to augment our income while minimizing our expenses. I believe these challenges can be mitigated by ingenuity and foresight. They are by no means absolute solutions but rather steps that can contribute to our savings goals. Without these measures our menu might look even plainer.

Regardless of what I put on our table, our dinner conversation still revolves around the kids’ appreciation for our meal. They always say, “Thank you for the food; our meals are always worth looking forward to.” Achieving that within my budget is a feat for this simple single mother of 3 awesome kids. – Rappler.com

Ruth Yap is a single mother of 3 college students. She loves to read and is happy to share her advocacies with all willing listeners.