Living on Less: How My Family of 11 Lived on $3/Day

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Time really flies. It feels like I was in the Philippines just yesterday.

Just the other day, I was talking to my mom. I called her because she was kind of upset that I didn't let her know first that my newborn son will soon be baptized.

I didn't call her not because I didn't want her to know but because I was just trying to get some possible dates for the baptism. I called my niece and asked her to be my son's Godmother.

My niece, then, told my sister and, then, my sister told my other sister who told my mom about the baptism, which wasn't even on its first stage of planning.

Words travel fast in our family. That's what's happen when you have a family with more than 30 members. That's just brothers, sisters, mom, nephews, and nieces.

Anyhow, I did tell my mom that my wife and I were thinking of having our kid baptized in the next two months. We talked for more than an hour on just about anything.

Then, I asked a question I never asked before, that is, “How did we survive back in the Philippines when we were 11 in the family and dad was only making $3 a day?”.

That's the question I asked. Yes, we lived on $3 a day (that's already adjusted for inflation) back in the late 1990s in the Philippines.

While we lived below the poverty line, we survived and we grew up as great, loving, and family-centric people. For that, we considered ourselves still lucky.

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Living on Less: How My Family of 11 Lived on $3/Day

This post is different because this is not a post about financial success. It's a story of survival. If you think living on less is not possible, then, this post is definitely for you.

While I was talking to my mom, I learned so many things that I never thought my family did. I was around 7 years old back then and didn't know any better. I didn't even know that life for us was tough just because I probably was living it and thought it was normal.

What my mom told me gave me a whole new outlook on how I take care of my own family now.

Here are the things my family did back then so we could survive. You may learn some minimalist living tips from my experiences. They're not for the faint of hearts and they're not for those who just like to criticize.

  • Cutting down even the basic necessities. Because we had a big family, my parents couldn't afford to feed everyone. I remember eating rice mixed with powdered milk. That's a meal to me. I remember going to school without paper and pen because there wasn't a budget for those. Those are just the examples where we cut down the basic necessities to survive.
  • Borrowing money so my parents could pay another borrowed money while satisfying some needs. This is where the saying “borrow from Peter to pay Paul” perfectly applies. My father was the only one working while the rest were in school and studying. We were living on a borrowed money. We survived and, eventually, paid all their debts.
  • Working odd jobs to have money for school. Almost all of us had to work or do something on the side to have money for school. Luckily, a lot of us went to school for FREE and only had to worry about allowances and other school materials. My brothers would rent a tricycle so they could drive people around for a fee. I would sell rice cakes and tutor my classmates for extra money. We survived and graduated.
  • Selling cold desserts during the summer. Every summer, we would set a stand outside our house and would sell cold desserts such as halo-halo, which is a popular dessert in the Philippines. We would profit around $2 for an 8-hour day of work. We survived and I learned a lot. Because of this experience, I know how to make desserts, which is the reason I have a food blog, The Handy Foodie.
  • Picking things in trash. Almost every weekend, my best friend and I would search for things from the trash we could sell at junk yards. Our parents didn't know it, but we wanted to do it so we could have some money to buy candies. We'd go home like we went to work for an auto shop, that is, all greasy and smelly. Luckily, we didn't get sick and we earned a couple of pesos enough for candies and school allowances.

Life has its way of teaching us so many things that can't be taught at school. I am so happy and wouldn't change anything that my family or I went through when we were going up.

I am just thankful and not even looking at the not-so-fun moments I experienced growing up. We were living on less and we still survived and succeeded.

Here are some of the things I learned from my childhood days and the life my family had back then.

1. Budget even when you don't have a lot of money. 

The one thing that lacked during my early years of life was budgeting. My parents didn't budget for anything. I learned that you always need to budget.

My wife and I tried budgeting several times and failed to make them work. It's frustrating and maddening at times when your budget doesn't work for you.

If you've tried so many tools like we have and are fed up with budgeting or don't know where to start but want to, I highly recommend Qapital. It's a new way to bank that lets you save for the things you want, just by doing the things you do.

With Qapital, your purchases are rounded up to the nearest dollar and those cents are transferred to your specific goals. Also, if your actual expenses exceed your budgeted ones, then, the difference is transferred to your Qapital account.

It's user-friendly and straightforward. You just create an account, connect your bank accounts, set your goals and rules, and you go are good to go. Qapital uses bank-level SSL and TLS encryption standards, multi-factor authentication, and three-level identity protection. This means your account is safe and secured.

In short, this budgeting tool will work for you. You get the best of everything for FREE. Who doesn't like that?

Love this app! I was using Digit when a friend recommended Qapital. I have saved more in one month than i did in 6. You set rules for how and when you want money saved. My favorites are a % of your deposits & the “round up” rule. There is no effort, just a feeling of surprise when you see how much your savings has grown! Alicia Cito

To put things in dollar terms, we saved $6,000 last year towards our goals because of Qapital. We went from having budget headaches to perfecting our budget and saving money.

Click here to create a FREE account with Qapital.

Related: Personal Budget Categories to Start Your Budget

qapital app


2. Financial preparedness.

With a ton of kids and a meager salary, there was no way my parents could be ready financially. Some would say they should have been more responsible. That I get, but there's something else I learned from our life then.

Moral lesson: Regardless of your situation, make the right decisions at the right time at the lowest possible cost. Of course, it is easier than done.

If it were so easy, then, those who want to live cheap could easily do that. In reality, living cheap is difficult but perfectly doable.

There are so many products that can help you achieve your goals. Some of are paid ones and some are free but will require you to invest time, patience, and dedication to make those work. I went for the simplest and FREE strategies people don't know of or tend to overlook at all the time. Here they are:

First, ask from people close to you especially those who live cheaply. They’ll be the best people to give you tips from experience. Second, use products that provide unbiased tips, which are based on actual data.

My family uses Spentapp and it turned our lives and finances 360 degrees for the better. The concept behind Spentapp is something I've never seen before. It automatically analyzes our expenses, identify our money mistakes, and recommends financial decisions, which we use all the time.

It's user-friendly and easy to install. It even only takes a few seconds to get it up and running. Better yet, it gives us money for simply spending money. It gives us up to 45% cash back on many things.

Why Spentapp? With my brother and Spentapp's help, we paid off our $40K debt and saved $70K all in 2.5 years, reduced our grocery bill to $150 for a family of 3, and lived off well under $31,000/year. That's our story with Spentapp. Your great story could be next.

Pro tip: Combine the up-to 45% cash back from Spentapp with your credit card rewards and you're set to getting the products for almost FREE.

If you need to better manage your finances and make money, too, click here to get Spentapp for FREE.

This app is so smooth. I haven't experienced any glitches or lagging. The aesthetic is great too, no obnoxious unattractive colours. It helps link you to a vast majority of banks to keep track of your spending and it's super helpful! Great app. Testimonial from Jas, Spentapp user


3. Life at a bare minimum.

I learned that one of the best ways to live on less is to trim your expenses to the bare minimum or to the lowest level you can. It is easier than done, but there's a solution to that.

You can start trimming down your expenses little at a time starting with discretionary items like gas and entertainment expenses and, then, go for mandatory expenses. That process is tedious though and may not work all the time.

The easiest solution that perfectly works is to use Trim. It's a FREE financial assistant that saves you money. Period. It's user-friendly, easy to install, and, best of all, it takes the headache from you in finding places to cut expenses.

It analyzes your accounts and searches for ways to save you money on everyday expenses like utilities, negotiates your cable and internet bills, finds you better car insurance, and more.

Last month alone, Trim users saved over $1,000,000. That's seven figures in savings.

Trim cut our on-contract Verizon phone bill by $16.75/mo. That's $201/year. (see my bill's images below).

What’s more interesting is that if you experience outages (e.g. your internet didn’t work for a couple of hours), Trim believes you deserve a credit and it will work with the providers to get you just that.

Click here to start using Trim. I haven't seen a product like this in a while. I'm glad I use it as it helps my family in more ways we could ever think of. If people like me could save money in the way we didn't think we could, so can you.


verizon trim bill verizon trim bill


4. Life today is not your life tomorrow.

There were a lot of people who told me that we wouldn't improve our situation.

What my parents taught us was to strive harder, educate ourselves, and be good people. That last one stuck with us especially with me all throughout my life.

Now, my life and my own family's life are different. We are way better financially than what my family had back then. But even after achieving all these financial achievements, I still remain grounded. My family still remains the good people my parents taught us to be.

If your situation isn't in its best state, always believe that your life today won't be your life tomorrow.

Strive harder and do your very best. Things will get better and you will look at your past as something of a challenge or test that you passed with flying colors.

I look back at my life and am amazed how far long I've gone. Many times, remembering these things help me realize that things can change 360 degrees without notice.

Read: Live Rich On A Small Income: This Man Did It


5. A family that works together stays and succeeds together.

Living on a $3 salary was tough. It would have been more difficult had it not been for my brothers and sisters pitching in a couple of cents here and there.

All throughout my childhood, I saw my family working together. We're not a perfect family. Sure, there were times that my family members would fight. But at the end of the day, we worked together.

Imagine this, almost all of us went to college even when we didn't have enough. That's a big accomplishment especially that a college education in the Philippines was expensive compared to how much people made.

I see a lot of people mostly my friends here in the US and in the Philippines who don't have a lot but accomplish a lot because everyone works together.

We sure were living well on less money because we had our family together.

Read: How To Add Multiple $100,000s To Your Account


Final thoughts:

These are some of those lessons I learned for living on less. They helped and have helped me and my family be better financially. They also helped us be better people as a result.

Looking back at my childhood, I know that what my family and I experienced back then was for the best (though the experiences are something that many people don't want to experience).

What challenges in the past did you experience and how did they help you become better? Do you have a story of living on less you like to share with on this blog?

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