3 Financial Insights from a 5 Hour Traffic Jam

The traffic in the streets of Metro Manila are crazy. I was coming from Paranaque City (Bicutan) and wanted to go to Katipunan to play boardgames with my friends over dinner. We left the house at 6pm, and 3 hours later, we were only at the Market, Market! area which was only 1/3 of the way. I ended up canceling my plans out of exhaustion and hopelessness.

Fortunately, something good came out of that traffic jam – I got to think about the similarities of the traffic situation in Metro Manila, and the financial situation of many Filipinos.

In this article, I won’t pretend to be a traffic expert and say what the government should do or shouldn’t do. I also won’t be giving out direct financial advice. So just read it for fun, and take away the lessons you wish to take away.

#1: Heavy Traffic & Financial Problems are both Caused by Lack of Planning

A few months ago I was able to visit Singapore where everything is just efficient. They have traffic sometimes, but commuting from one point to another will never take you more than 45 minutes. (Singapore is just a little bigger than the Metro Manila area).

While I was there, I got to talk to a friend of mine who worked for the Singaporean government. She shared how the government planned its activities. For example, they had a goal of increasing population by X% by the year 20xx, so they had to coordinate with several government agencies. They were already planning where they will house the people. And if new people were going to live there, new roads, bus routes and train stations would have to connect to that area. They have even planned what type of jobs would be near that area, and are coordinating it with their department of education so that the fresh graduates would be prepared for those new jobs. The plans they had were for the next 20+ years down the road. (No wonder it’s one of the world’s best countries to live in!)

As for our situation here in Metro Manila… no need for an explanation. You already that the most planning we get is just until the next election (most likely even less).

So let’s relate this now to personal finance retirement.

Singapore is a wonderful city because of long-term planning. Lahat pinag-isipan.
While the Philippines has lots of problems because of lack of planning. “Bahala na”.

Similarly, a well-funded and comfortable retirement with financial security is also a result of long-term planning. Again, lahat pinag isipan.
While a retirement where you’ll have to rely on “donations” from your children and brothers is a result of lack of planning. Again, “bahala na.”

Now most probably you’re thinking… duh this is rather obvious! But the question is why aren’t we doing anything about it? Well that’s because of the next item…

#2: You Don’t Mind Because Everyone Else is Going Through the Same Thing.

On a day when traffic is really bad, here’s what usually happens at home:

My dad arrives saying, “Grabe yung traffic pauwi, inabot ako ng 2 hours.

My mom then replies, “Kanina nga palabas lang sa expressway 1 hour na agad!

Then my brother comes home very late and goes, “Nagstay na ako sa office para palipasin yung traffic, kesa maipit sa daan.

Everyone is frustrated with the traffic, but because everyone else is going thru the same thing, it somehow becomes more acceptable. “Ganun talaga eh”.

Now what happens when it comes to personal finance?

Here are some (absurd) lines that I hear from time to time:

If you don’t have Savings: “Okay lang yan, bata ka palang naman eh. Buti ka pa nga walang utang.
If you’re buried in debt: “Okay lang yan, yung pinsan ko nga nasa P500,000 mahigit na yung utang eh.”
If you have a failed Investment/Business: “Dati rin na scam ako ng XYZ company eh…

So even if something BAD just happened, it becomes more acceptable because it has also most likely happened to someone else you know. And knowing that makes it okay. “Ganun talaga eh.

For this point, the thing you need to watch out for are the people you hang out with. Because if most of your friends are big spenders (and it’s okay for them to get cash advances and max out their credit cards), then just by being around them, you’ll be thinking that it’s okay for you to also do that.

While if you hang out with people who are budget conscious or active investors, then most likely you’ll also be encouraged to be thrifty and invest!

#3 When You’re There, it’s Already too Late.

While I was stuck in traffic (about the 1 ½ hour mark), I looked at Waze, and asked my friends for route suggestions. There were many back roads and alternate paths that my friends and the apps were suggesting. But the problem was I could no longer take those paths because I was already there inside the traffic jam. Whenever the radio would report the traffic, I would just say in my seat “ano pang magagawa ko? Nandito na ako.” (I’m sure you also talk to the radio when you get bored in traffic!)

Now how about in personal finance?

  • When you’re already in a car accident, it’s too late to buy car insurance.
  • When you’re already at the hospital, it’s too late to get health insurance/HMOs.
  • When you’re draining your retirement funds, it’s already too late to start investing.

So what’s the message here? It’s to start preparing for your financial future right NOW. If you don’t have a financial game plan yet, if you don’t know where you’re headed – it’s time you took some action. (You can start here: Winning the Game of Wealth Online Seminar)

And now you know the kind of things I end up thinking about while I’m stuck in traffic! Haha! But on a more serious note: I know majority of this article has been ‘common sense’, but common sense is not always ‘common practice’. It will only be through action that progress comes into fruition.

So right now, please think about this question:

“Which of your actions in the next 48 hours that will improve your financial life?”
P.S. Seriously if you don’t have a financial game plan yet, then watch this video.

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