I have been overseas for almost a decade now. While coming home and spending time with my family is something I look forward to, I always feel a certain anxiety. This comes from the expectations that OFWs and balikbayans always have money to spend when they come home.

This is especially apparent during the Christmas season. OFWs are often expected to give aguinaldos to relatives, and sometimes this extends to the entire neighborhood. I have heard many stories of kababayans who come home and find themselves playing the role of the generous Santa Claus. They live like one-day-millionaires, spending more than what they intend to over the course of their vacation.

Worse, I have also heard of fellow Filipinos who opt to just spend Christmas abroad despite being homesick because they have learned their lessons and want to avoid such experiences.

Fortunately, many seasoned OFWs and balikbayans are learning how to avoid spending too much during their vacation.  With a little financial planning and mindful spending,  they are able to relax and enjoy without having to dip into their hard-earned savings. Here are some ways to do it:

1. Plan ahead

Like most things in life, it is always best to be prepared. Planning is key. As soon as you decide that you will be coming home, make plans and try to anticipate what might happen. One of the best tips I’ve learned is to make an “early list.” List down all you shall meet when you come home. Include family members, close friends, and neighbors.

2. Stick to a budget

Now that you have an idea on the number of people you will be giving gifts or how many parties and reunions will you most likely attend, then set your budget. How much are you willing to spend during your stay? Once you have decided, stick to that budget.

3. Get a headstart.

If you have some time before your homecoming, use this chance to prepare for your own VIPs. One lady I know would start buying pasalubongs as early as September. Whenever she would see something for a loved one, she would buy it one at time. She says that by November, she already has a box filled with gifts accumulated over the months.

Another friend of mine has a similar technique except she would just buy inexpensive trinkets that would catch her fancy from time to time. Before she comes home, she gives the gifts to her family and friends. By getting a headstart, you spend bit by bit over the course of a few months. This may be more feasible for your budget instead of going for one big shopping spree, which creates a big dent into your resources.

4. Keep it small and simple.

As for my acquaintances - like former colleagues, classmates, and neighbors - what I would do is go back to my ‘early list’ and think about how many of them I’m likely to meet.  I would then buy something in bulk, such as souvenir items from where I am currently based.

Something small and inexpensive like fridge magnets, or small packets of local treats or sweets that I can easily hand out to people. Not only will it save me baggage space, it also saves me money. The beauty of this is that you also avoid giving away cash. Give something unique with sentimental value.

5. Remember your reason for coming home.

Christmas is the time to be reunited with family and friends. More than the material aspect of giving, it is the love and togetherness that matters most when you come home for the holidays.

The people who truly matter will not think unkindly of you should you choose not to splurge on your homecoming. In the same way that you come home to spend quality time with your loved ones, they too value your presence the most. Whether you splurge or scrimp during the holidays, they would be happy just having you by their side, even for just a short while.

JC Garcia

Joanna has spent most of her married life abroad as a trailing spouse to her husband of ten years. They have been previously been posted in Tripoli and in Muscat, and is currently living in Budapest with their eleven year old dog.