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Not-so-secret strategies of self-made Filipino millionaires

By Ma. Salve Duplito
First Posted 18:18:00 08/17/2008

Filed Under: Personal Finance

ANTONIO L. TIU is the image of a young, wealthy Chinese businessman. As president of AgriNurture Inc., a P3-billion agriculture company preparing for an initial public offering, the 32-year old visionary can easily live like a billionaire.

But he doesn't. Not only because his genetic make-up won't allow it (he is a self-proclaimed frugal Chinese), but also because like a growing number of low-key millionaires in Philippine society, his wealth is the result of hard work and not easy inheritance.

"When my father passed away, he didn't leave anything to us except a good education," Tiu says.

De La Salle University, where Tiu got his degree, is not known for kids with simple lifestyles, but as an upperclassman, Tiu's P50 a day allowance didn't allow him to party and live it up as most of his schoolmates did. Instead, he spent his spare time in Internet shops working part-time to type term papers, skipping lunch when needed.

Now that he operates the first agriculture company in the country that's setting its sights on getting listed on the Philippine Stock Exchange, Tiu still lives simply. "I can live on P1,000 a month because I hardly buy anything," he says. "I love shopping, but shopping for companies," he adds.

INQUIRER.net received tons of feedback from readers when the Philippine Daily Inquirer published the article "Hidden, self-made millionaires around us." MoneySmarts, the website's personal finance blog, was swarmed with comments for its follow-up entry on "How did you make your first million?"

Readers say the answers were very inspiring and revealing. Here are some of the best from the web:


Way back in 2003, my wife and I were nearly millionaires--in debt! It was an ironic situation because while we had some savings, we were practically buried in debt. Our journey to financial freedom started in April of that year. We attended a seminar on financial planning and from then on, everything was accounted for. Two years later, we were out of debt and with a net worth of P2.5 million. Pwede na, di ba? Our first step was to really get out of debt and we did this in less than six months. We had to empty our savings account to pay off our debt. After that, everything was monitored and we decided to have reasonable spending habits and save, save, save! Our next plan is to speed up the accumulation by investing in business. We have placements in mutual funds, we are adequately covered by insurance, we dabble in stock market every now and then but the rate of accumulation is not enough for our goal. In short, we did this by educating ourselves and having a plan. Also, a PC-based application (Quicken) helped a lot in allowing us to monitor everything.

Pocholo D. Paragas, 30,
Quezon City

I made my first million through independence not inheritance. Learning to live within 70 percent of whatever I earn and leaving the 30 percent for savings. The 70 percent can be broken down further to utilities, needs, wants, and tithes. Making sure that there is room for personal enjoyment in the budget. Treat it like a diet of some sort wherein if you scrimp too much, there is a tendency to "binge shop." Avoid the urge to join the bandwagon of new things or the lemming concept of what the other has you should, too. And live on cash not on credit. If you can't pay for it in cold cash then you can't afford it and learn to accept and realize that. If you plan to buy something, make sure it's for the right reason. We have this saying "passion over fashion." If your reasons are right then sky's the limit and you would still have money in the bank (30 percent).

How I specifically made my first million? I quit my management level corporate job, developed a business development company, sold my car as capital, had a staff of one, ate under the MRT station for a year and worked through literal blood, sweat and tears including cleaning the office on Sundays. Three years later, still establishing the company but with a staff of 60, believing in the same vision and I don't have to sell any of my cars anymore.

Bus142, 36, Quezon City

I made my first million four years ago. I had just quit my job and was practically broke. I had around P20,000 or less to live on. I had been doing the corporate route for eight years and made the big choice to quit. It was a bold move that I believe made an impact in my life although at that time some people thought I was crazy. I sold my car for P250,000 and put up my own business. Lucky for me, the business picked up. I still remember going to the ATM machine and seeing the figure pop up, it was exciting. I hope this inspires people to start thinking out of the box. Never be afraid to take risks.

Matt9210, 35, Hong Kong

Earned my fist million at age 30. It was slow getting there since I had to do it by saving regularly and working locally. But just to share my story, savings do work although it might not get you there as fast as other means, but it does pay to save. I started saving when I was 15 and managed to save P200,000 by graduation. Then when I started working, I saved about 60 percent of my monthly income. Instead of the other way around, I tried to live within 30 percent to 40 percent of my income. By age 28, I aggressively bought a lot and after a year decided to build a house. Although I borrowed money, my net worth skyrocketed from P400,000 to almost P2 million right after I finished the house. I was able to pay up the load by age 33. Now, working abroad, I'm looking forward to earning my first million in Hong Kong dollars in two to three years again through savings. I tried stocks, but I got burned, so word of caution to all those thinking of investing in stocks. Don't just dive in to it. Study the market and ask advice first before investing. And don't invest too much. Just what you can spare or gamble. Good luck to all and final words: Save, save, save. That will earn you your first million.


I made my millions by working as a nurse overseas and it all started when I was 25. I was working here in Ireland as a nurse and that is a dream come true. I challenged myself to get rich after seeing my family in dire need of money since life is so difficult in the province. Surprisingly, the pay in Ireland is very high, as you could bring home as big as $20,000 clean. Ireland is the best in the world for pay scale. US, not anymore. I made this money by working overseas and investing aggressively. I balance work, financial and social life.


My family was not well off, but by the hard work of my mother, our family business, which started in a wet market, grew to where it is now. I was only five years old when I started working for our family business. When teenagers were doing gimmicks, I had my own business which was earning me P50,000 a year. Even before I went to college, our family business allowed me and my siblings to break that P1-million mark. Now, I am an executive working aboard and earning a very good salary. I still invest and save. In fact, my phone is only worth $35. I expand my net income by things I learned from our business and my mom: Hard work, studying hard, paying your credit card in full, investing and living within your means.

The Serious Nuts

My wife and I saw our first million in our bank account as OFWs. That was the easy part. For us, the barrier was our small appetite for making riskier investments other than those offered by banks. We assessed that investment properties are for us as they carry acceptable risks. We made a breakthrough last year by making our first purchase. Now, we are in process of closing the deal for two more. All paid in cash. The best thing about this is that we are now free from regular monthly remittances as these properties cover our family support expenses.

Stephen Briones, 29, Davao City

I achieved my first million and more by working in Japan and living smartly, buying only the things that I need, thinking twice before each purchase whether I really need it or if there's a cheaper alternative to the thing that I want. For me, earning millions by working abroad is not very sustainable especially if you plan to go back to the Philippines. It earns you that first million easily but it's what you do with it that will sustain your wealth. I hope to be able to just do that. It's true, one million is not much at all these days.

* * *

No secret investment tips turned these Filipinos into self-made millionaires. Instead, the strategies look like a cocktail of boring strategies like saving regularly, living simply, working hard and taking calculated risks--things that many Filipinos take for granted.

(More personal finance articles at the MoneySmarts blog at http://blogs.inquirer.net/moneysmarts)

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