4 Things My Parents Taught Me About Simple Living

We lived away from the Philippines for about eleven years, during most of our childhood. Preschool and elementary days were spent in Hong Kong, with all of us enrolled in the ESF school system; middle and high school found us in Singapore, where we also went to British international schools.


These days, when people find out about our background, they declare, “Wow, how fortunate for you,” or think that we were rolling in dollars, traveling here and there. Sure, my dad’s job was comfortable and he had perks which we benefited from. However, Papa always remained prudent and frugal, and imparted the same lessons to us.


Looking back, I can think of four lifelong lessons I learned from my parents about living more simply:


1. Save up for things you want but don’t need. My dad’s always about the essentials: food, clothing, shelter, education, transportation. Period. He’s a “live with less” type of guy, and early on, he taught us to save our allowance if we wanted to buy anything aside from these basic necessities. My most significant memory of this was during the 1980′s, when Toys ‘R’ Us opened in Hong Kong. My dad could have willingly bought us our pick of action figures, Barbies and G.I. Joes, but instead, he gave us an allowance of $10 each. We’d go to the huge toy store, scan the toys and take down prices of our desired finds. It would take us each between two to three weeks to save up enough money to buy the toys we wanted. And each time we’d return to Toys ‘R’ Us to purchase them, we’d feel an amazing sense of accomplishment.

Lessons learned: Responsibility and prudence. Simple lessons, all lifelong. We learned the value of the dollar, and that it took hard work and discipline to save up for things we wanted. Now that I’m a parent myself, I’m going to teach my own son to save his money and earn his keep!


2. There are many things we can do without. Unlike many of our friends, classmates, even cousins here in Manila, we didn’t have video game consoles like the then-popular Nintendo, Atari, etc. Our parents instead bought us bikes, swimming goggles and kickboards, and Lego. They encouraged us to play outdoors, to go swimming, to sweat it out on the playground.

Lessons learned: Moderation, and basically, active play: to play more instead of just get more toys. As a kid, I remember being busy with drama club, choir, after-school sports, play dates with the kids in our neighborhood, and so many things other than computer games or TV. We had toys, but just enough, not too many that we would take pride in our possessions. As a parent myself today, I see the wisdom in their decision to do without certain things like trendy gadgets or the latest video games.  I am trying to instill the same values early on in my own son, who’s still small, but ready to learn.


3. Treats and splurges are for special occasions. As a kid, the only time my mom would really shop for us was when we’d come home here during the summer months. We’d hit up SM Makati because stuff was cheaper here than in Hong Kong. I also remember only eating out during special occasions, such as when we had guests or when it was someone’s birthday, or during Christmas and New Year’s.

Even today, our family hardly eats out. My mom and dad prefer to prepare meals at home for us “kids,” who are all married now. During our weekly Sunday lunches, everything is cooked either by my mom or whomever she has recently trained in kitchen staff, and it’s always something that hearkens back to our childhood: homemade Hainanese chicken rice, glazed spare ribs, my mom’s legendary stew or meat loaf, or whatever.

Lessons learned: Frugality, basically. Even today, in our marriage, my husband and I see eating out as something special. We have once a week dates, sometimes at a snazzy resto, sometimes at the food court in the mall. The point is, I’ve learned that eating at home over a meal prepared with love trumps eating out for no special reason.


4. Money is a tool, nothing more. For my parents, money was never to be anything more than a transaction tool, and eventually, a seed for investments. Even when my dad gave us all our first credit cards, he maintained a very strict code of use: “Your credit card is just a transaction tool. Never charge what you can’t already pay for.” It was common sense because he didn’t want us to go into debt, to pay overdue fees, or to become dependent on charging everything all the time. Today, I still carry over this habit in my own spending.

Lessons learned: Good stewardship. My dad’s been an investment banker for the longest time, and has always had a knack for helping people invest their money wisely. In fact, he’s our fund manager for our mutual fund! He often gives us snippets of advice on how to be more conscientious about money and savings, and how to be more thrifty in our spending. I’m not yet where I want to be in terms of financial success, but I’m getting there one small step at a time, and that’s what’s important.


In the end, my parents just wanted us to learn this one all-important lesson:

I think, more than anything, we were taught how to live with just enough so that we could set a principle in motion: When you want what you have, you won’t need or want for more. Growing up with these basic guidelines on simple living was all about approaching money, food, family time and other aspects of life with intention, not excess. My dad and mom wanted this for us so that we’d form a life perspective that wasn’t just about amassing wealth and satiating wants, but rather valuing what was truly important: God, family, relationships.


And so, for me, living simply is more than just maintaining Zen-like surroundings, to-do lists, and organizing systems. It’s really about imbibing a sense of purposeful, intentional living so that we only live with the essentials. And by living with the essentials, we have time and space for more important things, such as building character and solidifying relationships.


What’s your definition of simple living?






  1. says

    I have two:
    1. Self-control in spending, which, I’m proud to say, I’ve already mastered. I don’t remember the last time I bought something on an impulse.
    2. Shooing away the Pack Rat in me. This one I still have a lot to learn and do. I’m too sentimental kasi. Recent natural calamities in our country made me realize that I should declutter our home. Worse comes to worst, I can grab just one bag and flee.

    Thanks for sharing this post! :)
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  2. says

    Simple living to me means stop with the busyness / craziness of the world.

    It seems to me that I’ve gotten caught up in the world and how busy everyone is. I’ve been competing with other people so I can let them know how busy I am and justify the fact that I stay at home while my kids are in school. When others ask me what I did all day I list off a billion things that I worked on.

    None of which really matter in the big scheme of things.

    Simple living to me means living intentionally to make others’ lives better. Shoveling my neighbor’s walk, enjoying this world by being outside, doing something nice for my spouse or kids, taking a few extra minutes to speak to a friend, etc.

    Living intentionally. Hmmmmm now you’ve made me think. Thanks for sharing this post!
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  3. says

    First of all, thank you for following me on Twitter. As I always do, I came to see who you are…before following back. :) I’m so glad I did.
    Your blog is lovely…and this post was great…4 simple thoughts that parents today would do well to incorporate in their daily lives and as they interact with their children.
    We should observe as our children open expensive presents…especially to very young children, the box is often a better toy than the contents. :) What our children really want and need is time with us…reading, crafting, playing outside, going for a walk, preparing a meal together. That is the basis of my book I hope you will check out my blog: http://bit.ly/qLifhd

    I’m so happy to connect with someone who is on the same page. :)

    • Martine says

      Thanks, Vivian!
      What an awesome book you have. I can completely relate regarding emergent learning and fostering a love for learning. I taught in a progressive school for seven years, and we really did all we could to help the parents make the home-school connection work. Now, with my own child, I’m trying hard to practice intentional parenting. I’m now following your blog! :)

  4. says

    Love this blog post, sis (and your article on SP too!)! Another reason why I believe we are “soul sistahs”! hahaha. Your dad and mine should meet up! hehe. :-) Isn’t it great how our parents taught us lessons we can hand down to our kids? My latest blog post on Philstar.com talks about this too – having fun as a family, not necessarily in big, extravagant ways, but just being together! Love love love this post! :-) hehe. Thanks for writing it! Am inspired na to write about lessons learned from my parents again! hehe.

  5. says

    Thanks for sharing. When I was young sometimes we hear our neighbours gossiping (Tsismis) “look at those family – they so kuripot”. As I began to earn money myself, I also began to understand why some people are kuripot. They are not really kuripot…they are prudent, living within their means and simply protecting their wealth. It takes years to build wealth, but only a day to ruin everything.

    • Martine says

      Hi, Aris. Thanks for the comment. It’s true; sometimes I thought even my own dad was kuripot, haha! In truth, he was teaching us these life lessons. You should follow his blog! :)

  6. Reianna says

    I agree. My parents also echoed the wisdon your parents has instilled on you. Sometimes we look so much on the things that we want that we feel pressure to keep up. I always remember a quote my mom always say- don’t buy things you don’t need to impress people you don’t like.

    • Martine says

      Hi, Reinna. That’s a very wise saying by your mom, and I totally understand it! Sadly, our culture can get obsessed with amassing stuff, and people judge others based on the clothes they wear, the car the drive, or if they don’t have a car! Sigh. “Keeping up with the Jones” is a tiring way to live, so is striving for the picture-perfect life. I’d rather live intentionally, so that I can say I really invested my time, talent and treasure on what matters most: family, relationships, and other people who need my help.

  7. says

    Very well-written. I will be sharing this with my soon-to-be-eleven year old daughter… which will hopefully enlighten her – that her mom is not “kuripot”… only practical.

    • Martine says

      Thanks, Tina! Yes, people–especially many here in the Philippines–misinterpret prudence and frugality for stinginess. I think it’s because we’re a culture that’s very concerned with how much we own, the brands we wear, the cars we drive, etc. In the end, what matters is how we handled God’s blessings. :)

  8. says

    Thank you for sharing this. :) You’re fortunate to have parents who taught you that kind of living even if they can easily give you all the world. Some people grew up with parents who were great providers. Sadly though, some of these people didn’t learn the importance of living within their means.

  9. says

    Thank you for sharing this, Ms. Martine. I’m happy to say that my husband and I have also improved a lot of managing our finances. I hope we’ll be ready to impart the same values to our kids in the future. :)

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