The Philippine Star
Lea Salonga's financial advice to younger generations
“Sometimes, when you teach a young kid, it’s not always about sitting down with them for serious talk. Sometimes, it’s during an actual situation where she is asked to deal with money. It can’t be just platitudes.”
As one of the esteemed coaches of The Voice of the Philippines and The Voice Kids, singer, actress and Broadway star Lea Salonga provides a great deal of advice to young, aspiring talents who want to make it to the big leagues of the music industry. And to be able to give advice like that, some measure of credibility based on a great deal of experience in show business is needed—something that Lea has a lot since childhood.
At age seven, in 1978, Lea had her professional debut into theater acting in Repertory Philippines’ staging of The King and I, held at the Insular Life Theater in Makati City. In the years that followed, she would perform more plays on that stage, such as Annie, The Sound of Music, and The Bad Seed.
“I have such vivid memories of that place; my first audition, which was for The King and I, was there. I’ve rehearsed and done plays there. I know practically every nook and cranny of that theater!” Lea recalls when she sat down with The Philippine STAR.
What followed a series of theatrical performances here and abroad was history.
Lea went on to star as Kim in Miss Saigon, as Éponine in Les Misérables, and as the singing voice of Princess Jasmine in Aladdin. She also embarked on a local singing career, recording and selling 17 albums, all of which are well-loved by Filipinos. Her Broadway career and contribution to Original Pilipino Music (OPM) has earned her a Tony, an Olivier, a Presidential Award of Merit, and an Order of Lakandula. With such breadth of experience, she fitted into the mold of an ideal The Voice coach.
From voice to financial coach
Now, Lea has taken another, yet rather different coaching act, this time as the brand ambassador for Insular Life’s 2015 Magandang Araw Sticky Note Communications Campaign. It was an elating opportunity for her to endorse Insular Life, given how she grew up in the company’s headquarters in Makati.
“For the owner of the building to ask me now if I could endorse what they’re selling and change the mindset of the people watching their ads, it’s actually a good thing,” she says in nostalgia.
One might be quick to judge what Lea has as brand ambassador of a life insurance brand. What naysayers don’t know is that she has been practically preparing for her and her family’s future since she was in her 20s. What started out as simple savings from her $2000 salary during the early days of her career has now been turned into various good investments. She began by keeping a ledger of her savings and expenses. Now, she has bankers to look after her money and assets. Despite having enough money, she lived a frugal lifestyle, inspired by her mother who grew up in Manila at the height of World War II and its aftermath.
“We weren’t rich, but we weren’t poor either. My mother made sure we didn’t feel poor. She spared me that feeling by shouldering everything until I can manage my finances on my own. And I’m glad she did and it’s something I hope I can pass on to my daughter,” Lea relates.
Little square feet of earth
One particular investment that Lea has significantly made in recent years is in property, an investment she made upon the advice of her financial advisers. “It’s never bad to invest on property. That can’t be taken away from you — that is your little square feet of earth,” she explains.
But investing in property is not something you just delve into without talking to professionals, Lea cautions. One does not become knowledgeable by just watching Bloomberg or CNBC. One banker, for example, told her: “If a city all of a sudden is chosen to host an event, say the Olympics, there will definitely be a lot of construction. You have to start looking at the companies who will be hired to construct these infrastructures.”
However, the ever conservative- to-moderate investor in her tells her otherwise when not to put her money on a particular country or place. “The buck still lands with you. You might not want to put your money in a country because there’s insurgency, political turmoil or corruption. So it’s also about opening your eyes to everything that could happen that might affect the investment,” she says.
She adds: “Always be in touch with people manning your money.”
Teaching kids finance
Indeed, Lea is no beginner when it comes to investing as she is to singing and acting. But to be able to convince people to invest for the future requires some practice in financial coaching. And being a mother, it’s something she’s already used to, especially now that she has a daughter, Nicole Beverly.
“As early as now, my husband and I would teach her about being financially responsible, even with just throwaway words like, ‘Hon, you have to pay your library fee now. Do not wait forever to pay a debt.’ Sometimes, it’s just about small things, like how much money she needs for school. She would say, ‘I need to bring P100 in small change because we have a food sale,’ and then I would ask her, ‘Where’s your wallet?’ And when she says she doesn’t know, I would say, ‘Look for your wallet. You have to put your money in your wallet, and your wallet in your bag.’ — things like that,” she says in animated detail.
She adds that right after, it’s just constant repetition and practical application so she can relate to it.
“Sometimes, when you teach a young kid, it’s not always about sitting down with them for serious talk. Sometimes, it’s during an actual situation where she is asked to deal with money. It can’t be just platitudes,” Lea explains.
Advice to young professionals
What Lea imparts to her daughter about finances, she now imparts to young professionals in a macro level. “To married couples who don’t have children yet, don’t have children right away. If you know that you’re not yet persons of great means, then start saving as a couple and don’t live outside your means. You know what your needs are — essentials like water, electricity, mortgage, transportation, food, and communications. Try to prioritize where your money should go.”
She also reminds young professionals not to waste their money on items that they won’t use or consume, no matter how cheap, which is something she actually practices.
“I’ve worn my wedding gown twice — the second time was for a photo shoot — and only because I paid good money for the craftsmanship and the design. Kailangan talagang sulitin ang sapatos, accessories, lahat. Ang mahal-mahal niyan tapos isang beses mo lang isusuot. I have to be able to say, it’s paid for already,” she says.
For fresh graduates, buying a couple of nice shirts, a couple of pairs of pants, and a couple of pairs of shoes is actually an investment, she adds.
“Invest in how you look, because that is your calling card. When you walk through a door for a job interview, you’re basically carrying an impression. The boss doesn’t care how many degrees you have if you look slovenly,” she explains.
She even asked young professionals to avoid the prevailing OFW phenomenon, where one person works abroad to send money home while the family left behind doesn’t work.
“When a person leaves to work abroad, it’s not a reason for the family to not do anything. Try not to make them the sole breadwinner because it’s really unfair to those who are doing all the back-breaking work. The least you can do is to do your part too. If you’re not the one helping to earn, at least help them to save. Don’t spend it on things to show off to your friends, this whole pakitang tao thing. It’s old and tired and does nothing to help anybody,” she states.
For her most important advice for yuppies, Lea says, “Invest in your education because it’s something that people can’t take away from you. I’d much rather show off how smart I am than show off my clothes, because it just basically means I’m all covered up and looking decent for all of you.”
The future is something that many Filipinos, especially the young ones, are reluctant to talk about. But it’s an attitude that Lea Salonga is willing and able to change as brand ambassador of Insular Life. You might have seen her commercials already, handing out sticky notes to random people, telling them with a smile how it’s a good day to plan for the future. It’s a message that Lea passionately believes in and reflects in her daily practices.
“It’s really the thought of planning ahead and not just hoping that everything will turn out just fine. It’s you basically having the tools to make sure that you and your loved ones are provided for. It’s high time to change that mindset of not planning for the future, because every decision that you make today is going to affect you tomorrow,” Lea says.