You are here

Financial lessons from a seafarer’s wife

Financial lessons from a seafarer’s wife
Yashika F. Torib July 15, 2020

Jaen and Rolando Ramos first met in 1998. She was a registrar staff and he was a seafarer with a rank of third mate. Both are the eldest among their siblings, whom they helped send to school and made sure they are all settled. When the couple decided to finally build and raise their own family, they made certain to start things right.

“I was still working with Far East Maritime Foundation Training Inc. (Femfi) when we got married in 2000. We have seen to it that all wedding expenses will not be coming from loans or borrowed from the funds of our parents. We saved money enough to begin a life together,” Jaen said.

The couple’s humble and practical beginnings served as a foundation for their family. The life they led afterwards proved to be the quintessential kind for seafaring families where the father takes on a lucrative but risky job on the high seas while the mother juggles parenting, financial management, household maintenance and extended family relations.

But as some of her contemporaries whiled their years with carefree and extravagant lifestyles, often playing the role of “one-day millionaire,” Jaen sailed beneath the radar to build a sturdy household, protecting her husband, in his eventual retirement, from a financially-challenged, debt-drowning life.

“Seafaring is a very financially rewarding profession but we also have to understand that our husbands are contractual workers. As soon as their shipboard duties end, the income stops for however long they stay here on shore,” she said.

“As for us, I program our fixed monthly expense to include house utilities, the children’s education, his upgrading trainings and board exams, and our savings. I always discuss the list with him even while he is onboard so we can both ascertain how much will be left from our monthly income; that amount will dictate how long he should be here on shore because we have to budget the remaining funds for all the months that we have no income,” Jaen added.

Then comes the period of total scarcity when seafarers are not able to work due to lack of shipboard job openings, illness, old age or competition with much younger ship officers, and, as of this writing, the pandemic. For seafarer wives like Jaen, being wise and strong are not enough when there’s no more penny to pinch. They have to be resourceful.

“About three years ago, my daughter and I studied baking in TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) with the end goal of putting up a pastry and baking supplies shop. Along with baking lessons, we were also taught how to market our pastries as commercial products and come up with costings. I find it very practical because we only had to pay registration fee and buy the ingredients for our assigned pastry,” she said.

It came very handy when her husband, now a ship captain, arrived last March 14. The country was placed in a total lockdown the following day due to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) that would last for months. The Ramos household had no other source of income.

“It is a blessing that we are all safe together. Then again, it was hard for us because we had to make do with whatever money we’ve set aside from the few months he worked onboard. With our little pastry business, however, we managed to weather out the pandemic,” she said.

Setting priorities straight

Jaen observed that financial ruin among seafaring families come from misplaced priorities. Accordingly, some families maintain a certain lifestyle with no mind on the future.

“There are those who are just starting to build their family but would spend on travels, gadgets or cars. Others are too kind in providing for and sending their extended families to school. Significant matters for the long term are then sacrificed. It all took the backseat,” Jaen said.

“Misplaced priorities leave seafaring families at the brink of financial ruin and debt. They have no investments, insurance or even savings to tide them over hard times. Mostly, financial management is one of the obligations of a seafarer’s wife,” she added.

A typical salary for the captain of a cargo vessel ranges from $8,000 to $9,000 while those for tankers enjoy about $15,000. “There’s too much to squander if you are not too careful and you’ll only feel the brunt when your husband can no longer work onboard,” she observed, citing the thousands of stranded seafarers in Manila who now rely on the mercy of the government and organizations to provide their basic necessities such as food and lodging.

“Decades of sacrifices, of being separated for a long time, will be for nothing if the wife cannot help her husband secure their future,” Jaen said. It is this struggle that she strives to alleviate by keeping communications open between Rolando and their three children – Jeanne Mae, Justin Ron and John Benedict.

“We constantly talk even while he is onboard, we all pray together at night, we spend quality time over food and board games, and we raise our children with discipline, respect, hard work and good humor,” she said, reflecting on how genuine relationship and closeness remain to be the ties that bind their family.