Nationalism seems to be at an all-time high among us. People seem to have grown a newfound interest in our heroes – just look at the resurgence of historical movies and television series. But it is also interesting to remember how our national heroes, who fought hard for our independence, have also struggled with their finances. It would be beneficial to examine how they managed to survive and work their way towards financial freedom.

One of the most documented national heroes we have is Dr. Jose Rizal. He grew up in a privileged life, being born to one of the wealthiest families in Calamba, and yet he was never careless with money. Rizal was always conscious about his spending even though he knew that his parents can back him up for any financial need.

What was Rizal’s attitude towards money? How did Rizal manage his limited finances while he was living overseas? What are the personal finance lessons we can learn from Rizal’s experience? Here are the five practical money skills of Jose Rizal that everyone should master to become financially independent:

 1. Learn how to budget your expenses. 

In 1884, when Rizal was living in Madrid, he kept a diary where he listed all his expenses. The diary, which is currently preserved at the Newberry Library in Chicago, shows that Rizal was very detailed in recording his daily expenses. He would record every peseta spent from postage stamps and books, to lottery and theater tickets.

One way to save money for the future is to budget your expenses. There are two types of expenses that you need to monitor. One is fixed expenses, which you can hardly lower because they are necessary living expenses such as rental, loan amortization or insurance. The other is variable expenses which vary every month depending on your consumption. These are electricity, food or gasoline.

The opportunity for saving as a result of monitoring your expense budget comes with the lowering of your discretionary expenses. Expenses on movies, books, dining out and other leisure can be minimized to generate savings.

Although Rizal knew how to budget properly, according to historian Ambeth Ocampo, a significant part of Rizal’s recurring and most consistent expense was for books and reading materials, while food was not given the same attention. To save for books, Rizal would scrimp on bathing that he even once bragged to his sisters that he had not taken a bath in weeks!

2. Learn how to constantly look for opportunities to save.

During his travels in Europe, Rizal would often complain that the daily rate of his hotel or apartment was too high and he would always transfer to a cheaper location after every few days to save on costs.

When Rizal first arrived in Heidelberg in 1886, he stayed in a pension house. He later went to look for a cheaper alternative, and he wrote in his diary, “Tomorrow I am going to change my residence and move to No.12 Ludwigsplatz, near the University. The room alone with service, light, and heating costs me eight pesos a month or 32 marks. I shall eat at the restaurant during the day and at night take supper in my room in German style, that is, a cup of tea, bread, and butter. I believe that in this way I can live on 25 pesos a month with board and lodging.”

 3. Learn how to have the discipline to repay your borrowings and become debt-free.

Rizal had difficulty publishing his first novel, Noli Me Tangere, due to financial constraints. He had to borrow Php 300 from his good friend Maximo Viola to print the first 2,000 copies of Noli. Rizal was thankful for Viola’s help that when he received his funds from his brother Paciano several months after, he did not delay any minute to pay off his loan immediately.

When you are in debt, there is always the anxiety of owing money and you find yourself in the debt trap. By paying down your debt, you will feel the feeling of freedom and security because you don’t have to worry about paying your debt when your income becomes limited.

 4. Learn how to invest and grow your savings.

While living in exile in Dapitan in 1892, Rizal won a lottery ticket worth Php 20,000. The ticket, however, was jointly owned with two other holders, so he got his share at Php 6,200, which is roughly Php 3 million in today’s value.

What Rizal did after taking his windfall gain was to invest bulk of the money into agricultural lands. He bought a 16-hectare farm in Talisay, Dapitan where he also built his house. Later, he also bought more lands in other barrios of Dapitan that increased his total land holdings to 70 hectares. His farms contained abaca plants, coconut palms, coffee, cacao plants and different kinds of fruit trees.

Sudden wealth can leave you broke when you don’t plan it properly. Windfall income makes you suddenly adjust your spending lifestyle thinking there are no more limits in spending without realizing that there is still limit. When there is excess income, find ways to invest in assets that will appreciate rather than depreciate.

5. Learn how to venture into entrepreneurship.

When Rizal returned to Calamba in 1887 after staying many years in Europe, he established a medical clinic where his first patient was his mother, Teodora Alonzo. His reputation as doctor from Germany was great that it attracted many patients from Manila to visit his clinic in Calamba. Rizal’s fee was reasonable and he was able to earn Php 900 within the month.

When Rizal was staying in Hong Kong in 1891, he also put up a medical clinic in No. 5 Aguilar Street in Central district. Rizal was able to build a large clientele and was known as an excellent eye surgeon among the locals and Filipino community.

Entrepreneurship is all about risk management. There is no assurance that you will always succeed. Preparing for risk and challenges in starting up a business is one of the key factors of success. If you know how to manage your risk, you will be able to handle your investment and profits too. Our heroes, like Rizal, are some of the greatest risk takers we know. May we apply their wisdom in our entrepreneurial endeavors.



Henry Ong is an entrepreneur, investor, researcher and business columnist for more than 20 years. He holds double degree in accountancy and applied economics, a Registered Financial Planner (RFP) and Certified Management Consultant (CMC). Follow him on twitter @henryong888