After 23 years in finance, former UAE resident turns farming entrepreneur in Philippines – Gulf News

Filipino mindfully saved and invested money for his retirement during his corporate career
Farming isn’t easy, it requires tremendous hard work. “Our day starts at 4am. During the planting and harvesting seasons we’ve to work under the scorching sun. We’ve to educate ourselves to tend to crop in a manner that will ensure better yield,” said Walter Llanes, an erstwhile UAE resident who returned to his home country the Philippines after 23 years of working in a finance role and started farming.
Here’s how this Filipino mindfully saved and invested money during his corporate career while supporting his two children. Llanes believes that the recipe for success is a combination of hard work and passion, coupled with disciplined saving habits.
Llanes, now in his mid-60s, spent almost three decades in the Middle East, five years in Saudi Arabia followed by 23 years in the UAE. “Destiny brought me to the Middle East when the time was right and took me back to my home country in time as well,” he said. Llanes left for the Philippines towards mid-2019 before the pandemic hit even as his wife decided to stay on and work in the UAE.
During his entire tenure in the UAE, Llanes dedicatedly worked for one organisation. “When I moved to the UAE all those years ago, I didn’t even know proper accounting. But I was willing to learn and worked my way up from head cashier at the store to junior accountant in the corporate headquarters,” he recollected.
In an exclusive interview with Gulf News, Llanes shares some practical financial advice based on his real-life experiences.
Llanes admitted that working in the UAE helped them to save enough and invest in land and properties, contribute towards their social security system (SSS) in the Philippines and provide for their sons’ education and upkeep.
“During my active corporate career, we were always disciplined about saving and careful about our spending patterns in the UAE. After paying rent and for other necessities we needed to have enough money to remit home for different purposes,” he shared.
Back in the day, his major expenses in the Philippines included building their retirement home for Php2 million (Philippine Pesos) back in 1999 (approximately Dh130,410 in current value), Php3 million (approximately Dh195,615) for a condominium in Manila payable over 10 years (the monthly instalment for which is being paid by his wife now) and Php2,000 (Dh130-plus) monthly towards SSS.
“Today all our investments are paying rich dividends. I get a decent amount of money every month from my SSS account. I use it to for monthly expenses. If someone wants to start their business post retirement, they can withdraw a lump sum amount from their SSS account,” he said.
Asked if he had a certain figure in mind to meet before retiring, Llanes said, “While it’s important to have an idea, there’s no such magic figure. For example, Php5 million (approximately Dh325,965) will not be enough if someone decides to retire in a tier-one city in the Philippines. I decided to retire in a province called Cagayan (15-hour drive from Manila) where our cost of living isn’t very high.”
Currently, Llanes’ monthly expenses are around Php5,000-6,000 (approximately Dh325-390) including food for two as his elder son lives with him, electricity, water, internet and pet care. This is still on the “higher side”, he admitted.
“The important thing is to decide where you will live post retirement and save accordingly. If you want to pursue a business, it must be aligned with the needs of the adjoining areas. I live in a largely farming district where a gaming arcade or fast-food joint won’t be profitable business propositions. But farming of any kind is expected to reap good results. That’s why I decided to use a major portion of my life’s savings to start farming and over the past couple of years I’ve grown it substantially,” he shared.
While Llanes was fortunate to have an existing mango plantation with over 90 trees that his wife’s family owns, which he started maintaining, he too had invested money to purchase his own plots of farmland. Several years ago (2002-03) Llanes had purchased 4,500 square metre (sqm) of land for palay farming [rice prior to husking] that cost him Php65,000 (approximately Dh4,240 at current value). In 2018 he further invested Php350,000 (approximately Dh22,820) to buy 18,700 sqm of land for the same purpose.
“The initial idea was to do mango farming that’s easier than palay farming in terms of effort and expenses (seasonal expense of Php9,000-10,000, approximately Dh585-650] for mango farming versus Php20,000-plus (approximately Dh1,300) for palay farming). But after returning to the Philippines, I realised that the person to whom I had rented my farmland wasn’t paying me as much as he should, so I decided to take over. It wasn’t an easy decision because palay farming is quite intensive and expensive. But I was willing to learn.”
During the first season Llanes invested Php20,000 (approximately Dh1,300) and harvested around 70 sacks of palay. Although he made a profit of Php13,000 (approximately Dh850) from the first harvest, he feels he could have done better.
“I needed to research more and understand what will lead to better yield. Now I’m better aware of expense heads, a massive one is the cost of fertilisers, plus rental for tractor, water and harvesting machine. Plus, machines to drain water when it rains as it can destroy the crop. Further we have to hire people during the sowing season, although my elder son who lost his aviation industry job during the pandemic now supports me full-time. Taking all these expenses into account, I feel as if this season we will see better yield compared to the previous one.”
What’s more, alongside palay and mango farming, Llanes eventually started poultry farming too at an initial investment of Php65,000 (approximately Dh4,240) spent on buying chicken and fencing the area. “We already had the mango farm, a portion of which could be used for something else, and I thought of starting a poultry farm. We have 91 egg-laying chickens, and it turned out to be a good business idea since we’ve already recovered the initial investment making Php145,000 (approximately Dh9,455) by selling chicken eggs.”
Although Llanes’ farming endeavour is progressing quite well and he plans to expand further, his money principles remain unchanged. “I strongly believe in selling in a manner that will make small but sustainable profits as opposed to seeing a spike but eventually a decline too.”
Llanes who is enjoying his post-retirement life feels that there are commonalities between his erstwhile finance and current farming roles.
“In both cases I diligently maintain excel sheets. In my previous role it helped me to keep track of expenses, cashflow and so on and in my current role to calculate expenses versus yield and profitability. After all, in both farming and finance a close grip on numbers is crucial in taking prudent decisions.”
In summation, Llanes said, “Whichever stage of life I’m in, I’ll always value the importance of diligent saving. I also feel that it’s crucial to stay active even after retiring from a full-time job by pursuing something that we are truly passionate about. In my case farming not only generates a sustainable source of income but helps me to learn new things, keep my brain active and body energetic. It’s hard work but well worth it.”

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