by Carol Ong
For the longest time, I felt like I was cheating. You see, Advertising is my first love, and I still love it to bits. But I’ve found another creative obsession. It was born from a mom’s desperation (mine) to find a solution for my newborn’s eczema. Soon I was spending my free time studying different traditional remedies and mash it up with science to create fresh solutions for eczema, itchy insect bites, scars, fat pimples, sleep, and pain. I’ve created my own brand, Bebebalm, and we’d receive raving reviews from fans almost every week. Having two loves is like kissing someone while thinking of someone else.
When I finally took the leap, many thought I was being brave. Actually, it was the fear of regret that drove me to go full on Bebebalm and give it a proper chance. “Advertising has led me to so much adventures, my one regret is never been able to judge in Cannes,” I shared with my boss as I said goodbye. Perhaps the universe was eavesdropping, I got invited to be in –not one but two–Cannes juries. I hit the jury jackpot with the rowdiest, crazy fun jury; and contrary to being holed up in a “cold, dark, room”, we had full length glass windows overlooking the beach! Cannes is like taking Creativity Vitamins, everyone is boosted by each others’ energy. Being in the jury room brought invaluable insights on why many brilliant ideas don’t even make it to shortlist. (One tip: Choose carefully where to enter and how often. Some campaigns are like perfume, the more we’re exposed the more nuances we uncover. Some are like cologne, good at first whiff but the more we’re exposed the less interesting it gets. )
The ads have blurred in my mind by now. But there’s one moment that remains fresh. I was invited to mentor in See it Be it, Cannes Lion’s program for young female leaders. One mentee has a career many would give their baby toe for. But she revealed, “What I really want is to be a director. How do I make that shift?”
“You need Shit Money. Fund your freedom,” I replied.
All women–and all creatives– need a Shit-I’m-Outta-Here Money. I used to just call it Savings, but the dad of my friend Gayia calls it “Shit Money”, and that’s more badass. It’s not a huge retirement fund. Rather, it’s a prison-break-escape-car fund. Many dreams fail simply because we ran out of fuel before it’s got a chance to take off.
Don’t follow the scent of money, follow the trail of good work. We’ve all heard this advice when we’re starting out. But what’s stopping us from saving cash while we’re pursuing good work?
The young mentee never expected this answer, in Cannes, from a creative mentor. But it makes total sense, she said. “How do I start my Shit Money?” Well, I’m no guru on finance, so I’m just going to share some ways on how we can save Shit Money even on third world income.
WRITE CLEAR, MEASURABLE GOALS
Do you wish to be a director or create leather bags for a living or simply wish to take time off? Don’t just think about it. Write that goal and set a timeline. As anyone in advertising knows, it never gets done if there’s no deadline.
PAY YOURSELF FIRST
Savings is usually what’s left of our income after paying our bills, IOUs, and shopping. Make savings your top priority, when your salary comes, transfer your savings to another account, lock it and throw away the key. Leave only your monthly budget.
KNOW YOUR SHIT
To know your monthly budget, compute your monthly living expenses, in the lifestyle you want. Include annual expenses such as tuition (divided by 12). Be realistic, add a Miscellaneous budget for unexpected yet necessary expenses. Assess which expenses are non-negotiable, and which you can pare down. Compute how many months you need to kickstart your dream + the seed capital you need. That’s the Shit Money you need.
PLUG THE LEAK
The fastest way to hold Shit Money in is to plug the holes. If I simply made time to reimburse my overtime meals and cab rides to client meetings, I’d probably be a month closer to my dream life.
TIME IS MONEY
We pay everything with our time. One way to see how much something’s worth is to calculate how long it will take you to buy it. Ad boss biyatch Carol shopped for a new wardrobe. It set me back a couple of weeks and it’s an investment for work, well worth my time. Start up entrepreneur Carol would need a sell a truckload of Bebebalm to buy that, and would move my dream a few months farther from my reach.
COST PER PRAISE
Never buy the cheapest, buy the best value. I have a hilarious way of justifying something my heart wants but my brain won’t. I call it Cost-Per-Puri（Cost-Per-Praise). For instance, image is important in our line of work. A USD600 jacket that makes you look so good you got 20 praises would costs USD30 per praise. A USD50 jacket that makes you look blah will still cost USD50. And it doesn’t satisfy so you’ll end up impulse buying more fugly shit. It sounds superficial but it’s quite practical.
LIVE WITHIN YOUR MEANS (WHO SAYS YOU CAN”T IMPROVE YOUR MEANS?)
You are richer than you think. Assess your assets: your time, talent, network. How can you leverage on these to fatten your Shit Money while having fun?
WE CRY BLOOD AT WORK, WHY TOLERATE LAZY MONEY?
I was taught to save since childhood. I wish we were taught on how to invest. I realized too late that my Shit Money in the bank is losing value every year, because the inflation rate is ‘effin higher than the bank interest rate. We’re so busy fighting fires at work and at home, we let our money laze like a tambay. Whip it to shape. Let’s make time for our Financial IQ.
INVEST IN YOURSELF
Shit Money is not about stripping life of joy. While it’s good have big dreams, it’s necessary to have pit stops. Set aside a reasonable fund for travel, for upskilling, for rewarding yourself. Embracing life is necessary, it puts fire in our bellies so we can zoom farther.
DON’T TOUCH MY SHIT
It’s called Shit Money–not Cebuana Lhuillier Pawnshop– for a reason. It is not a loan fund for family or friends. It is a fund for your freedom. You are important.
Get your Shit Money, so you don’t have to take shit from anyone.
About the writer: Carol Ong is the founder of Bebebalm, a start up doing product innovations on skin health and family safety. Prior, she was the Deputy ECD at McCann Health Shanghai. She’s helped set up BBH in China. In the Philippines, BBDO-Guerrero Ortega, ACE Saatchi & Saatchi, and Publicis Basic were her playgrounds. Getting metals from international shows and getting thank you notes from families helped by Bebebalm give her the same high.