Originally from Kalasin province in northeast Thailand, Kanokwan and her husband came to Bangkok to work. Kanokwan, a housekeeper, and her husband, a motorcycle taxi driver, admit that their lifestyle and spending behavior were causing financial troubles, resulting in them accumulating a mountain of debt. Without savings of any kind, the two relied on Kanokwan’s mother, a seamstress and rice farmer in Kalasin, to cover payments on the debt.
Nearly three years ago, Kanokwan arrived at a daycare center for slum children in Bangkok to pick up her young daughter, as she did every day, when a serendipitous suggestion changed her outlook on life and her family’s economic fortune. At the daycare center, a staff member told Kanokwan about a financial literacy workshop that she may find useful. Possessing only an elementary school education, Kanokwan balked at the idea initially; however, ultimately, she was persuaded to attend because the program was designed for individuals with a limited education and, more importantly, was free.
Shortly after accepting the offer, Kanokwan joined a workshop under the Citi Financial Literacy for At-Risk Women program, where she learned fundamental personal financial skills that would help her address her rising debt. If not dealt with properly, debt can become a crippling problem as it often leads individuals to rely on predatory lenders for short term relief, creating cyclical debt that is exceedingly difficult to overcome. Debt is a widespread problem in Thailand, where household debt, according to the Bank of Thailand, amounts to more than 11.24 trillion baht (393 billion USD), or approximately 81.3% of the country’s GDP.
More than financial skills in isolation though, the program promoted a holistic outlook on managing money that was in line with His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s Sufficiency Economy Philosophy (SEP). The core elements of the program’s curriculum were closely linked to the three pillars of SEP.
– Moderation: Achieving sufficiency by not engaging in activities or behaviors that cause too much cost to oneself or others, i.e. living within one’s means. In the program, participants learned how to budget properly to ensure that they have money left over at the end of each month.
– Reasonableness: Decisions must be made rationally, which requires consideration of all factors involved and anticipation of the expected outcomes from the action. For example, participants learned to differentiate between wants and needs. By understanding the difference between the two, and the negative impact of wasteful spending, participants can change their future choices.
– Risk Management: One should prepare to cope for the potential impact of unexpected situations. For instance, the program stressed the importance of maintaining a healthy amount of savings in order to overcome financial emergencies.
For eight years (2008-2015), the program applied these concepts to help 3,022 disadvantaged women, such as those serving prison terms, involved in nightlife occupations and living slums, understand their current financial situations and develop long-term plans that would allow them to achieve their goals while maintaining a sustainable, satisfactory lifestyle.
“Making life simple by living based on Sufficiency Economy Philosophy”
After the workshop, Kanokwan started applying her new skills to make beneficial changes in her life. First, she identified a specific goal: to never rely on her mother for debt relief again. From there, she began conducting detailed household accounting, which helped her separate necessary and unnecessary expenses. As a result, she curtailed wasteful spending, enabling her family to gradually accumulate savings and chip away at their debt.
As Kanokwan and her family saved more and more, she finally felt she had discovered a simple secret to achieving financial stability: foster positive change by eliminating negative behavior. Now, she loves to share knowledge with her friends, neighbors, and community members. She pushes others to save whatever they can, because a small amount today, she stresses, can grow considerably overtime if one is committed to saving and maintaining a responsible lifestyle. The program not only led Kanokwan and her family on a path towards financial stability, but also had a positive impact on overall family wellness by encouraging them to take a long-term perspective in all aspects of life.
Present and Future
Now 26 years old, Kanokwan continues to apply SEP and the financial knowledge that she learned through the Citi Financial Literacy for At-Risk Women program. Because of improved lifestyle choices, she and her husband have established a 25,000 THB (US $714.37), and growing, education fund for their four-year-old daughter. Furthermore, she recently finished paying off the final installments for two motorcycles, purchases that will directly support her husband’s work.
Kanokwan has a new financial goal: to save enough money so she can settle down as a farmer in Kalasin within two years. This will enable her to support her mother, rather than the other way around. Kanokwan has come to embody the principles of SEP, and serves as role model for others to follow.