How A PBA Player Does Money
Photo: Nuki Sabio
Barako Bull Energy are doing surprisingly well in this PBA conference, making it to the playoffs and even leading the table at one point. Major newspapers called them “surprise leaders”, but Justin Chua, one of Barako Bull’s big men, is used to surpassing people’s expectations. He’s one of the few Blue Eagles who won an unprecedented five straight UAAP championships in a row.
He was also part of the Blackwater Elite team that denied the NLEX Road Warriors their fifth straight Foundation Cup championship in the PBA D-League (Developmental League) back in 2013, sweeping them 2-0 in the finals and beating his old Blue Eagles teammates Greg Slaughter, Nico Salva, and Kirk Long.
After that victory, Chua decided to go into the PBA draft. “While my name is still hot, why not?” Ever since, he’s been playing pro ball, winning the PBA Philippine Cup with the San Miguel Beermen earlier this year before being traded to Barako Bull Energy.
So how does a PBA star deal with his money?
In this interview, we speak to Chua about the challenges of making it in Philippine basketball, his attitudes towards money, and what he did with his first PBA paycheck.
How did your childhood and early life influence your attitudes towards money?
I grew up in Bacolod, where life was easier and slow paced, and expenses weren’t that much compared to Manila. Everything was magaan and I got used to wanting stuff that wasn’t that expensive. So even today I don’t spend that much.
But when I moved to Manila for high school, I suddenly had more expenses. After school, kids in the province just go home. Here, after school, you go to the mall, or chill in a fast food place, and that costs money.
Did you ever think that basketball would be a viable career for you?
I didn’t have a plan. I was just looking kung ano lang meron ako. In high school, I thought I’d end my basketball career there. Then when college came, I thought it’d end once college was done, but I ended up playing semi-pro and now here I am in the PBA. I was just enjoying the moment, and taking chances when they came up.
When you graduated, did you go straight into the PBA?
I played D-League first; it’s the semi-pro league, a stepping stone to the PBA. After college, usually players go to the D-League first before they go into the draft. I had two different offers from teams. They both had Chinese owners so my dad knew them, my friends knew them, and I decided to play with Blackwater Sports because they had a tie-up with University of Santo Tomas, and I knew some of the players there.
How did you go from the D-League to the PBA?
Nagkaroon lang din ng chance. In the D-League there was one team that always won, the NLEX Road Warriors. In my second conference with the D-League we beat them. I think they were going for their fifth championship in a row, and we spoiled that for them.
Because of that victory, my stock for the draft went up. And I just told myself, “While my name is still hot, why not join the draft?” I ended up being the 10th pick by PureFoods. I was really surprised because I never expected to go that high. As long as I was drafted I would have been happy, but to be in the top 10 with Greg was really a blessing.
But you got traded pretty quickly.
Yes, sadly, just two days later I got traded … At first I was sad, but I guess it was a blessing in disguise because I had good playing time with GlobalPort.
Then you were traded to San Miguel. How do you deal with all the trades?
Every two conferences, sadly, I seem to get traded somewhere else. But it’s been a good experience because when I got transferred from GlobalPort to San Miguel, in my second conference there we won the 2014-15 PBA Philippine Cup. And then now I’m with Barako naman, and this is my second conference with Barako and now we’re number one in the standings (as of June 9, 2015).
At least the teams I go to always win, so hopefully I’m the lucky charm.
Justin Chua (center) with his Barako Bull teammates. Photo provided by Chua.
What did you do with your first PBA paycheck?
With my first paycheck, I promised myself that I would spoil myself because I think I deserved the money I got. So 3/4s of it I spent. I bought stuff I wanted, and after the first wave of spending, I treated my friends, and gave thanks to whoever supported me. But after that I didn’t really spend much on anything. I still don’t! I live in my mom’s house and nobody’s staying there so I don’t pay rent. I just pay the bills; around P5,000 for house expenses. Then gas. Magastos lang ako sa food because nobody cooks at home, so I always eat out. All in all I probably spend P30,000, P40,000 a month. And that’s in my magastos mode.
I’m not a big spender. I rarely buy brand-name things, either. Though I will spend money on techie stuff, like a phone, but that usually lasts me a while, around two years.
Around how much does a PBA player make, anyway?
There are different salary caps. Rookies are capped at P150,000 a month, and the maximum cap is P420,000 a month. But of course there are bonuses. Like if you win the championship, you get a bonus that’s around two months’ worth salary, minimum.
What are some of the best and worst money decisions you’ve made?
Worst decision, definitely, was gambling. It was a really bad experience. This was before I went pro, so it’s been a while, but hanggang ngayon I regret it. At first it’s easy, especially when you win at the start. “Wow, I’m making money so fast. I’m not even doing anything, it’s just a text away.” Mabubulag ka. I wasted so much money on that.
The best, aside from investing my money, is buying my own car. It’s my accomplishment. I bought my own car without anybody’s help, even fixing the papers. I didn’t even tell my parents; I did it all myself. It was a really big decision and I’m proud I was able to do it.
You mentioned investing — what do you invest in?
I’m invested in two kinds of mutual funds, one from Manulife and one from SunLife. So I make them do the work. Instead of putting my money in the bank where it doesn’t earn anything, these funds make more money, and faster. Plus you’re being forced to save because there’s a schedule.
Here in the Philippines there’s a stereotype that the Chinese are good with money. Do you think any of that is true?
Well, maybe yung pagka-kuripot ko … (laughs). Like I said, I don’t buy branded stuff. As much as possible, if a mid-level item will be enough, then that’s all I buy. A shirt is a shirt, doesn’t matter how expensive it is; it’s just the brand you’re buying. I’m not picky with food either, you can take me anywhere. So maybe it’s a little true.
What are your financial priorities for the next few years?
I’ve been talking to a lot of my friends about putting up a business, because it’s the most convenient way you can ensure a long-term income for yourself. We’re always brainstorming, thinking about what can we do so we can have that. PBA’s not going to be around forever. After a few years I’m not going to be playing basketball anymore so I’m always thinking, what’s next for me?
We’ve thrown around a lot of ideas — we can’t decide on one yet, but at least we’re talking about business already. Even when my friends and I hang out and have fun, we’re becoming more serious about planning for our future because we know we need it.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about money?
If you don’t need to spend, don’t spend. It’s two different things to be kuripot and to be smart with money. If you want something and you have extra money, sige, go. You want to reward yourself, sure. But you can’t reward yourself all the time.
I’ve also learned how to plan and set goals. Like for me, I haven’t left the country since college, when we went to traning camps abroad for free. So I said to myself, after my third PBA conference, I want to travel. From the start of the conference last year I started saving so I can travel this August. So if I have huge expenses I plan it out long-term, and I save up if I want something. I won’t just impulse-buy things.
Does money make you happy?
Well to be honest, yes. Having money lets you do what you want. It’s not just money, but it plays a big part. When you have money you can do things you can’t, and you have more freedom.
There’s a cliché that money is the root of all evil, pero to be realistic, you need some money to enjoy life.