Filipino shopping habits and the “tingi” culture tingi

In Philippine markets, it is possible to buy cooking oil by the cup. In Philippine neighborhood sari-sari (literally, variety) stores, it is possible to buy cigarettes by the stick, shampoo and coffee by the sachet, garlic in packs containing as few as four cloves or peppercorns in packs equal to about a teaspoonful. We call it “tingi” — the practice of selling and buying goods in amounts less than the smallest retail packaging.

What’s behind the practice? The average income is low and majority of the people have to budget carefully. While it may be cheaper in the long run to buy in bulk, I suppose it just doesn’t work with a lot of people. It is more realistic for them to buy only what they need for the moment. Immediacy, I think, is the proper word.

To cater to the segment of society who can only afford to buy basic goods in the “tingi” manner, sellers repackage everything into smaller amounts — from sugar to cooking oil to laundry detergent to every imaginable thing.

The irony is that the “tingi” packaging raises the price of the goods by as much as a hundred per cent. While the lower-priced small package may be more affordable for the masses, in effect, they are paying so much more.

The system seems to work though.


  1. says

    I confess it’s one of the things I don’t understand here. For example Smart currently has a P250 deal for a month’s pretty much unlimited talk’n’text with a bit of data download thrown in; yet people I know (who certainly have the P250 required) still prefer to spend P20 every day to buy load. Quite apart from the fact that it costs more than twice as much that way, it means daily walks to a Smart dealer. Oh well, not my business as my partner is always reminding me about people’s idiosyncrasies :)

    • says

      I guess there is a impression that paying a small amount each time means paying less. So wrong an impression in the “tingi” culture but then there a lot of practices in the Philippines that I can’t comprehend — and I am a Filipino who grew up in the Philippines. :-P

      • anna says

        mga opinion ko regardng the “tingi” culture:

        1. in some instances it works. example ko po, a friend has ostheophorosis and high cholesterol and because of this he takes maintenance medication. but the doctor changes the medicines given according to his needs. so say for medicineA he only needs to take 20 tablets but pharmacy only sells them per box which consists of 50tabs then it would be expensive and wasteful for him since the 30tablets will go to waste assuming that he will never use them again. so “tingi” would be the better option even if a few pesos higher in price per tablet, it would still come out cheaper and not wasteful. now if he were to consume all then it would be better to buy the bulk which is the box.

        2. we have this saying na “huwag ubos ubos biyaya dahil kapag wala nakatunganga”… some people can be wasteful when they see na madami ang supply sa bahay. so even if nakatipid ka sa pagbili in bulk if magastos naman ang paggamit sa household, sira din ang budget =)

        3. some people who are in deep poverty have only how many pesos to spend in day for their meal. the one documentary i saw sa tv said they only have Php20 in a day, if they are lucky PHP100. And they are a family! i don’t know what food i can buy in bulk at that price… hence “tingi”

        What I don’t like about this “tingi” culture is lahat na ata naka-“tingi” even in the grocery store in can get pretty annoying. Also, we had an instance that we had a maid before. i told her na it would be cheaper for her to buy her shampoo and toothpaste if she buys the bigger tubes/bottles plus it would be less trash. Ayaw niya. gusto daw niya kase magtry nang iba-iba so she prefers the sachets. =p

  2. says

    Funny you should write about this. My family recently experimented with buying things only as we need them, which includes, to a certain extent, buying in ‘tingi’ or small packs. One, because we are finding ways to simplify our life and cut back on costs. Two, because we live in a community where practically everything is available within convenient walking distance from where we live. Three, because we live in a small apartment and we don’t have as much space for stocking on anything, like we used to.

    It may come as a surprise to many, especially those people who are not used to this kind of purchasing practice, that buying some items in sachets, or in a one-time use size package, is actually more cost-effective. For one, because we consume everything in one pack/pouch in a single use, there is no need to store unused portions, which oftentimes end up expired in the cupboard or refrigerator, only to be thrown out later. We also get to enjoy fresher ingredients (particularly vegetables) because we buy and cook them on the day that we need them. And again, there are no rotting vegetables left in the crisper because we bought them ahead and never got to cook them.

    Studies showed that the most food waste occurs at the household level, and this is one of the reasons why we started this experiment in the first place. We wanted to reduce costs and avoid food waste. And we were able to achieve this by buying what we need, only when we need it.

    A word of caution though, because this practice is not for everybody. But I wish to show you another perspective to what you call the ‘tingi’ practice, and that it is not necessarily a wasteful practice altogether.

    • says

      Anna, re “less trash”. Yes, with sachets, that is a major issue. Considering that sachets are made with plastic, the garbage angle is a serious one. Sachet versus reusable glass bottles — no brainer, right?

      Crisma, wow, I never thought about the “blowing” part until now. Human excretion in “tingi” cooking oil. Eeeww.

      Andeeeng, I don’t think veggies bought for the day’s meal would fall under “tingi” — considering they are highly perishable and must be bought as needed. But shampoo and toothpaste sachets… I mean a tube of toothpaste and a bottle of shampoo don’t use up a lot of space, if space is the consideration. AS to cost and wastage, you might see less stuff getting thrown out but in terms of cost, “tingi” is way, way more expensive.

  3. Nice ong says

    For a small family like mine which consists of Husband, Wife and a 14 month old toddler plus a cook. I encouraged my husband to buy perishable items in smaller packaging since he has a habit of being a ‘wholesaler’, I feel that it gets wasted only since as someone mentioned it will just expire in the cupboard. Say example tomato sauce he buys the big cans and since we cant consume everything in one go, it will be stored in the freezer and then will be forgotten already since my husband doesnt want to repeat food every so often and my cook doesnt have the creativity you have.

    • Crisma says

      Yes, Connie , eeeww talaga. But the one I saw was for some veggies yata. Yun nga lang, I thought about possibilities na they could do it to some other products, like tingi cooking oil or tingi sugar, etc. Really, unhygienic.

    • says

      Well, “tingi” doesn’t seem to be the solution there — rather, to be more mindful of what’s in the fridge and to use them in a timely fashion. Also, the husband and the cook need better training. In fact, if the husband is the main breadwinner, he should be more cooperative. Husbands are so spoiled in Pinoy culture. They shouldn’t be.

  4. Paula F says

    I live in the US, and believe me, there are actually many things I’d like to by “tingi” style but cannot. There are so many items that I only need small amounts of or rarely use, ranging from cooking ingredients to specialty cleaning supplies, etc. It’s also not just a spoilage issue, like with ingredients, but somethings having to store unused quantities of things doesn’t wind up being cost effective because you forget that you have them and wind up repurchasing them months or even years later. I often wish we had more of that “tingi” flexibility here in the US.

  5. Anna says

    I think the problem in the “things bought in bulk/wholesale and is being forgotten/wasted/unused/spoiled” lies in how you plan/manage your supplies, your meals, your needs, etc.. . for example, detergents, fabric conditioners, toothpaste, shampoos, cooking oil, soy sauce,etc… these can be bought in the big bottles/boxes instead of sachets. cuts down waste for our planet. be mindful of expiry dates when you buy products. keep a list posted on your supply/kitchen cabinets on what products you have on hand and the expiry date. “tingi” can be useful on somethings but i think it has been ingrained so much into our culture and we have grown so comfortable in it that we look for it in everything that we buy.
    yes ms. connie, reusable glass bottles! like there should be a shampoo/soap station where we can go refill our bottles, kind of like a huge dispensing machine hehehe….

  6. Cecille B. says

    Simple explanation: poverty.

    The “tingi” culture is endemic to the Philippines. In fact, even multi-national companies producing consumer products have adapted their marketing strategies to this culture: shampoos, toothpaste in sachet; mayonnaise in sachet, and everything that can be packed in sachet is packed in sachet – to make their products more affordable to the majority of Filipinos who are living below the poverty line. I

    Why, there is even prepaid electricity now!

  7. Carol B. says

    Having live in Canada na hindi uso ang tingi, I really miss the practice here. Maraming bagay na I wish I could buy tingi. Ang regular quantity dito is most of the time more than what pinoys described as bulk. I learned to lived around with buying in bulk. For fresh produce, I always plan my meals for the week and do bulk cooking. If I have pakbet that week, you can be sure that I’ll have tochong bangus, too (for lefover eggplant and ampalaya) and possibly adobong sitaw. I cook them all on the weekend para fresh pa lahat ng veggies. The good thing is hindi madaling masira ang food sa fridge. They can last for a week and still taste as good as the first day. Although, I still have wastage, it’s minimal.

    With regards to meat and seafoods, naging problem ko rin yung paghahanap sa mga ito sa freezer. Naninigas na ang mga daliri mo, hindi mo pa nakikita ang kailangan mo so the tendency is to buy again. I came up with a solution for it. I bought clear plastic shoe boxes and labeled them beef, pork, seafoods, chicken, smoked seafoods, and salted seafoods. I just take out the box that I need and check if I have what I need in there. No more frozen fingers for me.

    If storage and wastage are the only issues we have, we can always find a solution for them. Of course, it’s a different story kung budget ang problema.

  8. Paula F says

    By the way, it is NOT just the Philippines that has a “tingi” culture. Parts of Latin America, Europe, etc. do this as well. The assumption that it is only a Pinoy thing is misleading.

    • says

      Where is it written anywhere on this page that there is a claim that the tingi culture is exclusive to the Philippines?

      I’ve seen the word “endemic” in one of the comments but endemic is not a synonym for exclusive.

      • Paula F says

        Oh, I wasn’t trying to imply that you personally were stating that it’s only a Pinoy thing. It just seemed from the nature of some of the comments here that this is how some readers might have interpreted it. I just wanted to emphasize as a general point of comparison that there are many other places where the “tingi” practice occurs.

        • says

          Well, the commenters are Filipinos. Naturally, they would be basing their observations from that perspective.

          And the fact that it is practiced elsewhere doesn’t validate it nor does that make the practice more logical.

  9. Crisma says

    Yes, you are correct, Connie– “immediacy” is the proper word for it– that practice of buying what they need at the moment.

    I have a strong objection to the practice of tingi in terms of the sanitation aspect. Especially how it might be done in the marketplace when the seller will blow in the cellophane bag and then place whatever needs to be placed inside… now what if the seller has some communicable disease? Eh di na trap na yung virus inside the bag? That is a very rapid way of spreading germs, right?

    Then in a way, this system could be a way for the buyer to be shortchanged in terms of weight. Oftentimes, these people are too much in a hurry, yun pala, kulang na sa timbang ang naibigay sa kanila…

    We could go on and on and cite the disadvantages of the system of tingi in the Philippines, but it has become a part of the culture and people have accepted this practice for as long as we can remember.