Samuga Vili has a simple message for all Samoans.
“If you can’t afford it, don’t spend up large on your fa’alavelave,” he tells the Weekend Observer.
Fa’alavelave is a Samoan term used to describe domestic obligations, which require financial contributions such as funerals, weddings, title bestowals and so forth.
A former Policeman, then a Budget advisor, the now retired Samauga grew up in Aleipata and moved to New Zealand in 1975.
He is in Samoa to visit his mother, and said he wanted to take any opportunity he could to give back to his people with the expertise he developed towards the end of his career as an advisor for private firms - Pacific Island Evaluation and Pacific Trust Canterbury.
In that role, Samauga said he saw the struggles his Samoan peers were going through to manage their money, just to keep their lights on. Matters only got worse when families would get a call from home, informing them a loved one had passed.
“Funerals can cost upwards of NZ$60,000 (T$102,112) but they can be done cheaper,” he said.
“In my work, I talk to people about ways to do funerals cheaply, and not spend more than you can afford.”
Reducing expenses by offering tea and biscuits instead of lavish meals can make a big difference to families with little to spare after the essentials are paid for.
“I worked with families on budgeting to pay for the priorities first,” Samauga said.
“Pay your rent, buy your food, keep your phone going for emergencies, and don’t forget all of those things just because you have a fa’alavelave due.”
The problem is not with the fa’asamoa or the fa’alavelave, he said, just the pressure to spend money that doesn’t exist.
“Our people sometimes feel they need to show off that they can afford those expensive funerals, but if you can’t handle it, then don’t do it.”
He said taking out loans to pay for funeral expenses can result in long-term problems for families, thanks to high interest rates from companies not concerned with your financial wellbeing.
“Those loans are good for the finance company, but they are not good for you,” added Samauga.
One of the ways families can ease funeral burdens is by making plans and settling decisions as a family.
Samoan’s don’t like to talk about funerals while their loved one is still alive, but that mind-set has to change, said Samauga.
“It’s okay to talk about this stuff, and ease that stress for afterwards when they are gone,” he said.
“It’s time to choose to be smarter and do things the cheaper way. Then, we will see generations of young Samoans who are less stressed about those cultural demands.”