If someone had told me five years ago that I would be saving, I would have bet my last Ghana cedi to the contrary. As far as my mind and bank balance could tell, it just wasn’t possible. From the mountain of college loans, to my living expenses and “needs”, I thought there was no way I could save.
Two years ago, when I finished my master’s degree, my college loans were still untouched, and I had new loans for graduate school to consider. I also owed a cousin and a friend who had helped me scrap through my days as a poor graduate student.
Don’t get me wrong, I have never gone a day hungry, but, until recently, neither have I been able to truly say, “I’m saving”.
As a child, saving meant hiding the few thousand cedis I received from visiting relatives under my pillow… until the first opportunity to run to the kiosk and buy sweets. At 17, while working my first job as an administrative assistant in Accra, I spent most of my salary on lunch, transport, browsing time at the Internet café, CDs, and earrings. At 21, the few hundred dollars I made from campus jobs went into paying back the credit card I had naively gotten in my first year, clothes, feminine necessities and delicious chai tea from Raos coffee shop. At 24, I got my first real job after university. Now, my funds were used to pay credit card bills, while exploring DC’s diverse offerings in culture and cuisine.
And so it went. Each year, I would watch my bank account build up and, almost immediately, drain back down. This, despite my father’s advice to save for the future, “even if it is five cedis”.
“If I had money, I spent it or kept it until I could find a good enough excuse to spend. If I didn’t have money, well, then I didn’t.”
I now realize that the saying “money is the root of all evil” clouded my attitude towards money. Money was meant to fulfill a short- to medium-term need. I rationalized that money corrupts when it is hoarded, so I did my best to rid myself of it. I also couldn’t reconcile making money with being humanitarian. Whenever I took opportunities to give back, like many women, I chose to volunteer my time or I would negotiate myself short when payment was involved.
My beliefs about money changed in 2012. I was halfway through the first year of graduate school, working three jobs on a full course load, while consulting on the side. I had barely five euros to last me through the week and, before the week was out, I developed a toothache; the kind that comes in unending waves of pain. I could barely afford painkillers, much less a dentist’s services. That’s when I realized the need for an emergency fund. No longer would I spend money just because there was money to spend.
I decided that I would no longer associate myself with the word “poor”. I could be a temporarily impoverished student, but poor? No longer.
“My decision spurred me to learn more about saving, financial planning and wealth creation, and ultimately helped me overcome my first hurdle to saving: my mindset.”
What changed and how did it change? Find out in Part Two of the #AfricaSaves series.
This article is the first in a series of sponsored posts for the Barclays Africa Pan-African Savings Campaign. Follow the discussion on Twitter and Facebook and share your own experience by using the hashtag #AfricaSaves.
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.