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.

Connect with Barclays Africa: Facebook | Twitter | Website

Author

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.

15 Comments

  1. ‘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.’- this is the same attitude i had until i encountered serious financial crisis and realised i needed to start saving. Saving is important!and it is a habit we must all learn to cultivate. Waiting to read the second part!

    http://www.thatghlife.blogspot.com

      • Just like you,i realised one day that i had no money anywhere not even to buy water.i started to remember all the times i had soo much money and bought something completely useless or went shopping..since that experience,i have always tried to save money for a rainy day.i dont do impulse buying anymore.i make a strict budget for the week and stick to it. if anything falls outside the budget,i dont buy it.i might not be where i want to be financially,but i guess im making a headway.

  2. Isaac K. Neequaye Reply

    Many thanks for a brilliant albeit long overdue article. For me it appears the key point appears in bold right at the end of this one “My decision spurred me to learn more about saving, financial planning… and ultimately helped me overcome my first hurdle to saving: my mindset.” That to me is the key to any savings campaign, particularly in Africa. Our mindsets are programmed wrong right from home and this has to be attacked as close to the root as possible (of course I’m not advocating a campaign against the nuclear family’s influence).
    Thanks for the start Jemila. I would be delighted to assist and help with suggestions for subsequent initiatives.
    bufti_neequaye@yahoo.co.uk

    • Thanks for your comment and encouragement Isaac! We look forward to interacting with you throughout the series and ill definitely keep you posted on other initiatives – please subscribe for email updates and/or follow our social media pages if you aren’t already. Links at the top right panel of the panel.

      • Isaac K. Neequaye Reply

        Delighted to hear from you Jemila. Have subscribed for email notifications and also liked the Fb page. Will be delighted to assist. I see so many of the same mistakes reflected in my own experience and can’t help but think that no one should have to travel this unnecessary and long-winded path if there’s help available.

  3. I didn’t know how relevant saving is till I had to grow through ground breaking hardships recently. It’s hard to save when you have responsibilities weighing down on your shoulders almost everyday.
    I completed uni with the hope of furthering my studies immediately after my national service. Unfortunately ,that couldn’t come to past because my folks couldn’t afford it.
    I resorted to looking for a job for the time being just so to offset some financial burdens at home. And that didn’t bear any fruits either.
    I got a part time job recently that pays meager salary and even payment of salary delays. I’ve grown to understand the culture of saving and how relevant it is. If there’s anything that held me back from going to graduate school, it’s because my folks didn’t look ahead and save towards that.
    Nevertheless it’s hard for me right to save when I live hand to mouth. I try my best but out of nowhere something comes up and I’d have to use the money. I badly want to inculcate myself into the habit of savings in my daily / weekly affairs. How would I pull this off?

    • Dear Mawusi,

      Thanks for sharing. Yes, saving can be hard when you have zero or little income. However there should still be some leeway I think. One thing that is very important is to make sure that the money you are saving is not accessible. Or if it is, make it very hard to access. So for instance, it would be advisable to forgoe a debit card for your savings account. That way you have less inclination to withdraw funds on a whim. Another thing which is helpful is to determine a percentage of your income that you will save each month — and make it part of your budget.

      You know how they say “pay yourself first”? That’s what that would be. Some folks opt for a standing order to transfer the percentage immediately into a separate account. And finally, look to see where you can make some cuts. I know you said you currently live hand to mouth, but do pay close attention to your expenses and see if there’s somewhere u can make some savings. Even 5GHS a month is worthwhile. Hope this is somewhat helpful.

  4. Firstly, beautiful picture! :)

    Only recently, I read that commercial banks typically charge 25-30 % for business loans. I note that this post is sponsored by a bank that has a vested interest in encouraging saving; they need capital because foreign creditors view the region as high risk. There is a great opportunity for private savings to be used as private investors to local small businesses avoiding bank loans altogether! Readers, please save not to finance personal consumption in the future by for private sector investment in (your own?) local businesses. Especially, invest at rates of return lower than banks. Also investigate new technology, such as Bitcoin.

    https://diasp.eu/posts/2133407
    https://diasp.eu/posts/3338685

    • Dear writerr,

      Thanks for your contribution. Yes, this post is sponsored by a bank with savings products — however I’m sharing my personal experiences with savings. None of which has been with this bank thus far :)

      I agree with you that it’s important to explore investment opportunities. In my opinion that would be the next logical step once you accummulate a considerable amount of funds. Personally, this is what I’m trying to learn more about? Any insights?

      Bitcoins offer exciting new possibilities – have you had any experience with them?

      • In terms of investments, you have the extant venture capitalists, but you need deep pocket before you’re invited to the club! :) Alternatively, there’s crowdsource funding, as a way to pool risk, but this is just typical Californian tech hype for old-fashioned credit unions. You can achieve the same result (and cheaper, thus more profitable) by gathering a few select friends and forming an investment team. Begin a trial, say financing a small market trader, have a 5-10 year “dream” plan, and grow slowly but surely…

        Bitcoins will be huge across Africa. My minor experience is just creating a “blockchain”, I’m no expert so I cannot advise you on anything, except to read for yourself and discuss amongst friends to improve understanding, evaluate opportunities, etc..

  5. Interesting read. For me it’s quite difficult to start saving. It doesn’t come easy when you taking below the average income in Ghana.

    • Yeah it definitely doesn’t come easy. it helps to start small and build up that habit, once that is formed, it becomes very easy and you begin to realize that u are gaining some huge financial independence and discipline. Kindly take a look at this: “The richest man in Babylon”, its an old book, but will help greatly.

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