My mother was a primary school teacher for 34 years. She retired in 2008, just as my little sister was sitting her final primary school exams. It was a beautifully timed curtain call to a passionate career.
She is now a farmer in our shagz in Kaplong.
She survives off her pension; it’s deposited to her account every month.
My mother didn’t earn much as a primary school teacher (any fool knows this as well as you and I do). The Teacher’s Service Commission is known for many things but not chunky pay cheques.
I once found of one of her payslips – I don’t remember how – and kept it in a shoebox where I keep other items of such sentimental value.
What stood out for me then, as it does now, isn’t the malnourished figures in there but what she’d been able to build to financial health with the little she made. That disconnect was as fascinating and it was inspiring.
She invested in land, chamas, money market funds, the stock market, insurance policies, a couple of small side-hustles that taxied on the runway but never got airborne (because of my Ol’Man. You must know how the fathers of that generation thought about side-hustles. At least mine did).
And she talked about money. She didn’t talk about it sooner than I’d have wanted but she talked about it anyway. That’s what counts. What counts even more is that she walked her talk.
Here are five of those teachings she handed down to me:
1. HAVE – AND MAKE – YOUR OWN MONEY
My mother always said that as a woman, it’s important to have your own money in your pocket.
Having your own money earns you a degree of independence to call some shots in your own life. It also earns you a stronger voice, a respectable place on the table and dependability as a person.
And there’s no such thing as small money or big money. Money is money. Money makes things happen.
I see it for myself now. It’s in the little things, such as wanting to go buy myself a pair of shoes from Veteran House, then going in and leaving with shoes, sexy dresses and one of those pants in crazy prints and colours. Or getting a wax or pedicure. Or a pricey meal.
I also see it in the big things. Like when GB and I have a huge project to invest in as a couple, and I’m comfortably able to bring my own money to partly finance the project.
2. LEARN TO MANAGE MONEY, YOURS AND OTHERS
Back then they didn’t have the blessing of Internet or short courses on personal finance management. Yet my mother somehow learned to manage hers and the household’s money. She demystified it.
She began with the simple principle of budgeting. Of knowing how she’d spend her money before it fell into her hands.
Then when she came to teach in Nairobi, she had her ear to the ground. She picked up tips from the insurance salesmen who constantly knocked at her school’s doors.
She sponged from the mamas in the neighbourhood as they chatted loosely while undoing each others’ braids or deseeding peas and maize cobs, maybe hanging laundry.
She asked the right questions when Saccos became the next big thing after sewing machines. She queued longer in the banking hall so she could get the two cents on savings accounts.
It’s 2019 – we have the resources on the tips of our fingers to become self-taught money managers. If not, you know where to go to sit a class.
3. SAVE YOUR OWN MONEY, INVEST THE FAMILY MONEY
I always knew it was my Ol’Man’s money that kept the family afloat. Monthly shopping, food, clothes, utility bills and whatnot were all settled from my Ol’Man’s sweat.
What I didn’t know – what my young eyes couldn’t see – was that my mother’s money was going into life savings and investing. Her personal mantra was ‘kula nusu, weka nusu’.
It’s when I got married that she told me how she managed the family money. It’s a practise I’ve brought into my own marriage.
What GB and I have is a refinement of my mother’s system.
Here’s how it works for us now: I know how much we spend on each and every item in the household. I know this because I have a detailed budget that’s structured in order of spending priority.
GB sends me X amount from his salary at the end of the month. It’s an amount we both agreed to based on household expenditure. I strictly use this money as I’ve budgeted for it. So I’ll settle the rent, utilities, Zuku internet, monthly and weekly food shopping, and send some money to our joint money market investment account.
Ideally, after doing all this running around, I should have nothing left from his money.
I use my salary for my personal savings, insurance policies (education, pension and life covers) and my personal expenses. My salary also finances my side-hustles, such as my online brand, Craft It.
I also have income from other side-hustles. I use this money to boost our savings and investment accounts. The idea for this is that, when we have a project, we’ll have some ready money in there.
4. Start, your partner will follow you
It’s a generally accepted principle that we women are better at managing money than men are. We spend it more, no doubt, but we manage it better. (There’s a bit of irony in there, don’t you think?)
As a couple, GB and I are better at managing our money because I became good at managing my own money. My mother told me this is how it would go.
So get this, I began saving with one of my Saccos when I got my first job in the Christmas of 2008. GB didn’t believe in Saccos. I don’t know how he thought of them, like maybe some financial black hole where our money was sucked into? I don’t know.
Anyway, life happened and it got to a point where the bank was no longer a viable option for his financing. And there was also the question of dividends he was missing out on. And when he asked around in his circles, he learned that he was the odd one out, the one not saving and investing in a Sacco.
So he signed up to his office Sacco. Then his church Sacco. Now he’s looking to join a third Sacco.
I got an education policy for our daughter when I was six months pregnant. I’ve even taken one out for the child I’ll have next year, Inshallah. GB has since done the same, though in greater proportions (OK, he didn’t get pregnant, but you catch my drift).
Same script goes for the money market fund, budgeting and whatnot – he mirrors my good money habits. (And leaves me to my own devices with my bad ones.)
5. Don’t be shy to talk about money
Look, money becomes a taboo when we treat it like a taboo. It shouldn’t be.
Granted, I won’t tell my pals or my siblings how much I make but I’ll tell my beau.
I usually send GB my payslip. Sometimes I send it to him so I can bitch and moan about how little I make, other times because I’m determined to make more.
When I make money from my side-hustles, he knows how much goes into the bank. I forward to him on email our investment and joint savings account statements.
I’m beginning to think that I have my mother’s payslip because she showed it to me. I also know how much she still has in investments and where else her money is growing. I know how much she sends to chama monthly.
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