Last December, I turned the big 30. Finally, I had crossed this mark that many see as “real adulthood”. The stage of awakening, resilience and dream chasing. I even searched online for lifestyle requirements of a 30-year-old woman. It ranged from a little black dress, a good piece of furniture to having a defined career.
For the most part of the list, I ticked the boxes. However, something else jumped out at me: financial habit. How my financial habits could have marked or marred me. Did I make the right financial decisions? Was there a road map? Was I deliberate about it? Did I have a structured plan? With some hindsight one always seems to be in a better place to give advice. I won some battles and I also lost some.
What could I have done differently?
Few weeks after I turned 21, I started my first job at an audit firm in Johannesburg. Oh my goodness, I was living my dreams! From zero salary to the equivalent of over one hundred thousand Naira. Yessss! I beamed as I signed the dotted lines to my first job.
As we know, with new money comes new taste. Suddenly, the down town CBD I used to shop at was no longer good enough. I needed a new place to shop for my new “status.” How about my apartment? Shared accommodation wasn’t good anymore, needed a bigger space and the list went on and on.
Although my income went from zero to over a hundred thousand, so did my expenses. It got worse, after a point, I didn’t have enough to get me till the end of the month and I literally crawled till month end.
I crawled and crawled.
It gave me a lot of comfort to know that I wasn’t alone as even my colleagues suffered from the same symptom. So, as we all shared the same pain it was hard for us to pinpoint what we were doing wrong. Instead, we directed our frustration at our friends who got jobs in a more lucrative sector. Interestingly, after further enquiry, those friends in the more lucrative sector were experiencing a similar situation.
That was a light bulb moment for me, as clearly, it isn’t simply about how much I earned, what was more critical was how I allocated my earnings. Ironically, I had qualified as a chartered accountant, spent the early years of my career life auditing companies profit and identifying if the companies can continue as a going concern or not. But I wasn’t doing that for myself as an individual. I needed to treat my finances as such.
For a company Profit = Income – Expenses
As an individual Savings/Investment = Salary/Income – Expenses.
I need to put in as much energy as I put into auditing other companies into fixing my own life.
I drew up a financial roadmap.
Every month without fail, I saved 30% of my income. Considering that I was barely getting by previously, how on earth am I now able to find 30% to save?
It is simple; I cut out the unnecessary expenses and started planning better. Many a times, some costs are avoidable by making better decisions.
- Instead of buying groceries daily, consider buying bulk.
- Instead of eating at work daily, pack your own lunch.
- Instead of going for dinner with the girls every Friday, reduce the frequency and take turns hosting each other at home.
- Instead of always paying at the hospital every time one falls ill, look for a medical aid plan within one’s budget.
Automate the savings deduction to coincide with when you get paid. If you get paid on the 30th, ensure the savings is deducted on the same day instead of 10 days after when the wind might have taken the money.
Habits are hard to build, you might want to start with saving 10% of all your income and gradually ease yourself into a 20% benchmark, and then you can increase the percentage marginally after.
So if you earn N100,000. Invest the savings: that is, 10% per month, N10,000. You are probably thinking that is small money. When will it become substantial?
Let’s do a quick math, N10,000 saved every month for 10 years at an interest rate of 12% is N2,100,000. See how quickly those seemingly “small” amounts accumulate, whether you’re spending or saving it?
You need not leave it in your savings account indefinitely, it can be routinely channeled into other investment outlets such as: mutual funds, real estate, equities, government bonds, T Bills etc.
If you are in doubt. Print out a statement of your savings or investment after a defined period and you will give yourself a pat on the back. Get started already, there is power in starting early.