I’ve always wanted to write about money. Every time I’ve wanted to do it, however, a voice of doubt has crept up on me. We live in a society where talking about money gets more taboo than talking about sex (for the record, I believe none of these should be taboo). When people talk about money, they are supposed to be experts or at least super-rich, to show they know their shit — to acquire the authority to speak on it. Out of the gate, I must assure you that I am neither close to being a billionaire nor being a financial professional. In fact, I failed Economics in college (terribly I must add) and forfeited the little chance I had of getting myself a little desk on Wall Street. (Oops, there goes my credibility to speak about money. ) The one thing I am though is curious. I am not afraid to learn, to try new things. And as you can imagine, I have spent years experimenting, reading and learning about money and finances. So, I’ll speak anyway.
I finally decided to write about money a couple of weeks ago. I was in matatu with an acquaintance when we passed by some bougie-ass apartments. We sat at the front of the matatu and my acquaintance, pointing towards the bougie-ass apartments, told me, “I was there the other day, they have some really nice three-bedrooms. I am thinking of moving there.” At first I was shocked, this was a single guy in his mid-twenties considering moving into a three bedroomed bougie-ass apartment. I could not see myself living in a three-bedroomed house in the next ten years, at least not in a rental, three-bedroomed, bougie-ass apartment.
He continued, “The rent isn’t that bad; considering the location, 50k for a three-bedroom is a bargain.”
It sounded like a bargain to me for a person who had been working for at least seven years and had a family of four— or at least a roommate.
“No, I cannot get a roommate. I don’t like sharing my space,” he argued.
“What about you sublet part of it, or do Airbnb?” I asked.
“No, you know a friend of mine lives in Westie for 80k a month. This is a pretty solid deal.”
I was dumbfounded. “So what does your friend do?”
“She works for a consulting company.”
“For how long?”
“It’s her second year.”
I have friends and relatives who work in consulting and I knew it’s either our acquaintance’s friend spent most of her monthly income on rent or she had other sources of income our acquaintance knew nothing about.
“But it’s a nice place. They have a swimming pool and even a gym that residents don’t pay for,” our acquaintance defended his friend, as if sensing how ludicrous I was finding the idea. But this still made no sense. I was sure we were in a pretty similar tax bracket with his friend yet she paid more than five times my rent just to live in Westie and get a free gym and swimming pool. And I like to think I live in a pretty decent place, at least my cats agree.
“Yeah, but I can find a nice swimming pool for 300 bob and a nice gym for the same per session. When does she even get time to enjoy the gym and swimming pool with the crazy work hours in consulting?”
“You know everyone has their lifestyle.”
“That’s right. I wouldn’t pay that much for rent in Nairobi even if I made half a million. I’d rather use the money to buy or build my own house.”
When I alighted the matatu, I knew I was going to write about money. I would write about money not to be judgmental to my acquaintance or his friend, but rather to illuminate this dark topic that our generation knows so little about. More like start a conversation and challenge us to think harder. The little we talk about it, the little we know; the little we know, the more we stumble and the more we stumble, the more comedy fodder older generations have about us, “there goes another millennial blowing money fast, rich and broke, who bewitched these kids?” (Yaay! Look at me saving a whole generation from a curse with an obscure series on money that only 10 people will read.)
Now, I know my familial background has a heavy influence on my philosophy on money. I grew up in a village with a single mother who made barely enough to afford our basic needs. I also know that I cannot prescribe ideas — or worse even, rules — that work for everybody. And so I am not even going to try to do that. This series is more for me than it is for others. Halafu if you’re looking for a post on how to make a quick buck or hit the lottery in life, welcome to the biggest disappointment of your life.
(Quick side note on organization: I initially intended this to be one post but when I wrote out the first five lessons, I realized I’d end up with close to 20,000 words, the length of a novella. I’m a big fan of long reads, but I figured I’d rather break this one into a lesson per post for a total of 24 posts (one post per day) because each can act as a standalone anyway. Plus that would double the number of posts of my site and maybe I can stop feeling terrible about being a non-writing writer after that. And then because I am a psychologist, the first set of posts will be on the psychology of money and then the others are unclassified for now but they will cover more practical financial stuff like savings, credit, investing, etc.)
Lesson 1: Love Yourz (aka If you’re not careful, you will always want more)
In my childhood, my biggest nemesis was poverty. The fact that we didn’t have all we needed drove me to work harder in school. I wanted to be a pilot because I presumed pilots made plenty of money (plus it’d be cool flying the mysterious dots that I only got to see miles away between the clouds). When I learnt of billionaires, they instantly became my role models. Oh, so you’re a billionaire, get in this bag of my role models. I don’t care what you’ve done to get your billions. Yeah, let’s start with you Mark Zuckerberg, you seem to have figured out how to do it real quick too.
Then I got some part-time minimum-wage jobs in college and for the first time I began making a little money for myself. I signed up for a crazy number of hours given that I was still taking the same number of classes with the students who silently sat studying in the library as I dusted the bookshelves just meters away. The recommended number of hours during the semester was 15 but I remember picking up over 25 hours in some weeks. It’s not that I particularly enjoyed the jobs, but I had to grind. Seeing a bigger direct deposit every two weeks became addictive.
Bob Marley said, “Money is numbers and numbers never end.” As I have gained some experience in my career and therefore handled larger figures, I have found Bob’s words to be true. There’s a funny scene in Silicon Valley where billionaire bad boy Russ Hanneman loses some millions and is no longer a billionaire. He mourns to Richard Hendrix, “I have a fucking car that opens like this [bangs his car door sideways] and not like this [puts his hands in the shape of falcon wings], not like this [slushes the air vertically with both hands]. These are not the doors of a billionaire, Richard.” Objectively, poor Russ is richer than over 99% of the world population but he will not sleep at night until he has ‘re-billionized’.
While Hanneman’s example is certainly exaggerated for comedic effect, we instinctively have a similar urge to want a larger paycheck, a bigger house, a fancier car than those around us. Because it’s usually more about status than money: how do I stack up? And if left unchecked, this urge blinds us to what we already have. In my Social Psychology class back at Colgate, I remember learning about a UK longitudinal study that found out that a civil servant with a six-bedroomed house is likely to have a lower life-expectancy rate than one with a seven-bedroomed house. Not because the owner of the six bedroomed house freezes for lack of shelter, but rather because she feels she has little control over her life and opportunities, which profoundly and negatively affects her health.
The key then is to create a sense of autonomy over your life and to be grateful for what you have as you aspire for more. To remember, like J. Cole put it, “[there’s] always gonna be a whip that’s better than the one you got, always gonna be some clothes that’s fresher than the one you ones rock…but you’ll never be happy until you love yourz.”
Next: On Inner Cavities