Family Finances In The 21st Century

Frank and Lucy met in campus. They started dating while he was in his final year of study while she still had another two years to complete her degree course. He was pursuing a degree in IT while she was pursuing a degree in education.

They met while she was still a fresher at the university but never hit it off until more than a year later. They started talking casually and he eventually asked her out. They continued dating even after Frank completed his degree and graduated. Lucy continued with her studies.

First job

Frank got a job with a local bank the very year he graduated. The salary was rather low but he gave the job his best. It was his practice to go the extra mile while executing his duties whether he was paid for the extra effort or not.

The workload at his place of work was heavy and he often worked long hours, including weekends. He rarely had free time. The two continued dating and eventually got married after Lucy graduated.

Lucy was working as a teacher in a private school in the city while he continued working at the bank. They lived in a one-bedroom apartment in the city and they were best of friends. They were both young and they were not in a hurry to get children.

They wanted to put order in their lives first before adding new members to the family. They had set long term goals for themselves and had milestones to achieve before they could bring children into the picture. They had both agreed that they would be patient and get children when they were both ready. Life was good.

Unexpected Career Challenges

Something happened in their 3rd year of marriage that threatened to throw all their plans in disarray. The bank Frank work for laid off staff and he was one of those who lost their jobs. This was something that none of them had anticipated. They never saw it coming too. They were caught unawares.

How were they going to cope with this major setback? Lucy’s salary was not enough to take care of all their needs. Frank also did not want to become dependent on Lucy or anyone else. He had always considered himself the head of his house and there was no way he was going to rely on his wife for survival.

The couple had savings put away for their long term plans and the sudden job loss saw them start to withdraw from the savings account. He could not just sit back and allow their savings to get depleted. He spent long hours online checking out the websites of different companies to find out if there were any job advertisements that were in line with his qualifications.

He sent applications in response to any that seemed close, even if it was not exactly what he wanted. Three months down the road and he still had made no progress. He had not received a single response whether positive or negative. They were really straining financially and he knew that they could not go on like this much longer.

The power of the world wide web

Frank stumbled onto something online purely by chance as he searched for job opportunities. He came across a website that turned out to be an online job platform. There were different kinds of jobs available. It looked like a serious platform and he was willing to give it a try.

He spent an entire day working on his profile on the online jobs site. He submitted it when he was assured that it was very comprehensive. However, he was disappointed to receive an email the next day informing him that his application could not be accepted because there were already too many freelancers with skill sets that were similar to his.

That email got him fired up! He spent the next couple of days going through the site and checking what sort of other lines of work he could do. He started toying with web design. He could apply for web design jobs and see if that would give him better chances.

Web design

He had tried to design some websites when he was a student and needed some extra cash. He did earn himself a little pocket money then but he was not sure whether his skills were up to date but he was ready to give it a try.

Frank experimented with different web design software, including those he was not familiar with. He downloaded tutorials from the Internet and practiced what he learned. Many were the times he burned the midnight oil as he practiced.

The time he had spent visiting different websites searching for jobs turned out to have been a blessing in disguise. He was familiar with all manner of websites. He edited his profile for online jobs and submitted it afresh. It was approved. He continued practicing and did not slow down. He still had no clients so his portfolio was made up of websites he designed in the course of practicing.

Changing Career Paths

Frank fell in love with designing of websites as he practiced, even before he got a single client. He contacted all the people he knew who ran business to let them know that he had a special offer that would run for 30 days only. He was offering subsidized rates for web design services. Clients started trickling in very slowly.

The first client he got refused to pay him and he felt like someone had just pricked his precious balloon with a needle. He felt like quitting but Lucy encouraged him to soldier on. He added the website to his portfolio and kept going.

Lucy was still a teacher and she was a talented writer. She had started getting some relief since she was no longer the only one earning income. She started a blog documenting Franks’s journey after he was laid off from employment. She started it during the school holidays so that she could be keeping him company as he worked long hours. They still had no children.

Some few people would contact her asking for advice after they either lost their jobs or they needed to supplement their income. She started writing articles to address the questions that were frequently asked. It was no longer about Frank’s journey but more in response to the needs of the market.

A partnership between Frank and Lucy was born, more by coincidence than by design. Five years down the road, they owned a communication company that served corporate clients. She was still a teacher and worked part time while Frank worked full time assisted by a team of designers.

The 21st Century Economy

We are living in very challenging economic times. The job market is constantly shrinking and more and more people are finding themselves out of job even though they have good qualifications. The cost of living is also growing very fast and salaries cannot keep up. Many people have jobs yet they fall in the ranks of the ‘working poor’. They are retiring poor after decades in employment.

5 Common Mistakes To Avoid If You Want To Secure Your Family’s Future

Majority struggle financially all their lives and eventually retire poor. Learn from some of their mistakes.

Rushing to get children immediately you get into marriage

I know that this is Africa and we are expected to start getting babies the soonest possible after we walk down the aisle, within the first year if possible. But just look around and see the sort of struggles families go through once they get kids when they have not made adequate preparation.

Babies are likely to slow down the career of the mother. What with the problems of house helps and demanding jobs that are not compatible with frequent absenteeism? No one can tell how a pregnancy is going to turn out.

Getting pregnant when the family is not financially stable can have unexpected negative outcomes such as putting the lives of the mother and the unborn baby at risk should complications arise that require expensive medical interventions. Such an outcome can derail a mothers career besides resulting in expenditure that the family might not be competent to handle.

Failing to plan for the family long term

Failing to plan is planning to fail. I cannot overemphasize the need for long term planning. You have just got married and you and your spouse are at a certain income level. How do you plan to grow your income over the years to cater for growing needs? What growing needs do you anticipate? How many children do you plan to have?

What sort of lifestyle do you plan to give your family? For example, what sort of schools and colleges do you plan to take your children to? What sort of home do you plan to buy or build for your family? Will you buy a car? What type of car?

How much will the lifestyle you want for your family cost? Do you have family members who are dependent on you or are likely to be in the years to come, including aging parents? Can your family cope in case a parent got ill and needed long term care? How will you finance all these needs?

Living without a safety net

Do you have cash put away in case either of you loses a job or some other unexpected thing happens? Companies close down some markets or lay off staff all the time. How would your family cope in case of such an eventuality? Would you have enough money to keep your family afloat until you either got another job or established some alternative source of income?

Before you increase your responsibilities; bring forth babies, take on responsibilities for members of the extended family, buy luxuries such as a car for personal use, a flat screen TV, great furniture, designer clothes and everything else; do you have a safety net first, to take care of your family in case of sudden job loss or some other eventuality?

If you don’t, open a savings account immediately and let each of you deposit a minimum of 10% of earnings every month without fail. The survival of your family could depend on this so don’t delay it any longer.

Failing to work as a team

I hear the statement; ‘his money is our money but my money is mine…’ very many times. Failure to plan and budget together for the family is like driving a car without a spare tyre, hoping that you do not get a puncture. As a married woman, before you do whatever you want with your money because it is yours, is the future of your family planned for and secured?

As you trust your husband to take care of the family, do you have long term plans as a family plus a road map to take you there? How can a driver and a co-driver expect to win a race when they not reading from the same script? Shared goals and vision as well as team work are critical for a family’s long term financial stability.

Enabling dependent family members

The culture of dependency is African’s no. 1 problem. This has deep roots and is difficult to uproot. In traditional African society, families lived together and the lifestyle was largely communal. There was nothing to take family members outside the homestead so sons would grow up, marry and build their own houses in their father’s homestead.

The entire family worked together communally. The men would go hunting together, women would till land communally, fetch water or firewood together, smear mud on the walls of huts in the homestead together and much more. Children in the homestead also did chores together. It was difficult to tell which children in a homestead were whose children as it was all one big family. There really were no boundaries.

Times have however changed and a communal way of life cannot work in today’s economy. Many are still having hung-ups from the traditional African way of life and trying to put it into practice today is destroying many families.

For example a son from a poor family gets lucky, gets a good education and lands a good job. He has countless relatives who are not so lucky. He is put under pressure by the family to spread out the good fortune to the entire family. The end result is usually conflicts in the family as well as failure of such families to realize their dreams. Many can have successful careers yet still struggle financially all their lives and retire poor because they have bitten off more than they can chew.

Teach dependent family members to fish

Be wise when dealing with dependent family members. Be firm too. Do not give out free money unless you are dealing with emergencies such as illness, bereavement or disasters such as a house burning down, floods and such.

Everyone can be taught how to fish for himself, unless minors or the very elderly. You cannot make everyone in your extended family equal as would happen in traditional African society. Empower them as much as possible and let them chart out their own path.

Some will take a long time to improve the financial position for their families because not everyone is ready and willing to put the necessary effort. Not everyone in your extended family will take their children to university, but the quality of their lives can improve drastically over the years.

Always let the saying teach a man to fish for himself and he will not be hungry again guide you when it comes to dealing with such family members. The struggle to learn will strengthen their muscles. Enabling dependence in family members is like leaving a pot on the fire unattended as you go to the market.

It will take time for them to either learn to take charge of their lives or to live within their means, but is is worth all the effort. Different people will have different levels of success so don’t bring down your home while trying to make everyone in your extended family come up to your level without paying the price. Success is not given to anyone on a silver platter. Your dependent family members need to also pay the price of success.

This article is written by: Susan Catherine Keter, Personal development and business coach, Mentor, Motivational Speaker and Blogger.

Financial Independence Africa

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