TACKLING DEBT IN AMERICA, UK, SOUTH AFRICA, KENYA, ZIMBABWE – it is all the same

TACKLING DEBT IN AMERICA, UK, SOUTH AFRICA, KENYA, ZIMBABWE – it is all the same

 

The average individual in America has at least $5, 331 in credit card debt and many of them are unable to pay it. A lot of people carry debt from student loans.  I was way above average. Being above average is really good but not in this particular circumstance. At its worst, my debt was $33, 051.70. Yep! I was keeping track of the cents. People in developing countries are not doing much better either on dealing with debt. Banks are predatory. I shudder every time I read something on the wonders of mobile money that does not address how easy it has become to get loans that have a ridiculously high interest rate and a very short payback period. In Zimbabwe, the average person is struggling to make ends meet as salaries fall way behind the rapidly increasing cost of essential commodities. And yet, banks are making healthy profits because they routinely partner with employers to offer loans with interest rates of over 20% in many cases. In Kenya, personal debt is also crippling with a national income to debt ratio of over 60%.In South Africa, people can buy groceries on credit. The national personal debt is over $15.1 bn USD. Only the banks benefit, but there are things we can all do to manage debt, get out of it and stay out of it.

The back story

So how does someone with excellent credit, no student loans, and reasonable budget skills end up in such a pit? Good deals! There is always a good deal, and if we are not careful, we can follow it right into the hole of fire. In this particular case, my business partner and I saw an opportunity to expand our business from “trunk of our car” to an actual shoe store in the city. On paper, we had a great deal. A guy in Atlanta was closing down his store and willing to sell us all his inventory for $10 a pair (in hindsight this was a terrible deal) for a minimum of $5,000.

We also designed our own shoe and handbag collection that we had made in China for a great deal. Yeah right!

Between the Atlanta deal, China and a few other store requirements we had a bill of $14,000. This would have been manageable, but we had not factored in shipping costs, shipping times and clearance costs.

How did we pay for the shipment? I had excellent credit and with it came a ton of 0% APR offers. We had all the misplaced confidence that once our delivery landed in Zimbabwe, we would be able to make HUGE profits. The shipment took too long to arrive, and by that time the 0% offers were expiring and that dreaded 24% APR was kicking in. That is the story of how we ended up with $33, 000 in debt.

Other people get into debt as they try to make ends meet. I have spoken to people borrowing to start-up projects as we did, pay tuition, care for a loved or spend on things they like but do not need.

Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship sounds sexy and fun, but the reality is a lot uglier. We made the mistake of falling for a good deal. If the business had been in the United States or any other place with a functioning economy, we could have borrowed our startup funds at a reasonable rate, and we would have insured the goods. Things do not always work this way in developing countries with precarious economic situations.

It is quite frightening that academics are suggesting that Africans can entrepreneur themselves out of poverty. Instead, most people are enterpreneuring themselves into debt. Most success stories do not detail the soft loan from wealthy parents or tax credits from governments that allow for the garage start-ups in the US and elsewhere.

It takes a long time for businesses to start making good & sustainable profits.

The truth is also that not everyone should be running a business. Like most people in the diaspora I have loaned friends and family money to start various projects and 8 out of 10 times the person is just not gifted in that area. The business is a waste of financial and time resources.

During the months I carried the debt I definitely felt like I was drowning. I was paying at least $800 a month to avoid being late on the cards, but the interest rates made it hard to make a dent. Our business was doing ok but keeping a business running required us to continue investing in more stock (or so we thought). I read Dave Ramsey’s snowball method and a lot of other books, but nothing was really working. I was still in graduate school earning less than $15,000 a year. I had a lot of expenses back home, school fees for my nephew and niece and other monthly obligations like groceries. The debt was stressing me. I was pulling from my savings to help pay the debt, but I was worried about being so far away from home with no safety net. I just needed to finish school and get a full-time job.

Finding a job is expensive. I invested in interview clothes, travel, resume assistance, thesis editing, and other interview prep help. I am glad it turned out ok, but I just want to emphasize that the cost of looking for a job is not $0. I wrote about this experience here.

Paying off $33k of debt in two years

I would not be writing this blog if the story did not end well. I am not going to make any fun GOT references. The heart of the story is that the same old personal finance principles apply. Live below your means, save 20% and pay off debt. I am going to attempt to show clear examples of how to do this. The summer after I finished my Ph.D., I took on a consulting job in Washington DC. I asked a friend if I could live in a tiny room in their apartment and pay about $200 for utilities. It was a perfect arrangement. I was able to pay off a personal loan and arrange for my husband’s move to the US as well as my own move later that summer to a new state for my job. We tend to get reimbursed after the semester has begun and I was not going to have a paycheck until September, so I needed to make sure I had funds to live on.

The numbers

That summer we also decided to start a new business. I know! Armed with lessons from seasons past we agreed that we would only invest $500. I am happy to report that the company is thriving.

To cut costs, I lived with my friend (Thank you, Ryan). I walked to work and carried my own lunch. In DC lunch expenses plus Saturday brunches can add up really quickly.

When we moved to my new job, we found a tiny one-bedroom apartment for $450 a month (all utilities included) it was a small space, but we never felt it. Maybe being newly married had something to do with our bliss. Our car was paid off. I bought it cash in grad school from a friend. We still have it (although we recently purchased a new car – more on that later). My job was in a small town with nothing much going on, so we splurged on Xfinity for $75 a month to get all our fav channels including HBO. We really like watching comedies, movies and of course GOT, Shameless, etc. Our total monthly expenses were $900 and came up to $1,500 with remittances.

After a few months at the new job, I researched options to deal with the interest. The only viable option was closing the cards and negotiating much lower interest rates.

Closing the major accounts was going to put a HUGE dent on my credit score. I struggled with this for a while, but when I spoke to someone from debt coach, they explained that if I closed the accounts and paid off my debt, I would end up with a better score. My high score at that point was meaningless is I was saddled with debt. So, I worked with them and closed four of my high balance accounts (there goes my 12-year history), and they helped me negotiate low-interest rates of 3% and 4%.

I finally had some breathing room. I could actually use the snowball method. At that point, the business could add another $500 to my $800 to pay off the debt.

BUT: Not everything went to debt

Retirement: More on this later but it is worth mentioning that my job had a 3% match, so I decided to set aside 3% each month towards retirement. If your employer has a match and you opt out, you are just throwing away free money. Or at least money that you are entitled to.

High Yield Savings account: I also opened a high yield savings account with American Express and was able to put in 10% to that account. More on this later

Emergency fund: we made sure that we had at least $3,000 in our emergency fund. Again- more on this later.

After setting aside small amounts, it was all debt. Notice that I went with % instead of real numbers to keep my goals manageable. I managed to do a few consulting jobs – all those earnings went to debt. Tax refunds went towards paying off debt.

I followed up on monies I had loaned friends and family, and all that “extra” income went to debt. In following up on loans, I lost friends and strained relationships. Money is not always good for building healthy relationships.

During those years we did not travel unless someone else was paying for the trip. We did not deny ourselves much because there was nothing to deny ourselves in our town. The one restaurant we liked had dinner for $8, and one can only eat the same meal so many times.

In future posts, I will try to break down some specific things that helped us reach our goal. The critical lesson for us was to live way below our means. I hope to never live in a shoebox again, but I am glad we were able to meet our goals during that season.

PRACTICAL STEP BY STEP TO PAY OFF DEBT

  1. Conduct an inventory of ALL your debt. List everything down including interest rates, due dates, and associated fees. List everything down. Include what you owe Sally from work, Auntie Mary and the IRS. It is scary, but it must be done even if the final number is $33 000
Credit accounts Amount Interest rate Annual interest rate Personal set Minimum monthly months to pay
Account 1 $10,675.00 23.00% $2,455.25 $500 21.35
Account 2 $7,355.79 14.50% $1,066.59 165 44.58054545
Account 3 $2,119.17 24.00% $508.60 500 4.23834
Account 4 $435.00 24.00% $104.40 200 2.175
Account 5 $4,855.75 17.00% $825.48
Account 6 $1,264.00 10.00% $126.40 200 6.32
Account 7 $800.00 24.00% $192.00 100 8
Account 8 $1,800.00 5.00% $90.00 100 18
Account 9 $3,746.99 17.00% $636.99 202 18.54947525
$33,051.70 $6,005.71 $2,167

 

  1. When I did the inventory, my minimum monthly payments were about 40% of my gross salary. I decided on a monthly minimum that was double what the bank was asking for as part of our plan to pay the debt off sooner. After I closed four of the accounts the interest rates fell to 4% which was a lot manageable.

  1. How do you pay off using the snowball method?
  • You start off with the smallest debt which was $800 in our case. After paying the minimum for each account, we threw anything extra to that account which actually allowed us to pay it off in a single month.
  • After you have paid off the smallest account add payments from the account you just paid off to the next smallest debt.
  • This is a much better method than focusing on interest rates.
  1. Cutting down expenses – as explained before – going over our budget with a total debt in mind allowed us actually to reduce our monthly costs. How do you do this?
    1. Reduce your housing cost – move into a smaller place if you need to
      • Consider renting out your main home and moving into something smaller or having renters in one or two bedrooms.
    2. Cut down on any entertainment costs – the boredom will be a good motivator
    3. Live well below your means. There is always something to cut down.
      • People might even have to eat rice beans for a couple of months or
        • place kids in cheaper schools- I know! The horror – but it can be done

Paid off- Now what?

Dave Ramsey would tell you to cut up all your credit cards. He is not wrong. However, I would say let your real honest budget guide the way you live. I have a good friend in Zimbabwe (SHOUT OUT Massy) who has taught me a great deal about economic wisdom. She and her husband have excellent jobs, but instead of renting a fancy place in the nicer and more expensive parts of the city they built a small but really homey cottage on their plot just outside the city. They are now building the main house at their own pace- in the meantime, they live in their cute 2-bedroom house. She said when they bot their plot it was sold for $16,000. They had been renting a bigger house for $500 so when they did the math the plot was a much better investment.

My other friend is a mom of four. They live on one income to offset the cost of childcare in the diaspora. She makes all her meals at home (I have been begging her to start a blog). Her family eats well every day- I am a terrible cook, so I have no such aspirations. She manages to stay on budget by planning out her meals and buying deals. She also makes do with what she has- see picture below. I am sure there are great examples from people in your life or your own cases of adjusting things to make it work.

Follow her page on facebook for amazing recipes and tips to making yummy meals on a budget. Or just follow her because she is amazing and my friend

DISCLAIMER: MoneyProfessor is my personal blog. I provide general information – not professional or financial advice. Opinions and representations on are my own. I am not providing financial advice or legal advice on my blog. I am only providing general information. You should consult a professional before making any financial or legal decisions.

 

You should have a savings account- LIKE YESTERDAY!

You should have a savings account- LIKE YESTERDAY!

You need to start saving now !!!!!

Do you have a piggy bank

As I was researching for this post, I got into a rabbit hole reading about payday loans. I did not think these were legal in the United States. We have the system of chimbadzo in Zimbabwe (very high interest -short term loans- APR over 30%). It turns out in the U.S. similar loans are legal, and they are a money pit. For example, if you are in a bind and borrow $100, they will want between $100 and $130 in a week the interest will double each week you are unable to pay. One guy borrowed $2400 in a few months he owed $4000. It is crazy!

don’t get scammed

What struck is me is that we often assume that people needing these loans are the working poor, low financial literacy, irresponsible, etc. but that is not necessarily true. I read a lot of horror stories on reddit. Reddit is like the craigslist of knowledge for savvy millennials. It was, after all, founded by Serena William’s husband. If educated people with somewhat stable jobs are struggling financially to the extent of needing these predatory loans, it means the working class, the poor and honestly all of us are at risk of ending up in these money pits.

Money is an uncomfortable subject, and yet it is so important. I finally submitted the revisions to my article on money in politics – even politicians do not want to talk about how much they are spending to get elected. It is an uncomfortable subject- I get it. Dear friend, let us find ways to plan so that we can be prepared for the various challenges ahead.

Saving is a lifestyle habit that should start very early on. However, it is never too late to learn new tricks. You’ve got this!

I am going to discuss some strategies that I have learned or read about to get me on the path to saving.

Whatever stage you are in life, you need a healthy savings account. I know the thought of saving can be scary. Everyone, IS  talking about a 6-month emergency saving when you are just trying to have $150 saved. SCARY! Baby steps!

Stage 0: No savings account

  1. Start very small. Challenge yourself to set aside just $20 a month for three months then double that to $40. As an undergrad, I saved $50-$100 from my small paycheck every month. By the time graduation came, I had enough saved to invite family to my graduation and cover three months of rent ($500/month) in DC for my unpaid internship.
  2. Open a high yield savings account
    1. These accounts will give you at least 2% interest. In South Africa, these accounts would give you about 7% interest but no point getting jealous hahaha. If you are in SA, please tell me you have taken advantage of these generous rates. 2-3% is quite common in most developed countries. Banks are stingy- it irks me that they will charge you 14% for a loan and give 0% for your savings.
    2. Which ones- I hate to endorse any products, but I can say look for accounts that do not require a minimum balance even a $100 minimum balance. No Fees! Banks are already making money from your money – they do not need to charge you a fee for this. I am looking at you Bank of America. I use American Express but I am pretty sure there are better options online these days.
  3. Direct deposit: The best way to save is to do it when you still have money
    1. You can ask HR to split your paycheck into multiple payments to your checking and savings. You can tell them how much to put in each account. Nearly every HR department will do this.
    2. Solo Set up auto savings from your checking to savings – as I mentioned before I used to transfer $27 each week from my checking to savings. This is my fun money now. It also saved me this month because I forgot that faculty housing you pay rent at the end of the month not in advance like most rental situations. I had a rude awakening- thanks to this fun fund we did not have to deep into a savings account.
  4. Essential steps towards financial health that I think about
    1. Create a budget and stick to it
    2. Write down your financial goals -even lofty ones
    3. Save at least $1,000 for an emergency fund
    4. Pay off debt (ALL DEBT-) except your mortgage –
    5. Invest

 

 

Should  I RENT OR BUY?????

Should I RENT OR BUY?????

 

Let me start by saying the cheesiest thing- the choice comes down to what do you need and what can you afford?

My husband and I get asked a lot if we have bought a house and the answer- which also applies to many frequented questions is NO. Although we have been married five years and we have been officially out of school for a while, we have not yet bought a home. Several factors influence our decision-making process. Hopefully, this post will help you if you are debating similar issues.

One of the things people say a lot is that renting is wasting money. It is not – you get a place to live in. You can waste money in either situation; if you rent or buy a home that is way beyond your means or bigger than you need (McMansion ALERT). Having a place to stay that is within your budget and financial goals is not wasting money-it is a blessing.

Some questions to ponder before you make a decision

  1. How much can I afford to pay for my living situation? If you can only afford to spend $500 a month for the roof over your head, then you may not be ready to purchase a home.
  2. Do I have consumer and or student debt? If you have a lot of debt, you may not want to buy a house and add a mortgage to your debt bill –
  3. Do I have a solid emergency fund? The experts suggest 4-6 month’s worth of living expenses saved in an easy to access high yield savings account before making major investments. Fellow millennials and baby cousins in Generation Z- please trust me when I say emergencies happen. You need an emergency FUND.
  4. If I were to buy a home, could I afford a decent down payment to avoid paying PMI and other protections? You can probably take advantage of many first-time buyer deals and put just 5% down, but some financial experts say it is always better to have at least 10-20% down payment saved. If you don’t use it all for the downpayment you may need it for closing costs and moving expenses.
  5. Do I have money set aside for home ownership related expenses that can occur as soon as I move in? These can include flooding basement, failing AC or heating system, leaking roof, etc. Things happen. Unless you are getting a brand new home chances are that it will have some issues.
  6. Could I comfortably pay my mortgage if I lost my job? This is important.
  7. Do I plan to live in this home for at least five years? If you are still moving jobs buying a home may be risky – if you are unable to find a renter, you may find yourself paying a mortgage for an empty house. If you find a terrible renter, you may still pay your mortgage plus rent at your new place.
  8. The cost of buying a home is more than the cost of a mortgage and down payment. You will need to pay taxes, homeowners insurance, fix things, mow your lawn, keep up with neighbors and their gardens – heating a home is also kinda expensive.
  9. Owning a home is also fantastic – you can paint the house fun colors, and you do not need permission to drill the walls.
  10. A home purchase can be a worthwhile long-term investment, especially if it is in an area where home values appreciate.

At the end of the day, do not feel pressured to rent or own a house. Your bank account will tell you what you can afford. The heart might lead you astray.

 

P.S. I am not a certified financial advisor this is just my fun blog

 

 

DO NOT ASK YOUR ENTREPRENEUR OR SMALL BUSINESS OWNER FRIENDS/FAMILY FOR DISCOUNTS

DO NOT ASK YOUR ENTREPRENEUR OR SMALL BUSINESS OWNER FRIENDS/FAMILY FOR DISCOUNTS

DO NOT ASK YOUR ENTREPRENEUR OR SMALL BUSINESS OWNER FRIENDS/FAMILY FOR DISCOUNTS

 

There are a lot of friends and family money-related discussions going on –they all matter. I wanted to point another angle we don’t often think about-FRIEND DISCOUNTS.

A lot of us millennials are dabbling in entrepreneurship to supplement our income or because we prefer to create employment. Entrepreneurship and or owning a business sounds sexy, but the reality is not that cool- there is a lot of work and debt involved in building an enterprise. Many small business owners operate in the red for the first few years of owning a business.

I am the queen of discounts and coupons. I pride myself in getting good deals. I  will happily spend hours on the phone with our service providers because research has shown that we can cut our utility bills by about 20% if we are committed. My husband is not, and he dreads going shopping with me, haha but I know he loves that whenever we go to the apple store, I can save him at least 10%. This disclaimer is important because I do not want you to feel judged for seeking out ways to save money. Use retailmenotto get discounts to bath and body – the company can afford your discount.

 

However, I want to emphasize that seeking savings on the hard work of our friends or family is not cool. My parents were small business owners and worked informally, so I know how important it is for entrepreneurs to maximize their income. Asking our friends for a discount might signal that we do not respect their hustle, or we do not care about their work. If you can pay full price for a friend’s yoga class, please do it because contrary to popular belief yoga teachers, photographers and website builders do not make a lot of money. When your friend’s business takes off, and they become a multimillion-dollar conglomerate, they will not forget the support that you gave them.

Instead of asking for a discount help your friend or family member, you can support their work by advertising their business and encouraging your circle of friends to use their services. I love seeing the way payments for services offered by friends can empower them. If I can afford it, I always pay full price or a little extra for my friend’s services.

 

Both of my businesses can now  AFFORD to give friend discounts because our friends and family supported us 100% when we were still starting up.

 

Please use code: welcome10 for your next order from www.zimtuckshop.com if you are in Harare and want to buy a special treat from Trendy inbox our facebook page or WhatsApp +263772951139 for a discount.

Vacation without breaking the bank

Vacation without breaking the bank

It’s SUMMERTIME SO!!!!

Nothing sucks like coming back home to an empty bank account – because YOLO- when in fact you have bills to pay.

A newish survey from Bankrate found that about 60% of people living in the US will not be able to take a vacation because funds are tight. Holidays are not a need, but it is fun to let loose and travel. On social media, I have had enjoyed following conversations on vacations but not listening to my friends pinning for trips they feel they can’t take. Can we agree that many of us would love to travel? It doesn’t matter if you are going a couple of hours from home or a few thousand miles – you will have more fun if you budget for your trip.

Vacation is expensive. Are you planning a trip? Think about how much you think you will spend – now double or triple that number. I am a planner, and I was shocked by how much we spent on our recent trip to Paris. I am glad I had budgeted, but we certainly underestimated the small costs associated with international travel.

STEPS TOWARDS A $$ STRESS-FREE VACATION

  1. Three to Six months out– Set a realistic savings goal
    1. Get realistic about the cost of flights to your destination. Use google flights and cross check that number with a few airlines. You can fly to Capetown for just under $1,500 if you book today – Just saying JWrite down the number $$$
    2. Get a realistic cost for housing – I suggest Airbnb or some other house share for a trip longer than three days & hotels for a shorter trip. Airbnb is probably better if you are going as a group. Write down the number $$$

Some airbnb’s and hotels can be trash too so do your research

  1. Get a realistic cost of local transportation – if you plan on renting a car then use your favorite car rental website to compare deals

STOP HERE – If there is no way you can manage steps 1.1 to 1.3 without dipping into your credit card and incurring debt, then you are not ready for this trip. Instead of going to Capetown consider something close to home

  1. Set a realistic goal for dining: When we went to Paris, I completely underestimated how expensive Europe is. Use yelp to get a sense of what people are spending per night – how much you pay depends on your taste and how much work you do. This confession will not make me look good, but in the spirit of transparency (truth is overrated), we once spent $150 for a simple dinner at a Jamaican restaurant in New York City because we had no idea where to go for reasonably priced -or regular black person- Jamaican meal in NYC. Strangely enough, I never spend a lot on meals in London because the drinks are cheap, hahaha. In Harare, Capetown, Nairobi, Lagos, etc. you can eat for cheap or spend a lot – the point is to get a sense of the average cost of meals, multiply that by 3 to get a daily rate and by the total number of days to get an estimated bill.

You will likely spend between $50 and $100 per person per day in most places around the world.

  1. Set a realistic goal for local transportation – in Europe use public transit. For five days, you are looking at about $60/week. Most major African cities have uber, but the rates are quite high so that local taxes might be a good option. Seek local advice and stay safe.
  2. Set a realistic budget for all your sight-seeing adventures: I assume you are going on vacation to have some fun
    1. Pre-purchase any tickets for museums or anything that has an entry fee. Do not use third-party websites if you can avoid them- pre-purchasing will not only keep you within budget, but you avoid exchange rate dilemmas
    2. Research the other things you won’t get to up to- swimming with dolphins will cost between $50 and USD 100 in Zanzibar, entering the Vic Falls is between $2 and $45 depending on your citizenship (You do not want to die without ever having visited the Falls)…

You can watch the video of him bungee jumping – it was awesome. I have also done a few crazy things in Vics like walking with lions – I know – why are you judging me

  • Remember, most things are free- visiting the Eiffel Tower is free you only pay if you want to go to the top (est. $30).

    I took this loopy looking pic

  1. Start saving for the trip
    1. Divide the totals from step 1 by the total number of paychecks before your trip. That is how much you should be setting aside each month.
    2. Set up direct deposit into your savings account for your trip – DO THIS
  2. Pay for most expenses before you leave home
    1. Purchase your ticket on your credit card and pay it off
    2. Book your hotel (set aside the money and be ready to pay it off when you check in.)
    3. Buy your museums passes etc. and pay off the balance
  3. Get travel insurance: protect all your purchases because things happen
  4. Set aside an emergency or over budget fund – about 20% of your expenses (excluding fixed things like flight and hotel)
  5. STICK TO YOUR BUDGET AND HAVE FUN