Inspiring money stories from people living in one of the worst economies: Zimbabwe

As you already know or now know, I am from Zimbabwe. Zim is an amazingly beautiful place, and the people are wonderful. However, we are mostly known now for our bad economy. The day I came to college, inflation was just hitting over 1000% -it was crazy. People lost all savings; retirement plans were voided, and most investments were wiped out. I was in high school then – things have not gotten much better as we have become adults, parents and in some cases, primary breadwinners.

It is hard to imagine that any good stories are coming out of Zim on finances. I am inspired by several people who have managed to survive during the last two decades. They are stressed a LOT, but I think we can all draw some inspiration from their stores.

Two teachers, two (then three) babies, chickens, and a home

I do not tell this particular woman often how much she inspires me. This is a story of a couple – they are both teachers in relatively low-income areas (Chi-Town). Neither comes from money. When I met them five years ago, they were paying $140 US rent for a couple of rooms in a shared home. The wife said to me that she had bought a stand and wanted to build. At the time their combined “formal” income was $800 US – today it is ZW$800 which is just under $200 US – inflation! Think compound interest in REVERSE!!!

Between 2013 and today here is what they have achieved and how (everything paid for in cash)

  1. Built a 3-bed home in a new development
  2. Taken the two oldest kids aged 8 and 13 to a better government school
  3. Had a 3rdbaby – C-section that became very costly due to complications missed during a regular scan
  4. Bought their first car and sold it for a more efficient used SUV

Their money strategies

  1. Moved out of rental after building the first two rooms on their stand to eliminate $140 in rent. That $140 added to their building fund
  2. Extra lessons and a second job – both teachers began offering private tutoring on weekends, and the husband took up a second job at a night school for adult learners. This move doubled their income
  3. The wife sold candy (she also sold shoes for my store on a small commission 10%)
  4. Organized a school carpool with other parents – this saved them 50% on transport costs
  5. A few years later moved one kid to a cheaper local school (they are heartbroken about this – any tips for them?)
  6. Ran a chicken business from their new home for a while (this required investing in a gas freezer and solar)
  7. The wife cut her hair (this made me super sad) she said she had been spending $70 monthly or so on her hair, so this has freed up some money
  8. Reduced maid service (this was a little rough with a little one at home, but she is doing nanny sharing with another family) which means she has to do all the house cleaning and laundry herself. Hand washing clothes is not fun for anyone
  9. Cut down on car use and relying on the new government buses which are only 0.50 but require that the husband leave home at 4:30 am EVERY WORKDAY!!!!!!
  10. Keeping it simple – but they have told me that the hardest thing is explaining to the babies why they can’t have small nice things. I am happy to report that as an experienced aunt (also available for hire)  I am always happy to spoil the babies 🙂
  11. oh – they also said they avoid debt like a plague – they did get a loan through work in 2013 to start the house building but the interest was killing them

 

If you are surviving in a tough economy and have some tips to share please send them to me so that I can feature you on the blog. I would love love to hear from people taking nice vacations – how are you doing it? Ladies – get in formation

Giving and Kindness should be a central part of your financial plan

This post is on thoughtful giving and things I learned from my mom

So maybe I am feeling a little sentimental because of some good things happening in our family, or perhaps it is that school is about to start. The start of school makes me happy for several reasons- the top of which is the arrival of international students in the US. I love getting to meet the students, especially those who have gone through a lot to find themselves here. My heart is filled with hope each time I learn of a young kid coming out of the refugee camps or a kid who has managed to live with very severe disabilities to make it to college. There are many inspiring stories. Common among them is the fact that the world is full of kind of people who donate in cash and in-kind to open doors for others.

 

I do not want us to become cynical about money. Yes, we must save and achieve whatever goals we set for ourselves, but we are not islands. Do not feel bad if you have more responsibilities than your peers. I think a lot about compound interest these days and I have thought that our big families and the villages we come from or build for ourselves are also a function of compound interest.

One of the things that shocked me the most when I first arrived in America was homelessness. It takes a lot for someone to end up homeless back home. Our families will rather sleep 20 people to a room than have a brother, a cousin, an uncle, or an aunt sleep on the streets.

There was a point when mom’s house was home to at least 15 adults, including an aunt, her husband, and two kids, my sister’s friend and her two kids and so on. I am always indebted to my sister, who made room for me at her home even when their home was already at full capacity with at least six teenage nephews and nieces from her husband’s side.

This is the core of who we are. I know there are many of you hosting new immigrants, friends who find themselves on the street for many reasons and still managing the demands from big families and the politics that come with that. Thank you. I am giving you a big hug.

 

What I do want us to continue thinking  about is ways in which we balance our responsibilities and grow our money to build generational wealth. While we can’t plan for every emergency and hardship that the world throws our way, we can plan to mitigate the impact of bad things by planning.

 

Giving lessons from Chipo’s mom

  1. Never pay less than you can afford: There was a trader who sold tomatoes on our street. Amai Beauty was her name. She had four kids around my age. Whenever my mom returned from South Africa, she would bring clothes for her kids and some groceries, so naturally, Amai Beauty always offered my mom a discount on her veggies. My mom always politely declined. Mom explained to me that Mai Beauty needed every penny, and we did not need discounted tomatoes. Even though we had a lovely garden with tomatoes, veggies, corn, oranges (YES!!!), avocadoes (thanks Dad) mom would buy from Mai Beauty.

I get frustrated when I read of FIRE movement people who brag about free-riding on their friend’s Netflix account or always looking to get free yoga classes. People who seek out free yoga classes aggravate me. If you can afford to pay for Netflix or exchange a Netflix password for Hulu/amazon with your friend, then don’t be a douchebag. If you are saving a bunch of your income to grow a net worth of 2 million, you can very well pay $18 for a yoga class. Yoga teachers spend a ton of money on training, so trying to cheat them just to see your net worth numbers grow is an awful thing to do.

  1. Making giving a part of your lifestyle: My mom is a hopeless giver. Before I came to college, I told mom that one of my friends had a full scholarship, but she would likely miss out on school because of the $800 airfare. Mom sent the money. I would later learn that doing so wasn’t easy for her, but mom was adamant that a young girl should not miss out on education because of the cost of an air ticket. I am more like my dad. I try to be a bit more systematic in how I give. I believe that you can set aside a small % of your paycheck towards charitable giving and that % will grow as your income increases.

Think about what you value and give towards that.

  • College giving, I am a beneficiary of generous scholarships from Linfield College. I feel very strongly about giving back – I know that my $20 a month is not worth much – to maximize my donation I itemized the gift and directed it towards a need that is often overlooked by big donors. I have asked that my donations be used to fund textbooks for a low-income international student.
  • Tithing – I have not always been able to tithe, but now that I am working, I love being able to support our church activities. I honestly do not tithe 10% since I distribute my 10% giving allowance across my many passions. My church family is a central part of my life. A healthy church is a gift. I have also been very blessed to be a member of churches that support homeless shelters, food banks, and give scholarships.
  • Supporting family- when I got to college, I decided to help my mom by taking over financial responsibility for a few family members. I chose to pay tuition and provide a food allowance. The need is always greater than I can afford, but I firmly believe that we need to send as many kids to school as we can.
  1. No money – no problem – other ways to give

My mom can be annoying when it comes to preaching about giving and doing for others. Mom says money is not the most significant gift. Every time we talk, mom is running from one volunteer activity to another.

  • Time – I will never forget that my second Sunday in America (many may years ago) I showed up to the first Methodist church I found. My now host mom (had been host mom to a Zim student -my now adopted big sis-) asked if I could teach Sunday school. The Sunday school teacher had suddenly quit. I was happy to do it – what I did not know then was that children’s ministry never has enough volunteers, so I was stuck for four years lol. I didn’t mind. Every Sunday (and later Wednesday evenings) I committed 3 hours. Most parents are happy to have an hour of adult time, and they appreciate having a safe space to drop off their kids. I also learned a lot about America from the middle schoolers, so I was winning too.
  • Habitat for humanity: our church ran a lot of HH programs. We built a ton of houses for low-income families. If you have a habitat for humanity in your town, I highly recommend getting involved. You will learn a lot and have a ton of fun. I also bonded with one of my host moms during our many trips to various homes. A decade-plus later she put together our pre-marriage guide -see you always win
  • Leading volunteer trips- obviously I did not have money to pay for various excursions in college -duh – Zim inflation was in the billion trillion % at the time so yeah. But one free thing is being a team leader, or you pay a reduced rate. People hate leading trips because it is a lot of work! One of my best buddies and I led a trip to the Navajo valley and woow – what an experience. What an experience! I also interviewed for my Carter Center internship during that trip, and the hiring team loved the beat of the pow wow drums in the background lol -YOLO! I got the internship. That experience and that has opened to many doors in my life, including a weekend with President and Mrs. Carter for the husband and me a couple of years ago. I also made life long friends 🙂 our class had some of the best humans I have come to know and love.
  • Random volunteer things- try to give in ways that make you happy. Trust me – it is always worth it.

In summary

  1. Never ask for a discount from someone who needs the money when you can afford to pay full price
  2. Make financial giving a central part of your budget even if it is a small amount. If you are not sure of where to send money may I suggest
    1. The USAP school https://usapschool.org-also read their NYTimes feature here
    2. Local churches especially ones with a homeless shelter program and or a food bank
    3. Family members who need a financial boost
    4. Paying tuition for as many little boys and girls as you can
    5. Your alma mater
  3. Give your time – financial giving is just a small part of your giving life
    1. Instead of asking for a discount for services ask if you can exchange labor for a class
    2. Habitat for humanity
    3. Leading volunteer trips
    4. Children’s ministry
    5. Set up and breakdown at events
    6. Tutoring
    7. Big Brother Big Sister programs
    8. Food Bank – they always need people to clean up, organize the food and do deliveries

This week’s TV show suggestions because YOLO

Peaky Blinders

Into the badlands

Family Reunion on Netflix

Glow on Netflix

The funny or not funny JAniston and Adam Sandler movie

Four Weddings and A Funeral on Hulu

I am worried about my TV choices

How to not wake up in the middle of the night stressed over your big money goals

How to not wake up in the middle of the night stressed over your big money goals

P.S. there is a gift at the end so read all the way

 

Do you ever get up in the middle of the night stuck on some financial thought? That was me this morning at 3 am realizing that compound interest works against me if I am a borrower. Most of my friends between the ages of 30 and 40 are in this really intense life phase where everything seems to be happening for us at the same time.

 

 

  1. Finishing graduate school
  2. Moving to new jobs or looking for jobs
  3. Buying the first decent car because you have a new job in a place that requires driving
  4. Paying more rent because you are no longer living with roommates for a variety of reasons
  5. Paying student loans
  6. Buying the home
  7. Planning to go to graduate school which may mean leaving full-time employment
  8. Getting married
  9. Paying for weddings
  10. Starting a family however you do it
  11. Budgeting for the first year of childcare- the average in the U.S. is about $1,500/mo
  12. Planning for kid’s education for some of you- you have to pay tuition for the first 18 years, you want to send the kid to private school, and a lucky few are already looking at college costs phew
  13. Something that I may be missing

These are all BIG things. These are all things that cost a lot of money. These are possibly things that you can’t escape, so how do we make good financial decisions when faced with all these things?

 

This morning I was thinking about our five-year goal to buy a home and playing around with different scenarios. I really hate commuting. If we decide to buy a home in Wellesley or pretty close by and put down 20% to avoid PMI, then we need to save between $50,000 and  $100 000 -could be more. Greater Boston is where dreams of homeownership go to die.

 

Keeping with this example or whatever goal you have, I think there are a few things you can do to reduce anxiety and extend your sleep hours. Ignoring the future is an attractive choice, but I would not recommend it.

 

FIRST STEP: Write down the goal: buy a home in five years or buy a car in two years

 

SECOND STEP: Figure out how much you need – if you want a $500, 000 house you need a 20% down payment of $100 000

 

THIRD STEP: What are all the hidden costs (down payment + closing costs+ taxes + any immediate needs so about $136,000 when you sign)

 

FOURTH STEP: Calculate how much do you need to save each month to get  $136,000 in 5 years assuming an interest rate of 2% in a high yield savings account or money market – so to get that amount you will need to set aside $2,157/mo or $500/week or $71/day.

 

If you are looking to buy a car in a few years and want to save $6,000 for a down payment/cash payment you will need to save $245.20/mo or $57/wk or $8/day (you can achieve this by taking lunch to work instead of buying or cutting down on a your fav daily snack).

 

FIFTH STEP: Figure out if this fits in your budget. If saving for the down payment is straining you the actual monthly costs such as a mortgage or car payment might be too high.  You can then decide to aim for a smaller home or cheaper car.  Your monthly expenses will increase by the number in step 4, so do keep that in mind.

 

 

WALKING THROUGH SOME EXAMPLES

 

*For almost anything you can calculate how much of that item you can afford. There are plenty of good online calculators, and these are some of my favs

  1. How much house can I afford?
    1. From Dave Ramsey, Bank Rate(I love their calculators for a bunch of reasons) and nerd wallet. They all do the same thing, but I know some people love having options. Experts say you should not spend more than 25% to 30%  of your gross pay on housing (mortgage and all associated fees or rent).
    2. Mortgage cost – If the house you’ve fallen in love with is $500 000 this is what you need
      1. $100 000 down payment to avoid PMI (you can always pay less, but it is good to know)
      2. Decide on a loan length either 15 years (usually lower interest rate but you are paying a lot more per month)  or 30 years (slightly higher interest but overall lower payments over a super long time)
  • Closing costs – so many costs to think consider. Closing costs can be about 5% of the total value of your home. In less competitive markets, you can negotiate for the owner to pay the closing costs for you. In greater Boston, NYC I have read that sellers do not feel motivated to negotiate this way
  1. Does your city/ state offer any first-time homebuyer benefits?
  1. How many cars can I afford? Maybe you are still far from owning a home, but you are looking to get some new wheels. I also love the calculators and posts from moneyunder30. But the internet has a million options
    1. Cash or financing- most money people encourage you to buy cash, but sometimes you don’t have the money, or you are tired of the used cars that break down. I am not a fan of leasing because it is often the wrong choice for several reasons. – If you are financing you, need to know how much interest you qualify for and save for a down payment. If your credit score is excellent, you might not need to put any money down, but that just means you will owe more. For a new car with good credit, you can get 0% APR. Anything above 3% is a bad deal.
    2. You want a brand new $30,000 car ulallala – Everyone on earth probably has better taste in a car than I do. We bought a Nissan kicks. It is a basic car – if you want something fancy for say $30 000, assuming you have fantastic credit and get 3% APR you are looking at a monthly payment of at least $500.
    3. Hidden costs: buying a car as with a house and almost anything comes with hidden costs
      1. They might push extended warrant (If you buy a used car; this is a huge issue because the manufacturer’s warranty might be running out. A new car usually comes with a 7-year warranty or for 60 000 miles whichever comes first. If you buy a 3-year-old car, you have four years left on the warranty. If you buy a car with 40,000 miles, you only have 20,000 more miles of warranty. Most people drive an average of 10,000 miles a year just to give you an idea
      2. Registration and emissions fees – these vary from state to state and tend to be higher for a newer car. Everything is costlier in Massachusetts because our roads are paved in ice cream L
      3. State sales tax
      4. Floor holding fee- seriously some dealers will charge you for the time they held the car on their floor – What The Fork (do you watch The Happy Place- you should)
      5. Documentation preparation fees- you should not have to pay for this, but some dealers are cray cray
      6. Delivery fees – usually you can tell if there is a fee for this online –with all of these fees you can ask in advance
    4. Post buying expenses
      1. Insurance – a financed car comes with a higher cost for auto insurance – you can always call your provider beforehand to get an estimate
      2. Your town might charge additional taxes (Massachusetts I swear- we had to pay an additional $300 to the town Amherst because we bought our car from a dealership half a mile outside city lines)

Some music suggestions for this week

1. Taylor Swift is on my mind because her new album is out. London Boy  is unrealistic, and yet it is a fun song

  1. Sho Madjozi has a new song. I love that she mixes Swahili and Zulu – amazing stuff also check out the #johncena challenge
  2. Ishan has a new remix for Kure Kure– he may be trying to compete with the Old Town remixes for the most remixes of a single song

 

How to budget for emergencies when the emergencies never stop?

Emergencies -Yikes

Most financial gurus advise that you should have an emergency fund of at least six months of expenses. This is really good advice. However, I feel like the emergencies are expected to stop while I build my fund. As if there is a pause button that we can press then click resume when we are all saved up.

Maybe it is just me, but sometimes it does feel like the emergencies pop up every month, every week or sometimes every day. I am not thinking about black tax which I write about here because fixed bills are something that we can plan and budget for.

For those of us from communities where we are expected to help out family and friends, this means that we are continually responding not just to our emergencies but those of our family members and there we have a lot less control.

For our households  we can put several protections in place like

  1. Car insurance to cover you in case of an emergency
  2. Health insurance and the various FSA/HAS plans for health care emergencies
  3. Life insurance
  4. Short- or long-term disability

If we get sick (knock on wood) we will most likely not go bankrupt. If we are in a car fender bender, we are covered, but this is not the case for our families back home. For most of us in the diaspora or if you are the one earning a little bit more, you are the emergency fund.

There are no safety nets in most African countries – maybe I can speak to the Zimbabwean experience, but I know this is true for friends in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, etc. I read a recent blog post that said when you return home to the continent be prepared to be your own state providing electricity, clean water, and I would even add sometimes managing road construction.

The hard thing is that a lot of the emergencies that find their way into our phones are real emergencies. People get sick; people are in accidents (thanks to poor infrastructure and overcrowded taxis), parents are asked to top up tuition because the economy sucks. Someone finds themselves with a considerable shortfall for a life-changing opportunity because the economy tanked.

Let us list some acceptable emergencies for you to agonize over

  1. Health –
  2. Death – death is terrible and often unexpected even when it is it is honestly a crappy thing to deal with
  3. A home disaster like a fire or flooding – even in cases where one has good insurance payouts take a long time to come. This is just a terrible situation to find oneself in
  4. Job loss in a crappy economy

It is important that we also clarify things that do not count as emergencies for which you should feel 0% guilt for saying no to. Say no for any of these requests that come with a 48-hour window for your response.

  1. Wedding contributions- I will give a wedding gift, but I will not contribute to solicited requests for group funding. No one is required to get married. Literally no one.
  2. Tuition – for the child or the parents. Seriously, my mother was a cross-boarder trader who paid my tuition. No-school fees is not a surprise except if a parent dies, then I think God calls on us to support orphans.
  3. Trips – what is with all these never-ending church trips? If papa prophet wants you to take a trip, then he should pay for it. If you cannot pay for a trip, then it is not in your spiritual path to go on the trip.

  4. Baby things – I will buy a gift, but parents have nine months to prepare for a child unless the ask is for health-related matters then yes! Agonize and pray over this. We do not want babies to suffer.
  5. Fixing a broken car – yeah no
  6. Home improvement – def say no. Also, if you do not own a home, you have no business involving yourself in people’s home projects.
  7. Insert yours here

Of course, these are my lists. Even with these lists, I still agonize over the asks that come my way. The reason you need to have a list is so that you can quickly decide if the request is something you should stress over, especially when funds are tight. Do not take any debt to cover the non-emergency list because that is not a smart thing to do.

How do we budget for emergencies that are not ours?

  1. Set aside 10% of your income forgiving. It is your choice if you do so before or after tax. If you are in a position to give, please do give. It is very good for your mental health.
  2. Distribute your giving income between areas that you value – for me; it is church and family/friend emergencies.
  3. If you lose a parent or your parent is not well, you also have the option to borrow from you Roth, but this is the last resort. If it is within your means, get health insurance for the parents and some life policy.

How do we work towards saying no?

  1. This is hard, and there are no easy answers
    1. Write your $0 budget. If you do not have the money, you will not be lying if you say no
    2. Be honest with people on why you are not able to help at that moment
  2. If the above does not work, then make a list of who you can turn to in an emergency – if the list is blank then you really need to save up for that emergency fund.

 

On storage units, buying what we love and letting go of everything else

Spend money on things you love – also Storage units-what are those???

When we were moving, we looked around our house and asked how we managed to accumulate so much stuff in two short years. With every box, I swear we were shouting, did we buy that? Why did we need it? Moving with a ton of stuff sucks.

Pause: do you ever look around your house, apartment, room wherever you are and ask yourself when and how you bought this or that item?

I think we all do. We think we need certain things maybe because the advertising is good or we see everyone around us wearing item X, driving car Y and we talk ourselves into believing that we need that item.

Tunnel vision of scarcity

NPR’s Hidden Brain had an excellent podcast on something called tunnel vision. They said that one of the reasons poor people don’t always make good money decisions when they get a small windfall is because the scarcity stress is taking up too much cognitive energy. They are focused on the here and now and can’t see beyond their current scarcity.

I think the same thing happens to us when we develop a strong need for a product. We might even begin to see it everywhere we look. As an Apple user (please do not judge me- we are praying about this) I know that each time a new iPhone comes out or whatever gadget there is this tap tap tap sound in our brains that makes us think we have to get that item. A good friend of mine who is very tech-savvy says most people do not need a Mac. She told me that most of us hardly use the most basic functions that make the computer expensive so really, we would be just fine with a $300 computer as opposed to dropping $1,200 on an air book. We can also talk about brand loyalty later – because – ya!

Do you have a recent or old purchase that you really love? What is it?

There is no value in buying things we do not need

Storage units are a uniquely American business. Did you know this? I just read about it actually – that Americans are really the only people in the world who spend upwards of $120/month to store things they do not use. In our town, the tiniest storage units 5X5 cost about $89 a month. Yikes. That is over $890 a year to store things you do not need. If you keep it for 5 years that is $5,000. Is the stuff in there worth $5,000? You decide.

Nearly 10% of American households have a storage unit that is almost 300 000 households. According to a recent report from a real estate journal, there are more self-storage facilities in America than there are McDonald’s restaurants.  There were 48,500 self-storage facilities in America at the end of 2014, Curbed points out, compared to a mere 14,350 McDonald’s restaurants.

 

There are times when one might need a storage unit, e.g., when you are in between moves or when your life needs some adjustment, but for the most part we do not need to be spending that kind of money.

Another study found that American households own over 300 000 things. If we did a walkthrough of your home, you might find that you have not used half the things you own. And, that you do not even like most of the items. I am just as guilty. We moved a few months ago, and we had to do a serious purge of various items from kitchenware to random garden things, and we don’t even have a garden or like gardening – go figure!!

Purge: I am going to challenge you to do a purge. You can sell what you are not using or donate to a local church. There is always a family that could use your old couch, bed, or microwave. I promise your items will not be wasted. Giving will also make you feel great about yourself.

Something else: when you get rid of stuff, you create room in your home to breath. There is so much joy in living in a half-empty home. You will enjoy the space.

Before we go- There is great value in buying things we love and use often

Apple watches are great, but the value is in what you use it for. I try to jog every morning so a few years ago my husband got me a fit bit, but the functionality of that first Fitbit was not good for me, so it was not the best use of our money. However, he recently gifted me an apple watch, and this is honestly the best gift I have ever had. I can only wear plastic watches due to allergic reactions, so past fancy watches were wasted on me. I love logging my exercising from walking, jogging to yoga. I like knowing how many steps I have hit in a day, and I also like knowing how my heart is working. I believe gift-givers also enjoy watching us utilizing our new treasures. As for thFitbiter fitbit, I saw some of the parts in storage boxes the other day and my heart hurt for the wasted money.

Before you buy an apple watch or any gadget, ask yourself if you will use all the functions- if not you may be suited for a different, cheaper much cheaper product. If you do buy the apple watch, you can get the cheaper kind- you will still get all the functionality you need. That was my one condition with my husband- yes, I wanted the apple watch, but we would not spend a lot for it. I know he was heartbroken because he is not a big shopper and when he does, he has a very specific plan in mind, but I just knew I would enjoy the smaller one more. Here is to thoughtful spouses 🙂

Ok- get to purging. Tell me what you think about these posts. I don’t even know if anyone is reading this 🙁

 

 

Our Money, Our Love, Our Marriage, Our Unions and Our Partnerships

Our Money, Our Love, Our Marriage, Our Unions and Our Partnerships

Joint Accounts, Separate Accounts, Secret Accounts, No Accounts

I hope you find yourself somewhere in these stories. Apparently (at least in the US), more people- over 35%- are likely to divorce over financial issues than say infidelity.

So sad!

I hate to even write about this because a lot of my friends are newly married or dating wonderful people whom I believe will make amazing spouses. But, I also know from talking to a lot of people and my own experiences that money issues cannot be ignored. The sooner we address them, the better equipped we will be to find solutions when we find ourselves in a bind. So – journey with me.

Chipo’s evolving money story

Before I got married, I was a big fan of separate finances. I believed that women always get shortchanged in marriages. I grew up in a very patriarchal society where story after story was about cheating husbands, women who are left to start over from scratch after divorce, women who lose all their property after the death of a spouse, women who have to beg for household funds (including their salaries!).

I have also always felt that my mom like many women her generation brave enough to leave marriages that were not working for them gave up a lot financially and was forced to start over -including having to rent-Yikes! The death of my stepfather also exposed me to another form of cruelty that widows face. Beyond my story, I have also known friends who suffered financially because their mothers did not have personal wealth. I am forever grateful that my mom always worked hard to rebuild herself  – but surely, it must get exhausting. Always starting over. So I was sure that I would not want to join anything.

 

My husband (the handsome, sweet, caring person) was the opposite. Early in our dating days, he took me to the atm to show me his bank balance. This was back when Zimbabwe still had working ATMs. He grew up in a home where my parents in love (we are cheezy) shared everything. Dad brought the paycheck, and mom managed it. They are still very much like that- I love them. They sang at our wedding – how cute is that. They rehearsed for months- oh my! So many heart emojis.

 

Because God is a comedian, he threw us into a tough space early on. Initially, we took it for granted that after my Ph.D. I would move back home. Unfortunately, my teaching political science in Zimbabwe – was not possible. The dean flat out told me they do not hire foreign-trained PhDs. I hear things have since changed. We were also naïve and deeply in love (less naïve and still in love). My husband because he is who is made the dreadful move. He left his job, his career, his friends and joined me on a visa that would not allow him to work for at least a year. We had not put much thought into what this would look like.

 

Moving is hard. Moving and leaving your career behind is even harder, and love can’t always make it easier. It is human to find identity in the work we do. In the U.S. at every social event, the first question even before hello is always what do you do? This can kill someone’s soul. We also make friends at work, so if you are suddenly not working, it can feel like you have no purpose and you have no social circle.

I just listened to a great podcast on trailing spouses on the podcast uproot. Our story is not unique. In academia, the two-body problem is real, and expats face the same challenges all the time. A doctor, lawyer, teacher, or the journalist who finds themselves away from home in a country where they can’t work. It is tough.

 

In this new environment, I felt deeply for my husband and realized that my previous beliefs about the separation of money and love could not hold. By choosing to move for me, my husband had not only given up his income, but the gap in his CV was going to negatively impact his earning potential even after furthering his studies with another masters degree. I woke up one day and told myself that my income is our money. I have never had such clarity of thought about anything else. Before we got married, I had asked him what his dreams where, and he had mentioned things he wanted to do for his parents, and I had done the same. It became important to me that we achieve these goals. It is hard to enjoy life when your parents are not ok. I could never be married to someone who asks me to ignore my mother’s welfare. It was not easy, but it was what we needed to do, and I also realized that I needed to lead the effort. It is hard for people who have worked and supported themselves to ask or feel like they can make decisions about money when they are not bringing an income in the traditional sense.

It is a lot harder for men, I think. My husband like a lot of African men or men, in general, was raised with the understanding that his job would be to provide for his family materially. In my view, he was still providing by furthering his education, discussing things with me, sharing the household load, etc. but I understand that fundamentally this is not what he would have preferred. And – you know Africans talk a LOT — a whole other post on this.

 

Joint accounts with independent accounts

Eventually when we were both working, as many of my friends have shared we settled on having a joint account for our significant goals, an understanding of which checking account covers which bills and a pocket money allowance. It seems to me that many of my friends – men and women alike value having a side account for personal spending. I think this is important for folks who entered unions at an older age. We all bring responsibilities into our marriages, and it is ok to be able to deal with those things but with an understanding that the union has needs such as rent, bills, mortgages, etc.

All joint

A few friends married and dating shared that they prefer to have one account. A friend of mine said that this system encourages accountability. One friend living in Zimbabwe said it was just better to unite everything given the precariousness of the economy – you know where you stand. I like their explanation. For us given auto payments for work and my side business things I think my husband would develop an aneurysm from trying to understand what is going on.

Individual bank accounts (checking and savings)  and split bills

For some people it is imperative that they be independent – each person has their private accounts, and they split all bills in the middle. Many of the friends who responded to my short survey said this worked for them because they have different spending habits from their spouses. A couple in their 50s told me that at this stage where the major bills are clear, it is just better to do it this way- causes less headache.

Another friend shared that she has read too many stories of men stealing from women so she would rather be in control. If you listen to Christian podcasts, they will tell you that separate accounts are bad for marriage. I think that advise without context is wrong. What is bad for marriage is putting people in situations that make them fearful. Perhaps as a couple shares their fears and anxieties about money, they can find a more middle-ground approach.

Secret accounts

I used to think that only women have secret accounts but turns out even men do. At first, I was like secret what??? But as my mom explained to me, things happen. What are some reasons for secret accounts?

  1. Not being on the same page about family support. This is a big issue for interracial/intercultural marriages. My African friends married to white partners shared that sometimes it is just hard to explain why you need to send money to your great-grand cousin uncle. In those cases, they keep a little bit of money aside to avoid conflict. I would love to explore this dynamic more
  2. The other person is just horrible with money- someone said I love my partner, but their spending is bad for my future. A lot of people have real issues with debit- credit cards, gambling, etc. Their problem is not who they are, but it can put the union at risk. Read this crazy story about a Harvard Law School professor who unknowingly rented out his family home after almost selling the house. Crazy things happen!
  3. Lack of trust or fear from past relationships- my once married friends told me that they always want to feel secure. Sometimes the wounds from our past take a long time to heal, and maybe this is just what someone needs to feel safe.

So what is the best way of dealing with money in a relationship?

There is no one size fits all. An adult onesie for our issues would be great. Here are my thoughts though

  1. Be honest with yourself about what you like, your fears and what you prefer
  2. Be honest with your partner about all of the above
  3. Budget together – a written budget not an imaginary budget we are not in kindergarten
  4. Develop a set of goals for the union (e.g., buying a home, car, kids tuition, retirement) individual goals (e.g., furthering education, yoga, running, gaming)
  5. Agree on a plan to pay off debt
  6. Set up an emergency fund
  7. Contribute to individual retirement accounts and children’s education funds
  8. Buy life insurance
  9. What is left you decide – pocket money allowance, joint spending account, etc

*When your money is planned for, and the goals are clear, I think most of the money tension melts away like ice cream on the hottest day in Victoria Falls.

 

Hey friend- these things are hard. You are doing the best you can. No union is perfect, but you are perfect. We make mistakes, we learn, we grow. I am sending you love and light.

By the way: Not a certified financial advisor – these are just some thoughts 🙂 Let me know what you think