Diaspora, are you to blame for your financial misery?
Some people have lived in the diaspora for years or what feels likes decades, and yet they look around and feel like they have nothing to show for all those years of hard work. Some people feel disappointed that they have been working all these years and maybe sending money “home,” but there is nothing to show for this either. Do you sometimes feel like this? I know I used to.
The truth is sometimes we are caught in a web of comparing ourselves to false standards that do not represent our truth. Before I dive into the hard stuff, I want you to hug yourself and say –
I am wonderful. I am not a failure. I have done my best, and I will continue to do my best.
Seriously, do this.
Ok- so the other truth is that maybe we find ourselves a little frustrated by our financial situation because we have not done a few things right. If you have been sending money back home for two decades and the receivers are still in the same situation or expecting you to keep remitting, then maybe your financial strategies need to change.
Over the weekend, I had some intense conversations on remittances. To be expected. My research and that of others studying remitting behavior across Africa, in Mexico, various Caribbean countries shows that on average, you diasporians are sending more than the average monthly income in your home countries. That’s right. You are sending between $200 and $500 on regular months. Then you send more for emergencies and other random events. You may be sending/remitting between 3 and 10% of your income. Your money is making western union rich – Just kidding.
The reason that you are upset or feel some type of way is because it sometimes looks like you will never stop sending. A friend of mine said sending money home sometimes feels like flushing money down the toilet – ouch.
People will never stop asking for money so you, my friend, have to decide how much you are willing to send, for what reasons and for how long you will fund that expense.
Those of you supporting parents probably have to accept that since many of our developing countries have an awful welfare system, you the children will need to be the buffer. That said there are things that we can do to not only improve the lives of our parents but also manage the financial bill.
So here are some ten things to think about
- Do your parents have a permanent home? In the village or the city- paying rent long term will cripple your finances. If you do not like where your parents are living, consider a long term investment in the type of upgrades that will make a happy place.
A year ago or so I spent some time at a cousin’s house in rural Masvingo and woow. Just woow – the house was better than most homes in the city, and everything was about 90% solar powered. They had a borehole and a water tank drawing water into the house. I had the best shower of my life.
I have seen friends who choose to rent when they visit home because their parent’s house is not up to standard for their diaspora kids. I have also had some friends extend and improve their parent’s houses in high-density areas. You know your situation best, so plan accordingly.
- Do you have a plan for access to food? I was having the food conversation with my inlaws a while back when mom in law jumped in and said you don’t have to worry about us for food. Also- just to say my mom in law is incredible, she raised five wonderful men. Three are still single by the way JMy mother in law, and many of the women in her area are farming on a small plot of shared land. She grows enough maize/corn to last them the year, sweet potato (which she exchanges for labor), and they have a yearlong supply for vegetables. Instead of buying them food we invest in agriculture inputs, and each year the actual bill has reduced as she is modifying her seeds. We have also come up with a long-term plan to subsidize her labor costs.
I know others who are engaged in small scale chicken projects etc. The goal is to keep things manageable and support something that people have already started. If the idea comes from the diaspora, it will likely fail. Organic projects have a long shelf life.
- A significant expense for diaspora folks is school fees for siblings, nieces, etc. In most cases where the parents are late, you may need to keep this budget item until the child has completed their studies. However, if the parents are living, you will want to try and engage them. This type of conversation is hard, but this is something I have been actively working towards. I no longer accept “the father is useless” as an excuse. If he is living and breathing, I will find him and ask him to take care of his responsibility even if this means going to court or engaging in DNA tests. I am tired of our cultures, giving a free pass to absent fathers. I wish I had healthily engaged my relatives whose kids I supported to see if we could come up with a plan for me to help them help themselves. It is too late for me, but I hope this is not the case for you.
You will also need to have a post-graduation plan. Will the kids continue to University, find jobs, or start their own business? It should be made clear early on that not earning an income is not an option. Budget an extra year of school fees to use as start-up funds for their next stage of life. It is also vital to foster the spirit of giving back while they are young.
- Stop with the building projects. If you have been sending money for the last decade to build a house that is still at window level, it might be time to stop. I used to think building scams were a uniquely Zimbabwean problem but alas from Capetown to Cairo around to Jamaica and the Philippines it is a universal problem. You may be better off investing in a home in your host country/new home country or honestly just saving your money.
- Budget your money – my favorite sermon on giving was when our pastor told us that God does not like disorganized giving. If you are not planning your giving, then end up in debt -what you have done? Listen to me on this. Been there done that and never again! If you do not have – you do not have. Avoid financial emergencies by investing in small monthly payments for health care and funeral policies for key members of your family. Have an emergency fund but please stop creating crises for yourself.
- Do not borrow money to go home. Every year around Christmas, social media is awash with stories of folks taking out $5,000 loans to visit the home country. Look, unless you are going for a family emergency plan long term for the trip and wait until you have the money. Borrowing money with no way/ or resources to pay it back will make you miserable.
- Do not be a show-off. Stop using the money you do not have to buy gifts people do not want. Why are you clocking $3,000 on your credit card for t-shirts and sneakers? Does your 5-year-old cousin need jordans to know that you love them? Do you need to rent the flashiest car when you go home? BE SERIOUS –
This is also a message for me. I was the worst at this. I would spend and spend and spend unbudgeted money for gifts. People will be excited for 5 minutes before they start asking why you did not buy them this other thing.
Who are you trying to impress?
- Stop living a life you can’t afford. You are going home so now you want to spend $5,000 on new clothes? Look, I love treating myself but only if I have saved and can afford the new thing. In January, I did splurge a little on a new purse because I was feeling sad and wanted to cheer myself up. In my sadness, I still paid cash for it. I understand that sometimes we need a pick me up but not if that will make you miserable later. If you must- by yourself one special item and maybe don’t take it home. At our house beautiful things belong to everyone lol
Your family will not love you any less because you do not have the latest X item.
- Have you invested in your future? Do you have a retirement plan? Do you have a plan for if you get injured and have to stop working? What about if you get laid off? The western world is getting more and more expensive, and things do happen. We are human, not machines. When I interviewed nannies for a work project, job security was always a top concern. Many of our diaspora jobs do not provide a long-term cushion, so this is something we need to do for ourselves. Dear friend, please get yourself
- Life insurance – that covers death/repatriation and will live your loved ones, some cushion. Some even over disability cover
- A high yield savings account which can give you at least 2% interest
- Savings for at least five years after you stop working
- Invest in some technical training, an associate degree, or even returning to school full time. You are worth the investment
- Are you enjoying life?
The first time I went to England, my heart was broken as I saw the life of deep sacrifice that my mom was living to afford sending money home. I was hurt- deeply. I sent my mom $50 when I got my first paycheck- she laughed and said Pipo I am fine. I encouraged my mom to move into a nicer place and to start living a wholesome life. To take time off on weekends to attend church. To do one thing- just one thing that she loves. The people she was sending money to were living their best lives while her best life was being wasted in awful jobs and sacrificing joy. I speak to you as I would my mom – take care of yourself. Honestly, live in a decent place with heating. Buy healthy food, and you deserve that yoga class if that is your thing.
Diaspora do not be miserable
Great article, great advise. 5 years worth of savings though? :O