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When you grow up in a household where money is the great unmentionable, it takes a lot of hard work and discipline to start the conversation with yourself.
By Liziwe Ndalana
“Money is tight” is a phrase I grew up hearing. My stepdad said it whenever we asked him for money for sweets.
He was a lovely man who loved us as his own, and we even had a nickname for him. Mmal’ayikho, meaning there is no money or money is tight.
As a middle child, I grew up hearing my older siblings call him mal’ayikho and I joined in. It was not until a few years ago, before he died, that I really understood the meaning behind his nickname.
I asked my mom why did we call him that, and she said whenever my siblings asked him money for sweets, he would say ima’layikho (there’s no money). By the time I was old enough, money was never talked about at home.
I grew up with no money or not seeing a lot of it, and even when it was there, no-one mentioned it. It was just a tool for us to do things with, but not worth discussing. This led to me believing that money is and will always be scarce or limited.
When I started working, the bulk of my first salary went into buying myself clothes for my graduation. It was a big deal for me. It felt like a lot of money, but it also felt like it was not enough.
It was a whirlwind of spending and I remember the short-lived joy it brought me. That was the beginning of my rollercoaster relationship with money. I’ve always felt a bit of a dread that money would disappear as soon as it appeared in my bank account.
In fact, that’s what I used to do: rush to spend all the money before it disappeared. It was such an emotionally exhausting process.
It took me years before a shift began in my mind on how I see money. I learnt about budgeting and living within my means. The latter is still a challenge because of the additional strain of helping my family with my limited income, since I no longer have full-time employment.
I also had to draw some boundaries as far as helping family is concerned. I also learnt to save for a specific goal in mind. This has helped me to manage my money better in the past few years.
This goal-orientated saving has helped me see money as an empowerment tool. It taught me the importance of prioritising. Whenever a goal is realised, I learn that it’s not how much money you have, but it’s how you use it.
Psychologically, I had to work hard at debunking the myth that money is never enough. Money is enough to do what I need to do when I set specific goals with time-frames. I am still practicing this.
Now I decide what is important and what is urgent. I also prioritise debts and try not to stay with debt for too long. I’ve learnt about the importance of paying off my debts early to avoid paying excessive interest.