If you reside in or are susceptible to whelms of Western economic winds, read the writing on the wall. The public sentiment pendulum has swung to fiscal conservatism in a drastic bid to cut spending and the bloated deficits. The paucity of savings is a known fact but most people avoid dealing with this matter head on. Ignoring reality will not cause it to disappear for good. Some of us would rather dwell on issues we cannot change or claim victims of phantom circumstances than to take the bull by the horn and control our own destiny.
Take personal responsibility, we must! Saving for the rainy days and being more self-reliance will be critical in the coming decades. Those who plan to rely on the so called “entitlements” or social services or the kindness of strangers are going to be in for a rude awakening going forward or upon retirement. The current system is simply unsustainable, just ask most economists. Something has got to give: tax payers are averse to paying more taxes to fund runaway demand for social services.
The purpose of this article is to help you save more of your money and to enhance your quality of life. Every dollar saved can be invested to shore up your retirement nest and to invigorate others by teaching them how to fish as opposed to giving them fish. You know how true this adage is: “give a person fish, and the person eats for a day; teach the person how to fish and the person eats for life”.
Being someone who is fascinated by prudent use of resources and who believes in the lasting personal empowerment that stems from sound financial planning, it seems natural for me to write about good financial foundations. All the money in the world will not take the place of another human love and touch. Human love is the greatest thing, next to Godly love. That said, there is no denying the importance of personal savings. Per Agesilaus, “by sowing frugality we reap liberty, a golden harvest”.
Thoughts of penning this article and another one on early-age financial planning (for our children in Diaspora) have been endlessly replaying in my head like a musical tune that I can’t seem to forget; but every time I attempt to write down these Facts Of Life, something tells me not to bother. Until today, this insidious doubt kept telling me there ain’t no use expressing what every one already knows!
The truth of the matter is, I’ve had similar dialogues with myself on every topic I’ve written about. The feedback from you, the reader, has been overwhelming, humbling, motivating, and goading. So as long as I can and the feedback remains constructive and positive, I intend to keep writing about practical, personal issues the reader can take off the shelf and apply to her or his life to improve it. Each topic is researched and written with the intentions of “doing to others as I would like done to me” and to lend a hand in life right now, not in death or wake-keeping or eulogy when it wastefully becomes, as the Igbos say, azu anu uka or medicine after death.
I wish there were no need at all for these types of practical articles. But there are, maybe more than a few. For those who already know and practice the concepts I espouse, take them as reminders of the obvious. My motivation here is: If one person who truly needs them benefits from any of the topics, that itself would be a blessing to us all.
Whether you are financially endowed or not, there is something here the reader may find beneficial in this 4-part article.
Also, it is important for the reader to understand this was written from an American perspective, where I’ve resided more than half of my life. That said, let’s proceed.
Many people confuse making lots of money to having lots of money or being wealthy. Few things can be farther from the truth than that myth. Most people over-spend that is why lasting wealth is concentrated in hands of a few people in every society on earth, including the United States. For example, a majority of multi-million dollar lottery winner go broke within 7 years of hitting the jackpot. For looters of public treasuries, the funds become curses instead of sources of joy. Also, most sport figures who earn high income in their playing years end up retiring in poverty. The reader may have heard the saying, it is not how much one makes that counts; it is how much one saves that matters.
For some of our brothers and sisters both inside and outside Africa, the concept of making, not to talk of saving $1,000 is, unfortunately, too far-fetched. For the wealthy folks who the thought of saving $1,000 is so infinitesimal (because they spend more than more than that on one of their pets), bear with me, for there are people to whom $100 (not to talk of $1,000) would transform their lives for the better. Please reach out to some of these fellow human beings and help make their world a better place via your generosity. You’d be glad you did! Attest to why, “it’s better to give than to receive”.
Let me dispel another myth: saving money is not synonymous with depriving one’s self of the good things life has to offer. Rather, it is about cutting down on wasteful spending and preserving resources for one’s own use later when (not if) the real need arises. “Thrift means that you should always have the best you can possibly afford, when the thing has any reference to your physical and mental health, to your growth in efficiency and power”, per Orison Swett Marden. Your money is yours or Kobo nko naka(sp), as Cyprian Ekwensi wrote in African Nights Entertainment. You save to cushion yourself and dependents against the bumpy road of life. Without adequate savings as your shock absorbers, you are bound to feel all and any pothole on your path. So Kobo nko naka everyone!
It’s no coincidence that those who can least afford, say the cost of repairing their cars, are the ones more likely to ignore preventive (money-saving) maintenance on their vehicles. That may be why the Books says, “it shall taken from the poor and given to the rich”. You don’t have to agree with this reverse Robin Hood or capitalist mantra; it is just the way it is. One has to understand it to “PROACT”.
Some parents buy the cheapest things (that don’t last or are not as safe or as comfortable) for their children and themselves thinking they are saving money. They are not! Sending your child to school all day in a cheap, uncomfortable pair of shoes is wasteful and painful. Instead, buy your child nice comfortable shoes to grow and learn in; active children wear their shoes and clothes so much that they need to be very comfortable. Hand-me-down and cheap shoes can damage your child’s feet and cost you more in medical bills down the road while downpressing your child’s emotional well-being. You see, saving enriches while wasting begets more wasting. Also, it’s critical to choose the safest (not cheapest) childcare facility for your precious child.
People (especially children) are like any liquid, they take the shape of the container (environment) they are in. Clement Stone said it well, “be careful the environment you choose for it will shape you; be careful the friends you choose for you will become like them.” So think safety first before you choose your residence. Pick the safest part of town you can afford; don’t base your choice on low rent, mortgage, taxes, or proximity to other Nigerians or your workplace or how big the house is. Rather consider crime statistics, quality of schools, parks and trails, medical facilities, environmental conditions, prospects of natural and man-made disasters, and the overall quality of life of the community, city, State, or even country. As the quote implies, you can’t raise your children in a sub-par environment and realistically expect great outcomes. Again, anything can and does happen anytime and anywhere, but we have to do our part to turn the odds in our favor.
Consider replacing your 8-year plus refrigerator with a new or barely used Energy Star unit and save up to 35% of your electric bill. Behind your air conditioner(s), refrigerator used the most electricity. Using your old fridge as a spare in your garage is a huge mistake people make. In the garage, the old inefficient fridge works harder and consumes more energy than your savings from buying food in bulk and storing it in the garage refrigerator or freezer. Clean the coil of your fridge and unplug vampire appliances and use compact florescent bulbs (CFBs) to save more in electric bills.
Review your bills (telephone, cable, credit cards, insurance, mortgage, etc) for errors. You will be amazed how much in over-billings you will catch and correct, saving yourself money. Technology has not eliminated billing errors, in fact, it has exacerbated them via paperless billing, complicated statements, and outright nickeling and dimming by many businesses.
Don’t sign up for paperless billing, if you can avoid it. It behooves you to catch these “intentional” mistakes and have them reversed pronto.
Cut down on meat consumption. Though plentiful in America, meat is expensive and when consumed in excess it can also be detrimental to your health. For years, I made several 8-hour trips from Austin to a farm in Mansfield, Texas to buy tasty goat meat and processed chicken. Each trip I spent upwards of $750. About 4 years ago, my family stopped that wastefulness, not only for the money but to reduce our meat consumption. Nutritionist and author Dr. Joel Fuhrman is “predicting that we’ll see more people dying of breast cancer, pancreatic cancer and colon cancer, and dying at even younger ages” due to people eating too much animal products (meats) and not enough natural plant foods. Nigerians everywhere like to consume lots of meat and processed oil and want to be fat to show evidence of good living. Being fit and slim is tough abroad but we should know better.
If you are a drinker and/or smoker, you’re already aware those are expensive and detrimental habits. The Heineken, Guinness Becks, and wines and whiskeys and cigarettes are not cheap financially and health-wise. A good friend will take his or her friend to the gym, bike ride, golfing, or to play soccer, instead of hitting the bottles or over-eating so often. With good saving and working habits, one can afford to choose smoke-free and healthy workplace.
Be your own gardener: It may have been in fashion to have a landscaper and someone to scoop your dog’s poop in abundance times. But those days are gone now. Enjoy mowing your own grass. Invest in a Honda lawnmower. This saves you $25 to $100 every time the grass is cut and edged. Make it a family exercise affair but watch your children around sharp mower blades. Unless there are health reasons why you can’t maintain your yard via sweat equity, do it yourself and save a minimum of $300 per year. I am my own gardener.
Wash your car yourself. Instead of going to a car wash and spending $6.50 to $25 for each wash, do it yourself. Even at $6.50 per wash and 2 times a month, you will save $156 yearly.
Better yet, ask your vehicles dealership if you (not everyone else) can be provided a free car wash perk for your business, regardless of if your car needs work or not. This may be worth it if you reside or work near your favorite car dealership. Mercedes Benz of Georgetown, Texas, offers this great free service to Benz drivers regardless of the age, model, or where the Benz was first purchased. It is not advertised, but if you drive up there in your Mercedes, watch as their friendly employee springs to action and have your vehicle washed and returned to you in no time, no questions asked. You have to know (or ask for it) to be able to take advantage of such freebies.
Buying your teenage driver and yourself the safest, not the cheapest or most fuel-efficient, vehicle you can afford is wise. Vehicles with the highest miles per gallon fuel consumption are usually smaller in size. Think safety first, not just MPG (miles per gallon), regardless the price of fuel. No vehicle is 100 percent safe, but every parent must do the parent’s best first, while asking God to do the rest.
Rather than dangerously downsizing your (or going into more debt to buy a new) vehicle to conserve fuel, adopt these easy and life-preserving recommendations by the Consumer Federation of America to maximize fuel economy. These estimated savings are based on $3.85 per gallon fuel price:
Properly inflate your tires and save — ….11 cents per gallon
Keep your vehicle tuned-up and save — 15 cents per gallon
Replace dirty air filter and save — — — ….68 cents per gallon
Proper wheel alignment and save… — …39 cents per gallon
Smooth acceleration and stopping… — ..68 cents per gallon
Resting foot on the brake wastes…….$1.35 per gallon (few people do this)
Slowing down by 5 MPH on highway can save you 27 cents per gallon.
Also read Part Two