We Live Through Debt
How your childhood influences your relationship with money as an adult
What I hate about being broke or not having enough money is how emotional I become. These emotions are mostly fuelled by deep feelings of disappointment for living beyond my means month after month. There’s also the bit where I feel extremely disgusted with myself and end up hating every single item that is not a need that I bought in the past. I get angry, at inanimate objects.
This nerve-racking cycle lived with me from November 2016 when I got my first job to mid-2019 when I called me, myself and I to a meeting and decided that I’d had enough.
I’d had enough panic attacks at mid-month due to worrying about how I’d foot my bills.
I’d had enough of walking in the streets of Nairobi with exact transport money to get me home for the day. God forbid it rained during one of those days, or the makanga lies about how much the fare is in a bid to get me to board.
I’d had enough of carrying a debit card in my wallet that for sure had zero money.
I’d had enough of my terrible money habits that involved maxing out my debit account within the first week of the month.
I’d had enough of receiving those loan reminders from mobile money lenders. And mostly, I’d had enough of this weak willpower that would lead me to buy crap; mostly clothes and shoes that I didn’t need.
What hurt most is that at the time of purchase for each of these items, I knew deep within me that I could not afford them. How many pairs of shoes does one need anyway? How many pairs of jeans do you need yet you keep wearing just two of the fifteen pairs?
These accumulated disappointments in oneself often end up compounding to self-hate, and you don’t want to get there especially for stuff that’s within your control.
Before I started my journey to financial freedom, I had moments where I often quizzed myself about what might have led me to these poor money management behaviours. And just like a lot of people, I came to the conclusion that they stemmed from my childhood.
Here are a few scenarios from my childhood that I believe informed my views and influenced my behaviours;
I am blessed to still be friends with my primary school besties. In one of our girlie meetups, I told them about how as a child, I hated going to church on Sundays because all other kids in our church were always well dressed in nice shoes and beautiful, new clothes. I relied on hand-me-downs and it was quite a life-draining experience to watch one of my besties show up every Sunday in new shoes. She’d innocently tell me that her dad often travelled to Tanzania and would bring her new shoes and clothes. When I reminded her of this recently, she was in shock. She didn’t know that’s how it made me feel because in her world as a child, she was just delighted to have new clothes.
So when I grew up and finally had my own money, it was time to fill that void. I didn’t become a hoarder per se, but every time I wanted to add something to my closet, I’d remind myself that I grew up poor, that it was payback; I was buying both for now, and to compensate for the many Sundays I stared at other girls in church. That, friends, is why they say that money is emotional.
My mum was a primary school teacher. Educating my siblings and I was not the easiest thing, considering how little teachers’ pay is. Growing up I often overheard her complain about loan deductions on her payslip. I often wondered why this was a constant conversation over the years. Being a curious child, I asked mommy about it. ’ Tuturagio ni loan ‘ (We live through loans) was her reply.
As a teenage girl, that statement planted the seed in me that when it comes to money, the only way through is through debt. This played a role when I joined uni and applied for the student loan (Higher Education Loans Board).
Since nobody gives us the finance talk, in my mind I knew I was taking on debt; but I had no clue how it was going to get paid. Oh, I remember shamelessly thinking that if shit hit the roof and I was unable to pay, my mum would pay it since I listed her as a guarantor. She passed on before I finished my degree; tough luck!
The same lesson also played a role in my dangerous ping pong games with money lending apps between late 2018 and early 2019. I was so deep in the mud that at some point my name was forwarded to debt collectors. They’d often call to demand timelines of when I was going to pay back and threaten to list me in the mighty CRB. I suspect that I was listed, but I’m not sure and haven’t cared to check since I eventually saved myself from those debt fangs.
Family money relationships
I was adopted at seven years of age in a family that had a total of seven kids, I included. When it comes to money, we had dramatic days, every day. Three times in a day my mom and her husband would rile at each other about money, that she was asking for too much and too often.
And every other day they’d be at each other’s necks about money for other expenses. It was so bad that if mom, in a bid to spare herself from more arguments, sent you to ‘dad’ to ask for money, you’d prepare yourself for a minimum of one hour lecture. This was mostly about the economy, yet as kids, we didn’t understand what role the economy played in determining how much money he had.
He’d also tell us that were very needy kids, that he could not wait for a time in his life when he’d live through a day without being asked for money. I still can’t believe that the concept of bulk shopping for such a huge family never occurred to him in order to solve the bigger chunk of his problem.
Many years down the line, I still haven’t recovered from one scenario where I was sent to the shop to buy groceries. The change was two shillings, and since I was a very disciplined child, I had to give the money to the man of the house. I was standing outside his bedroom door, and knocked…
’ Baba, besha …’ (Dad, money…)
‘ Shiaki ningi?!!!!!!!!!! ‘ (What for?!!!!!!!!)
I trembled as I quickly explained to him that all I wanted was to give back the change. Money. Fear. Scarcity. Extreme Emotions.
Yet another family money story
I have an uncle that I truly admire for his kindness and sacrifice. He single-handedly educated his kids, nephews and nieces, and also played a huge role in my education yet he never had formal education past standard six. He’s the kindest person I know. As long as he has, he keeps giving.
When it comes to money, however, he did not save nor make any long term investments in his hay days. He once told me that he did not believe in saving, that he believed that through constantly blessing others with what you own, things will eventually work out for you. However mellow that sounds, money doesn’t work that way. And it did not work for him either. Without a safety net and no plan; he’s struggling with footing rent in his old age.
‘’No matter how tall your grandfather is, you have to do your own growing’’ African Proverb.
This is painfully applicable when it comes to adulthood and figuring out money. It’s tough, scary, nerve-racking, and takes time. The worst part? there’s no way to escape unless you’ve made peace with living with anxiety. I haven’t, and these introspective stories were my first steps in my liberation journey.
Do you have childhood memories that informed your relationship with money as an adult?