Book: The Smart Money Woman
Author: Arese Agwu
Zuri panicked as she shook her head and stared at her “little above 80k naira” account balance. To some, this won’t be a big deal but her expenses told a whole different story. She lived in the salary cycle and she was still in the middle of the month. She earned 600k a month after taxes from her job as a Senior manager of a real estate firm, so it all didn’t add up. She stared at the letter from her landlord detailing her 430k service charge bills for the last quarter. She was also just informed she had fibroids and it would cost 950k to take out. She lived in a 2 bedroom serviced apartment in Lekki and drove a second hand Mercedes ML500 which was great till the engine started acting up.
How could she explain to anyone that she was flat broke?
Her best friend Tami stopped by and Zuri tried to talk about her gbese in the midst of their conversations
“Girrrl, if you had a man, all this would be story.”
Tami was an extrovert, a caramel-colored skin charismatic social butterfly with a petite frame. The kind who knew 80% of the people at parties. People were drawn to her. She had a never date married men policy but the men she did go out with definitely had to be rich and be in a position to take care of her high maintenance lifestyle.
She shook her head at Zuri “Honestly you need to get a man. You need someone to support you. All this independent woman nonsense you’re doing is what will get you in trouble. I’ve always told you your parents let you stay in obodo oyinbo too long. Living abroad for so long is what has got you thinking like an oyinbo woman. This is Nigeria, so you better start behaving like an African woman.”
After Tami left, Zuri wondered if she was truly naive or overly conservative. Was it wrong to think that there was something fundamentally wrong about trading sex for money? The problem with relationships like that was the power dynamics. Money often became a weapon and she didn’t want to be controlled. She thought of her ex boyfriends and why the relationships didn’t work. Folabi was arrogant and lacked ambition/direction while Paul was a liar and a wannabe with a fake life.
Zuri shook her head trying to clear her thoughts. But it was funny how a conversation about money always turned into a conversation about men. It seemed like something was culturally entrained in African women, the idea that money was not fundamentally a woman’s issue – it was a man’s role to worry about finances. If a woman “tabled” the matter of money troubles with her friends, the solution was almost always find a man to look after you.
Zuri was certain that a man was not the answer to her problem. She was smart, educated and her future was bright. “I gat this” she said, trying to psych herself up.
Zuri couldn’t sleep. A solution was not forthcoming and the problem was not going away. She weighed her options, considered loans and even considered asking Folabi. She got to work late, fumbled through her presentation. Her money problems were rubbing off on her work.
Her boss, Mr Tunde wondered if he made a mistake hiring a returnee. This was his problem with returnees, they thought they were too smart. As far as he was concerned, they all thought that their fancy degrees were all they needed. They expected fat salaries, no real experience, just fone and their degrees. He was sick of it. They had no work ethic. He believed in Zuri when she first joined the company. She had been impressive, sharp and had a personal allure that made her a hit with clients and senior partners. She even closed a hundred million naira sale right in front of him but in the past 18 months, he’d felt as though her star was more than just a bit tarnished. He felt like her unofficial mentor. He even nominated her to attend WIMBIZ but she always had excuses.
He called her into her office after a drab presentation she had given, and shared his disappointment about her presentation. He cautioned her about her overall performance and even laid a subtle threat about firing her if things didn’t change. He informed her that he nominated her once again for WIMBIZ and this time he wanted a full report and no excuses.
She made a mental note to do better and headed home. As she fumbled with her bag to get her house keys, Mr Okeke, her landlord, approached her and demanded his money accompanied with derogatory remarks “…You are very stupid. I don’t blame you – I blame the artisto that paid your rent. All you small girls that will be sleeping with big men for money, then come to Lekki Phase 1 to pay rent you cannot sustain. I’m sure you have quarreled with the baba you were sleeping with that’s why you can’t come up with the money…”
Zuri stares at him in utter disbelief as he continued to rant “Mr Okeke, it’s enough! I didn’t kill anybody. I owe you and I’m telling you, I will pay! When my salary comes at the end of the month. I will pay half of what I owe and find another means of paying the rest in the next couple of weeks. I’m sorry I put you in this position but please don’t ever speak to me in this manner again. That I owe you is not license for you to disrespect me!
Mr Okeke was too dumbfounded to say anything as Zuri unlocked her door and got into her house. Later that night, Zuri asked her mum for a loan of 500000 but her mum was not in a position to help her out. Zuri stared at her bank balance for the 100th time and finally understood being completely and utterly broke. Her version of broke stemmed from being bad with money. She had worked for 8 years and had no assets to show for her hard work, no land, no stocks, nothing to fall back on when things got bad and things were disastrous.
On Saturday morning, Zuri decided to approach her financial situation as she would approach a task at work – logically! She sorted all her bank statements according to dates and used her highlight pen to categorize her spending. Blue for meals, pink for accessories, green for car etc. The whole process led to a depressing realization – she was spending mindlessly. She spent hours analyzing the statements. Her bank statement painted her an an obese alcoholic with an unhealthy bag addiction who owned enough asoebi to open her own mall.
She decided to categorize the data into her six biggest spending categories- rent, utilities, food, transportation, wardrobe and other. Her rent was her biggest expenditure. Her utilities came to almost a million naira per year. Her car was fizzling money too. Her wardrobe, especially her shoes which cost an average of 180k was also a big expense. Her statement was ludicrous. Her shopping pleasure was costing her. Zuri stares at the excel sheet on her MacBook and was overcome with an odd mix of fear, annoyance, depression and excitement. She needed to get serious about her finances and be disciplined. Her thoughts were interrupted by a loud knock from her gateman, who had come to deliver an asoebi gift pack from Abena and Tayo’s wedding which cost 30k. She wasn’t even that close to Abena. She called Tami to rant but Tami told her how she was on Abena’s train and was required to spend almost 300k factoring the Sophia Webster shoes Abena had insisted on for her bridesmaids.
As Zuri got off the phone she made a list of all the things she had to quit spending on to be able to pay her debt, starting with her gym membership. She put a ban on her shopping spree and figured out how to cut her spending by 50%.
Zuri was excited about her social life for the first time in weeks. She was having her girls over and instead of going to a restaurant, she told them to each bring something to contribute to the dinner. At dinner, her friends admired her flat, talked about her single life and their lives in general. The conversation switched to her friends: Adesuwa, and her husband Soji, who was heavily dependent on her as all his businesses were not going well. Lara was an oil and gas trader with big pay and an amazing job that took her around the world but her family responsibilities often took a toll on her. Ladun was a housewife who collected a fat paycheck monthly from her husband and Tami was from a rich home, with several “potential boos” taking care of her. She did her business for fun. They talked about money and shared their different perspectives. “guys do you ever think of where all your money goes?” Zuri asked “…it dawned on me the other day that a lot of my money goes into things that are not necessarily at the top of my priority list”.
“Girl I can relate” Lara said “Between hospital bills for my mum, school fees for my siblings, my financial obligations are a nightmare. I can’t even afford to go on a holiday or buy a new car but they are my responsibility so what can I do?
“I’ve never really thought about it” Ladun said “I don’t work o but Bode gives me a healthy allowance but I can’t really tell you where it goes specifically”
“Shopping!” The rest of the girls laughed in unison
“Mehn, I’ll have to say weddings and I’m also addicted to good hair” Tami said. They all laughed and nodded in agreement except Adesuwa.
“the bulk of my money goes to Soji and his family members” Adesuwa said and burst into tears. Her friends tried to console her and speak sense into her. They told her she babied him too much but she got defensive so Zuri changed the topic.
She noticed that conversations with Tami about money were never really about saving, investing or business. They were geared towards spontaneous trips, holidays, designer shoes etc. Zuri considered her friends after they left and wondered “what do we want our money to do? She had never really articulated what she wanted the money she earned to do for her
Zuri had convinced Lara to come for Banke’s son’s first birthday. Babe had looked for a boy and self inflicted pressure on herself in spite of the fact that she had 3 girls. Lara searched for Zuri and found her with Chinansa, the girl who feigned innocence to ingratiate herself into the social stratum of Lagos but in reality, she was a gossip. She had just told Zuri about Banke, and her inability to afford the bills for this birthday and while Zuri and Lara took a bathroom break they met her telling some men and asking for advice on whether or not she should take a deal from Banke. Zuri was so disappointed in Chinansa and wondered how she never saw through her in the past.
As Zuri got home, she prioritized her debts according to her urgency and made a repayment schedule. She paid off from her salary but she needed more money. She sold off her designer bag through luxury concierge and sold off her car through her mechanic, promising to pay him for his services after the sale is made. She called her doctor and he told her her fibroids were not aggressive.
Not too long after, Aunty Uwa called Zuri to inform her that there was a fire accident in her mother’s house, luckily her mother inhaled little gas but nothing fatal happened. Zuri collapsed in relief and ended the conversation with her aunt as she tried to focus on getting ready to go to work.
When she got to work, an impromptu meeting was called. Mr Tunde laid off 25 people as a result of a precarious position the company was in due to a mixture of market forces, CNN policy and new banking regulation. After the firing spree, he had requested to see her in his office. Her heart pounded. He had fired Obiangeli an efficient hardworking staff who was almost faultless. He had complained about her mediocre work so she feared he would fire her but at the meeting he said he needed her to step up and present to potential investors – Zuma Capital, to convince them to invest in the company tomorrow. He emphasized how important the pitch was and how it would go a long way to prove that he did not make a mistake keeping her.
On the day of the presentation, Zuri got to the meeting 20 minutes late because of the rain-induced traffic. “I’m so sorry I’m late” Zuri said as she looked apologetically at the Zuma Capital delegates: Folake, Ebuka and Tsola. As Zuri fumbled with the projector Tsola grew impatient “We would appreciate it if you could hurry up. We have several meetings to get to and we are already 20 mins behind as it is”
Zuri apologized and kickstarted the presentation. Tsola watched the presentation and profiled Zuri. She looked like the kind of girl who got away with a lot because of the effect she has on men but women like her needed to learn to use their brains not their good looks. “Listen madam, enough with the features, we get it. I have 3 more meetings and a flight to catch at 6. Lets get to the important stuff”. Folake interjected with a look at Tsola rephrasing his words a bit more kindly.
Zuri was irritated but she tried not to show it. She hated when someone older called her madam. It was condescending. She could sense he thought she was just a pretty face with no depth but she was ready to prove him wrong. “I apologize Mr. Preware. I was only trying to familiarize you and your team with the features of the development so you could get an understanding of our USP and put the valuation in context. I’ll skip right to the details.” Zuri went ahead to blow them away with her amazing presentation and her boss commended her. The meeting concluded with the Zuma team agreeing to discuss more on it and make a decision.
Rights after the meeting Zuri headed to the airport where she was later informed that her flight had been delayed. While at the airport, she bumped into Tsola. He was heading to Benin too on the same flight. He invited her over to the VIP lounge. They talked freely and Zuri felt comfortable sharing. She spoke about her mother’s fire incident. “do you have insurance?” He asked “insurance, ke?” Zuri said laughing “Insurance is a waste of money in this part of the world. They don’t pay, or they won’t pay anything significant.”
“That’s a myth!” Tsola said. “Insurance is a great way to protect your asset”.
Zuri went on to tell him how broke she was, her debt and her financial turmoil. As she spoke Tsola observed her and found her brand of awkward sexy. He wanted to shake her and tell her to wake the hell up. She was brilliant but not maximizing her earning potential. She was focusing on the wrong thing. She needed to figure out what she wanted. The real issue was – she had not articulated what she wanted the money she earned to do for her and her resources had been dragged in several directions. She was the kind of person who could go on an unplanned trip for fun even if she had bills to pay. The question was – was she maximizing her earning potential?
“Do you have something to write with?” Tsola asked. “When you get home tonight, write down what your perfect day would look like. “Describe the life you want. Read it again, extract 3 goals you can possibly achieve this year. Write down what would help you achieve them within a set time frame.i.e what actions would you have I take to smash the goal. It could even be something like, you want to go in holiday in the summer – how much would it cost, how long would it take to put money aside? What steps would you take to achieve these goals? You can start with 3 goals per year” Tsola said. “However, I usually set three goals per quarter for myself and three goals per quarter for my business. Start with three and build from there.
As they landed in Benin Zuri listener to Tsola talk about his ambitions and dreams and they were very contagious. As they parted ways at the airportZ she knew she was smitten.
At Aunty Uwa’s house where her mum was squatting, Zuri are her favorite dish. Ogualigho. Not long after. Aunty Grace, her mother’s friend visited. She exchanged pleasantries and soon after asked Zuris mother for a loan to clear her goods from the port. She sniffled as she asked and Zuris mother, overwhelmed with pity gave her a fraction of the money her children had contributed to help fix her house. Zuri attacked her mother’s gesture reminding her how Aunty Grace never paid all the loans she had given her in the past and worse off, Aunty Grace didn’t even show empathy for Zuris mother and her burnt house. Her mother rebuked her and avoided the topic.
Zuri returned to Lagos and got invited by Lara to hang out at RSVP. She ran into Tsola at RSVP and her friends noticed their chemistry. She filled them in on the happenings at the airport and flight with Tsola and Lara shared her disappointment in Zuris money habits. She spoke to Zuri about her approach and advised her to split her money into 3 accounts – one for bills, one for long germ savings and one for spoiling herself. She also spoke to Tami about how unrealistic it was to wait for a rich husband to provide financial security. “but seriously guys we need to start having more conversations about our goals and dreams and the money that will help to fund them”. They all laughed.
Zuri finally attended WIMBIZ with low expectations. Lara and Ladun were nominated by their office and Tami had found one of her rich toasters to pay for her. Lara has told them WIMBIZ was what you made of it but to Zuri, it was all hype.
By the end of the third panel discussion,Zuri was a bonafide convert. She even signed up for the speed mentoring sessions. Ijeoma, the woman who she met in the restroom, an Ogi entrepreneur had told her “Just remember, each mentor is probably going to meet at least 20 prospective mentees, so do your best to be memorable. Lead with highlights, the thing that make you memorable. You want to engage them in the first few minutes. Don’t be boring.” Zuri had internalized the advise, so much that she won the heart of her mentor, Mrs Abafo-Williams. They caught every break time. She also attended the Money Makeover break out session with Omosede. The keypoint was – Don’t save to spend, save to build. All the lessons she had learned from Tsola and Lara came together in this room.
“We all have X amount of productive years to work and earn a living. If you can’t find a way to save and invest towards asset that will provide you with an income when you have the ability to earn, what happens when you are 69 and you’ve spent all the income you’ve ever earned? We all hope we’ll earn more money, make that huge transaction that will make us billionaires, but ultimately what’s most important is our money mindset. The way we thing about money. Ultimately, what makes us wealthy is not how much we earn but how we systematically use a proportion of the income we earn to build assets that pay us over time”. When Omosede finished, her last words were followed by an enthusiastic applause from attendees. Zuri wanted to speak with her but too many people gathered around Omosede. She couldn’t wait because she had a meeting with Zuma Capital. She headed over to the office and Zuma Capital signed the deal with her company. Tsola invited her out for a drink and explained that he wanted the deal to go through before asking her out on a date. She told Tsola all about WIMBIZ and her connection to Omosede. Tsola offered to get her a one-on-one with Omosede and gifted her a money journal. They spent the evening talking about their childhood, dreams, goals and ambitions.
Soon after, they started dating. Two months after they started dating, news reached them that Ladun’s husband, Baba had died. The immediate family mourned the loss of Baba and the lifestyle they were now accustomed to. Baba’s brothers and family members fought Ladun hard to possess everything. They even took over his business and were running it down. It all felt straight out of a movie to Ladun but Zuri was familiar with this scene. Her mother had experienced similar tortures but they had Aunty Uwa and other relatives on their side who helped them retain properties. Baba had lots of debts and since his brothers took over the business, it had been bleeding cash. It was surprising that they still insisted on a big funeral. The bank had foreclosed their properties to recover the money Baba had borrowed.
Ladun knew she had to brush up her resume or start a business but first she had to forfeit some of her pre-planned expenses to save money for more important things like her children’s education. First on her chop list was the summer holiday. Life as a pampered housewife which she had mastered for 10years was over.
Zuri looked at Ladun as she walked away with Tsola, she noticed that Ladun looked gaunt. Tragedy would do that to you. She wondered how she and the family were coping. Families need to have real conversations about money. The only time they seem to, is when the breadwinner dies and leave their money situation in tangled mess…no will, accounts, property all over the place, debt no one knows about. No matter how many times we hear these stories about families going into financial ruin after the death of a patriarch, nothing ever changes. Rich, poor or in between, nobody writes a will. There is so much superstition when it comes to discussing family finances and it doesn’t even make sense. Zuri shared with Tsola. He shook his head and spoke about how people make their next-of-kins siblings and not their spouses or kids. Adesuwa chimed in “Soji and I never talks bout money without tension”. She shared how he splurged without an explanation and turned it into a fight whenever she asked. Tsola tried to advise her to open a separate account and deposit only a percentage of her earnings into the joint account, instead of the 100% of her income she was currently depositing. As always, Adesuwa got defensive and everyone backed out.
Sojis driver called Adesuwa later that night to complain about Sojis car’s fuel depleting. She headed to the ATM to withdraw some money for the bill and was greeted with “insufficient funds”. She checked the joint account balance and the account had been wiped clean. Soji was not reachable and she couldn’t ask his mum because the woman hated her and often chastised her about being too proud because she was the bread winner, about being an unbeliever and questioned why they didn’t have a second child. Adesuwa looked at the flashing ATM screen, she had just gotten paid, how could she have 4 naira 80 kobo. She dialed Soji frantically but no answer.
She walked back to her car, tear streaming down her face as she wrestled with accepting the truth. Soji has taken all their money and abandoned her with his business debt.
Tsola kept his promise to Zuri and got her a meeting with Omosede. They talked about Zuri’s investment history. “The thing is you have to have a more patient attitude to investing. The typical Nigerian is looking for that next big deal to make a killing. They want to “hit”, so if someone is talking about 4% return they say “what’s the point it’s too small, but the point of that kind of investment is compounding interest – basically making interest on interest already earned. The key is to start early and stay consistent.” Omosede spoke about asset classes and the return-risk relationships. “Let me tell you a secret: the wealthiest people in the world make relatively simple investments. They typically invest in things that they understand.”
“What is your net worth?” she asked Zuri. Zuri didn’t know, so she broke it down for her. She taught her about propoeties and stock investments. “Youwork in real estate, so you are aware of growth areas. Start there”. She advised. “anyway we are skipping a few steps. Let’s start with the basics. What’s your monthly income and how much disposable income do you have to invest? Establish your investment goals and devise an investment strategy to achieve those goals. There’s no one-size fits all approach to investing. Everyone has different financial obligations, earning potential and risk profiles. Omosede explained it all with examples and Zuri realized wheat Omosede was trying to reach her “So basically what I invest in depends on why I’m investing and where I need to be with money and cash flow”
Omosede asked Zuri why she wanted to invest and Zuri replies “I’ll like to own property and start building a stock portfolio but I would also like to go on holiday and I need a new car.”
Omosede advised her to prioritize and start slowly. Your strategy can be as simple as: I want to own a property in the next 5-10 years, I have found land that costs one million. So, I will put 20% of my income in a money market fund towards reaching that goal. When I’ve bought the land, I’ll start investing that 20% in a mix of stocks and treasury bills until I have 2m to put towards developing the property. The thing is, ideally what we want long term is for you to build a diversified portfolio and devise your asset allocation. You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket. You can decide what percentage of your income goes to each asset class.”
Zuri filled forms and discussed more with Omosede. It was one of the best things she had ever done for herself.
She headed to Tsola’s apartment after the meeting. He had invited her over to make up for all the times they had lost due to his business schedule. He outdid himself with this date. The terrace he setup looked like it was straight out of a romance movie. There were candles everywhere and Chef Fregz stood gloriously in his white chef outfit like an angel. When he served him the meals, they tasted heavenly. He lived up to his hype. She had been obsessed with him and Tsola knew. It was so beautiful. She shared details about her meeting with Omosede and her intent to save towards building a stock portfolio. Tsola was impressed. She added that she wanted to get a BMW like Lara and Tsola replies “ Zuri. that’s silly. You just got out of debt. You want to go back?”. His statement touched a nerve. Zuri felt he spoke to her like she was a child. She was livid. She wasn’t having this conversation so she shut it down. They are in silence for the rest of the meal and took herself home.
Zuri has ignored Tsola’s calls for almost a week. She sat at The George Hotel with her girls and reflected on their journey. Adesuwa was a trooper. Her husband had ended their marriage over text and run away with Chinansa but she picked up the pieces after the shock wore off. She liquidated his ventures, set up repayment plans, sold off her assets to pay off the debt. She transformed into a Wonder Woman. Ladun surprised everyone with the grace in which she handled her situation. She moved to a smaller apartment, switched her children’s school and explored business opportunities while Baba’s brothers soldiered on in the fights with banks. Tami had discovered after WIMBIZ that she was running her business at a loss. She cleaned up her books and created new strategies to help her business grow. She no longer aspired to be a trophy wife, she aspired to be the new trophy wife. According Hugffington post, this was a 2.0 version of a trophy wife. She makes good money and is in the position of power, a la Amal Clooney.
Lara’s passive income game was higher. Zuri was impressed about the change that had taken place in her circle because her mentor told her – you are the average of the 5 people you spend time with.
Back in her apartment, she thought about business ideas to increase her earning potential. Mid-morning on a very wet Thursday, she presented all the ideas to her mentor and she was unimpressed. Every time her mentor poked holes, Zuri could not answer. She was about to give up when her mentor explained something profound to her “You know leveraging on your skill set to maximize your earning potential doesn’t have to mean starting your own business right? The fact is not everyone is an entrepreneur- it’s more important to be entrepreneurial in your thinking and to find ways to add value wherever you are. I’m not saying you won’t be good at business, I’m just pointing out the fact that there are other options. You sound passionate when you talk about your work at Richmond and all the changes you’d like to make if you were in charge and I think there’s room for growth there. There’s no rush. The key is to only Pursue dreams that keep you up at night. My suggestion is you focus on expanding your role at Richmond, you’ve gotten bored with the role you’ve been saddled with”
Zuri thought hard about it and thought about what her mentor had said, about women also feeling Imposter Syndrome, less confident at their skills than they actually are while men are more confident in their skills than they actually are. She felt encouraged and decided to give it a shot and not underestimate her skills. She crafted a pitch to create a new division to take Richmond Digital and negotiated financial rewards. She remembered Mrs A’s advise on business “The point of every business is to make a profit. Your idea must be generating more revenue for the company or reducing costs. However, it would be easier to sell revenue generating ideas because cutting cost is already part of your job anyway”
She rehearsed the pitch with Mrs A who poked holes in the business but Zuri has all the answers. She knew she was ready. She presented it to Mr Tunde and he accepted. He had nothing to loose only something to gain. He agreed to all her terms and her negotiation game was on point.
After her triumphant day, she returned home and her doorbell rang. Tsola apologized for how he communicated his point even if what he still stood by what he said. He gifted her 2 tickets to Cape Town, Soyth Africa as a way of saying he was sorry.
Tsola had gone all out planning the vacation. It was an amazing experience.
Life was good with her friends, Life was good at work too. The execution of her idea struggled in the first two months but in the third month it picked up and she was even promoted to junior Vice President. Whenever she felt like an imposter, she reminded herself that it was self doubt raising its ugly head. She wasn’t a billionaire but she was more in control of her money. She was learning to own where she was in her journey and stay true to her authentic self. She finally understood that building wealth was about creating more options for herself long term. She was starting to realize that if she stayed rooted in trying to discover said purpose and the contribution she was born to make in this world. Doors would open for her. Zuri has discovered she was her own hero.
She was a smart money woman.
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