Gofaone Nina Tladi
We have been told the story our entire lives-the circle of life. Go to school, get good grades and then get a “good job.” Once you get confirmed at said good job, get a car (financed of course), take out a personal loan to fix your parents’ house, and meet a nice man or woman and get a top up to pay for the wedding.
I heard a story of a woman whose then fiancé asked that she take out a loan to pay for their wedding, magadi, everything!! Let’s just say, he is the best thing she never had. Once you get married you get a mortgage to purchase a house. As the promotions come in, you adjust your car to match your new lifestyle which is know as the “lifestyle creep”. When emergencies arise, if you don’t have a credit card, you take out a loan. Eventually your life becomes top up after top up or my personal favourite, take out a loan to pay off another loan. To this day, I still wonder if I drank coffee on the day I topped up. Common sense failed me on that day! I hate submitting KYC documents but man I submitted the loan requirements with the zeal of zebra running from a hungry lion. Month after month, year after year, we increase the list on the right hand side of our payslips and being patted on the back because “Re tshela ka dikoloto” and “You can’t get anywhere without debt.”
I draw lessons from many different things and try to relate them to the financial journey I am on. In her TedTalk, “The danger of a single story” my favourite author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, highlights how a single story is created, “show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again and that is what they become.” Adichie further stresses that it is not possible to speak about the single story without discussing power. Power determines who tells the story, when the story is told, how it is told and how many times it is told and then it becomes the definitive story of a people. Debt has become our single story of advancement! Those who lend us money truly lord over us as we no longer work for ourselves but them. They become richer and we become poorer. Sometimes when I feel a slump at work, I look at my loan balance and I am immediately rejuvenated to keep going. Hey, I just solved the Batswana productivity challenge-place your loan balance on your desk for inspiration every day, or a mock “in the matter between” because you are whomever you owe!
There was a time I believed there was “good debt” which I now reject wholeheartedly. I equate debt with slavery/bondage, no matter how often it is sold to me as “financial help.” I learnt that debt was the only way to get ahead. I had to unlearn this, and hence I decided to be debt free. I got so mad at all the money coming out of my account that I listed all my debts from smallest to largest and started paying them off with a vengeance. I am like a cat suit wearing Serena Williams of debt, grand slam- paying off debt, cutting up the cards and taking names. The most impactful debt payoff to date was my credit card because the interest rate charged scared me.“Freedom” was the reference I used for the payment. I listened to Dave Ramsey that day and heard him call credit cards “financial cigarettes”. “Not everyone who smokes will die of lung cancer but it is not beneficial to anyone who smokes!” he posits. Paying off that credit card made me feel so good! It was the end of a very toxic relationship. I can’t imagine what paying off my personal loan will be like. I will do my rendition of Ciara’s “level up challenge” in the banking hall!
I am relearning a new way of dealing with money- cash is king. I aspire to buy a car with cash and dare I say, my voice shakes whenever I say this out loud, buy a house cash one day! Relearning has been the most difficult part of the process but truly the thing I believe was my grandmother’s dream for my mother. I tell the story of my grandmother every chance I get to honour her memory. It reminds me why Botswana is one of the greatest countries in the world and how a small decision can change one’s life forever. When I was a child I saw an “x” on her omang and realised that she could not read or write. She asked my grandfather to allow my mother to continue with school and see how far she could go. My mother went from a village girl to studying overseas for her undergrad and postgrad and remains one of the smartest people I know. My grandmother knew the value of something she did not possess, stood for that and she changed her family tree forever. Every time I read or write I am reminded of this and I am grateful. I see the value of something that I do not possess, being free from debt, getting back my income to build wealth and give my version of changing our family tree.
“The 21st century illiterate is not the one who can not read or write but the one who does not have the ability to learn, unlearn and relearn.” Alvin Toffle
PS: You don’t have to be a hero, you just have to be what most people aren’t, consistent.