Are we as Malawians too short-termistic and lacking in vision?
Many of us have been brought up to believe that the only or main reason anyone would pursue something is because it makes money. Not only should that thing make money, it needs to make money from day one.
If you tell your friends about a project you’re working on one of the very first questions you’re guaranteed to receive is, "So, how does that make money?" or "How much money are you making?" That is all people want to know.
Yet, if we look at the development of Western nations we see that a great part of their success can be attributed to people that pursued non-monetary passions. People like Einstein, Mendeleev, Newton and other scientists weren't hoping to make money, they enjoyed science and achieving scientific results was adequate compensation for them.
Even today there are a cornucopia of people in the West who will tell you they are not that interested in money they are only interested in whatever their passion is and if it produces money, great; if not, it's not a problem.
As a whole, we Malawians seem to only value education to the extent that it increases our income, beyond that, there is little intrinsic interest in the education itself. This is probably what will keep us poor.
"If it don't make money, it don't make sense," so the African American rap song goes – this line explains many people’s sentiments to the letter.
If you hear someone is furthering their education in some way you want to know how much more they will be paid with that extra piece of paper.
Perhaps this is a natural corollary of us being so poor for so long. We’ve been one of the ten poorest countries in the world for the longest time. Our mortality rate has also been very high, especially when death from AIDS was so rampant. Living for today could naturally result from those circumstances.
However, today, life expectancies are improving and knowledge is so easily available. So many young people are becoming something with nothing; for instance, our very own William Kamkwamba was a laughing stock when he was trying to create energy from wind power but look at him today – he’s spoken at the TED conference and his story has been widely read and told on international TV. Could he have envisioned that his interest in creating wind power would take him so far, never!
For many people there's a multi-year lag before their passion leads to a business. Yet others continue to pursue a hobby that will never make money but they enjoy it anyway.
A good number of us now have access to a cornucopia of information via the internet but for the most part we aren’t taking advantage of it; we’re still not seeing people forming clubs and societies to pursue a common interest.
People seem to get married, have kids, go to work and have no productive pursuits outside of that. Our men go to bars to watch sports and have a drink; the women go to weddings, baby showers and bridal showers.
If this is how we live our lives what hope does Malawi have? We can complain about the Malawian economy as much as we like but change starts from the individual. Do you represent the change you want to see in Malawi?
If you want to do something but fear you’ll be embarrassed if it fails, don’t be – just go for it.
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi
It's true that not making enough money makes it supremely difficult to make ends meet but there's an even bigger culprit than that: your emotions. Poor money management is very strongly correlated with an inability to manage one's emotions. Emotions to watch out for:
The Desire to be Admired
At the very top of the list is the desire to be admired. Women have this need just as much as men.
How many guys with flash cars do you know? You look at the car, then look at the rented flat the guy lives in and the two are completely incompatible. As far as men are concerned, more people see their car than their home so they would rather direct their resources on purchasing a car. If your husband falls into this bracket you have to work very hard to make them see sense. They're probably the same guys that insist on purchasing electronic gadgets they can ill afford.
For women grooming is the key culprit. We want to look physically appealing to ourselves and to others. Although it's much cheaper than a car there is no limit to the number of products 'with your name on them'. A poll of my friends suggests that cosmetics, hair, shoes, clothes and handbags are the key expenditures girls persistently spend on.
I'll talk about how you can spend less on these items in future articles but for now, I just want to highlight the correlation between poor emotional management and poor financial management.
The Pull of Instant Gratification
This is the desire to satisfy our most current needs at the expense of long term gains and successes. Wanting instant satisfaction is an especially big problem in Malawi. A low life expectancy and unstable economic conditions e.g. current high inflation rates, make it even harder for us to plan and imagine a future of financial freedom.
The desire to give into momentary pleasures is further driven by advertising and our constantly seeking to "keep up with the Joneses."
How often have you looked at something someone has, asked where they got it and gotten the item yourself?
Do you really need to buy lunch every day? What stops you from taking a packed lunch into work? Laziness. Indeed the prospect of having to cook when you get home causes some to stop by a restaurant and purchase even their dinner. Restaurant food is expensive. Half the time we eat out it's because we're too lazy cook.
I'll be the first to put my hand up and admit I love food. My love for food led to my weighing a hefty 78 kg in 2010. Reining in my weight has taken a lot of discipline. Eating less also means I spend less money on food, especially restaurant food, one of my family's top monthly outgoings.
Have a think about all the times you've spent money in the last month or even the last six months. How often was the expenditure planned and how often was it driven by one of the above five emotions?
The last time my father gave me any money at all was ten years ago when I was 18. It was December 2002. He sent my mum with some cash when she came to visit me in university, but I asked her to tell him never to send me money again. I have hustled my way to relative financial comfort since. This is my debut article and in following articles I hope to help you take control of your money in the same way.
For 2 years until early 2014 I wrote a weekly personal finance and business column for Malawi's leading media house, The Times Group. The target is middle-class, working African women.
This is a reproduction of the articles that appeared in the weekend edition of Malawi News.