Nitty mentioned that Nigerian culture is communal while American culture is more individualistic and I couldn’t agree more! In Nigeria you basically don’t have to do anything alone unless you want to: raising kids, paying for your child’s wedding, building a house—you can pretty much expect family members to help you with these things (or is this just in my family?), whereas you’re more on your own outside of our continent. I remember my mom telling me how she tried to have at least one of her children in Nigeria so she could get help but it wasn’t meant to be. A Nigerian friend who lives in Canada mentioned this same lack of help as one of the reasons (not the only reason) that she was planning to limit the number of children she has.f
As a child of almost-middle-class immigrants, my parents didn’t have to sit down with me and tell me how things were financially; it wasn’t hard to see that there was a difference between how we lived and how my friends lived. Not that we suffered, thank God: we always had good food, clean clothing that wasn’t worn out, and a roof over our heads. We even went to Disney World one year! But seeing how hard my parents worked to provide for us made me want to earn my own money and ease the burden on them as soon as I could (and also have the freedom to spend my money how I wanted to). I started babysitting other children at the age of 11 and got my first real job (with a paycheque and everything!) at age 14. I was a dish washer in a retirement home, washing dishes by hand and also operating industrial dishwashers. I’ve worked ever since. I liked having my own money to spend (or waste as the case often was), knowing that I was also taking some of the pressure off of my parents (though they drove me to and from work regularly with my first jobs).
I learned how to be thrifty and how to live within my means from my parents, to the point where they call me out on how long it takes me to commit to purchasing something expensive but necessary. I also developed a strong hatred of debt from my parents; this makes it easy for me to avoid a lot of crazy spending.
If I had told my parents that I couldn’t pay for university, I know they would have taken out a loan for me (which I would repay of course). But when you grow up as the eldest child in a household with parents like mine who would do anything for you, even to their detriment, you’d want to make them proud. I had applied to two out-of-town schools and two local universities but I had already decided that I was going to stay in town, live at home, and work hard during the summer months and during the school year to pay for my tuition. I couldn’t have done it without my parents who allowed me to live at home and eat their food, who tried to provide me with emotional support during the worst years of my life (university was a trial), and who co-signed on a small bank loan when I eventually needed it.
Needless to say, I’m used to doing things for myself and find it hard to ask for help. To quote Destiny’s Child, “I buy my own diamonds and I buy my own rings” (or, in my case, replace “diamonds” with “house” and “rings” with “car”). I paid for my own tuition, paid off that loan I mentioned in record time, have paid for my mobile phone from day one, and for my clothing since my teenage years. I lived like a miser when I first moved out of my parents’ home because I didn’t want to have to borrow money from my family to make any of the many house-related payments I was now responsible for. When money was tight I would reduce expenses or get an additional job; there was a time when I had three jobs and I was happy to work them all because they allowed me to live the life I wanted.
So because of my relationship with money I’m always surprised when people my age are so dependent on their parents for money. If they seemed humbled by their parents’ generosity I’d appreciate that, but there’s a sense of entitlement about it that sickens me. They don’t even ask for loans, they just expect their parents to pay for things. And they’re adults! I don’t get it, for real. We’re a plastic society now, paying for everything with debit or credit cards. I rarely handle cash these days which allows me to lose track of how many dollar bills are going out on any given day. Living like this would make it easy to get into situations where I’d need extra money, but I always keep an eye on my account.
It’s different in Nigeria where part-time jobs aren’t plentiful and culturally, children are raised to depend on their parents until they start their careers. But here, where the individual is celebrated, adults who are still dependent on their parents to help them out financially, despite having a full-time job (and a spouse who also has a full-time job), surprise me. I have trouble understanding these people and their enabler parents. (Parents who insist on helping out financially because they’re able to are another issue; I’d be happy to take anyone’s extra, legally-obtained money!)
I have plenty of compassion for people who ask me for things that they need, but when it’s a want, I get annoyed. For example, in the mid-1990s, a relative asked (by letter; remember those days?) for things that I didn’t have and couldn’t afford, and for some reason it made me so angry. I was annoyed that he dared to ask for non-essentials that were out of my budget.
Another relative who I had helped in the past was recently trying to work up the courage to ask me to help him buy a laptop which he needed to type up a project. Having your own laptop is convenient but I nipped his request in the bud by dissecting the reason he needed the laptop and suggesting options that didn’t involve him buying something he couldn’t afford. I didn’t get my first laptop until I was almost 30 years old and although times have changed and I pray he gets a laptop before he reaches his mid-20s, he can pay for it when he can afford it. And wouldn’t you know, once I started mentioning alternatives to buying the laptop he suddenly realized there was someone he may be able to borrow a laptop from. This is how I operate: before I bought my tv, I did without, then borrowed an extra one from a friend when it was offered to me.
In the past I would have felt guilty for not sending my relative laptop money, especially because his reason for wanting a laptop wasn’t crazy, but I now appreciate how hard I work for my money and if I make myself justify the reasons for my own purchases, I can be that strict with others too (especially if it’s my money on the line!).
Regardless of location, people live beyond their means. The bible tells us to ask, but that’s with God o: in my head asking another human for money is a last resort, and if I must ask it’ll be for a need not a want. But I dream of the day when I can pay off my the remainder of my parents’ mortgage, when property tax payments or car repairs don’t make me groan for my bank account. A day when I can surprise my cousins with brand new phones or laptops and not be stressed about the cost. I’d also love to renovate my grandfather’s house.
What’s your “when I get rich” dream?