It would be good for everyone if we weren’t so shy about money

Author, Benjamin Rukwengye. PHOTO/FILE. 

What you need to know:

We go to job interviews unprepared for salary expectation questions even when many of us are in our jobs for the paycheck...

A friend sharedweek that he and another have put money together and bought a van. They intend to put it on the road, plying one of the many upcountry routes. We talked through the math, working out margins. Their plan, he said, is to eventually build a fleet – and well, get rich from it.

Ordinarily, the logical thing would have been to offer an invitation to co-invest – or for me to pitch myself into the picture – but there is a reason both options didn’t make the cut.

For starters, he and I know that I don’t have the money to put any useful teeth in the game so he was only telling me this, not as an invitation to co-invest but just as a courteous ‘this-is-what-I am-working-on’.

Which then brings us to why I don’t have money to invest, that is. A little over a year ago, my friends and I set up a savings group to which every member was supposed to contribute a set monthly amount. All things considered, the required amount is not so much as to be prohibitive, yet I am not proud to say that all of us have defaulted more times than we have complied.

These two anecdotes are an indicator of two problems that are characteristic of many readers of this column. First is the fact that for many of us, no real investment opportunity will ever find us ready to partake – because we obviously don’t have the bank balance to buy in. The second is that part of the reason one is likely to find themselves in these sorts of situations more often than not, is because of a bad saving culture. The end result is a life of struggle.

Everybody knows that the economy isn’t working for everyone and many people reading this will be those who can barely get by on what they make. So, without even getting into it, what’s clear is that if we are going to get young people to claim a piece of the steak, we have got to teach money matters and financial literacy as early as we possibly can, and then encourage group savings and investment. That said, the former is a little harder than the latter. Harder because it is likely that between the ages of 3 to21, one will be in and around school, so it is where we need for the lessons to start. For this to succeed though, we need the teachers in on it.

Obviously, like prosperity gospel pastors who go out of their way to dress, drive and live like the gospel they preach, we would need the teachers to be as authentic as can be, which is not the case now, where evidently, financial literacy and means don’t amount to much.

The unintended benefit of this would be that they will have a better grip on affairs in their SACCO, which is currently mired in all manner of scandalous stories of misappropriation. If it is true that one can only go as far as the quality of their teachers, imagine what we would achieve with financially literate teachers. Needless to say, the same imagination could be extrapolated to every single thing that’s broken around us and needs fixing.

The second aspect – group investments – is a little easier to get around. We already “invest” as groups in weddings, ‘showers’, burials, hospital bills, school fees, and church construction things. So why not transfer the same to ideas where we can make money together?

I suspect that the major hindrance is because we are generally conditioned to be coy and uncomfortable in conversations about money. But also, we want to only be accountable to ourselves and not to others – which is what working together demands.

We go to job interviews unprepared for salary expectation questions even when many of us are in our jobs for the paycheck – and vision be damned. Parents and spouses are suspicious of their kin, never escaping the feeling that someone is out to play them.

Isn’t it confounding that families and friends will so easily come together on matters of expenditure, but never really see the importance of the same on incomes? If we want to go the same direction but none of us has enough resources to get there, aren’t there enough legal instruments to protect everyone’s seat on the bus? We’ve got to do better.

Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds. @Rukwengye

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