Grateful For Growing Up Poor: AKA Let’s Talk About Money
Updated: Dec 1, 2021
When I was 12, we became poor. Like…POOOOOR. It wasn’t always so. As a really young child, my dad had a fantastic job. He was a partner in his company. He was doing well. We lived in a beautiful house. We had a pool. We were white and privileged in South Africa in the 80s.
While my very existence was a deeply complex political and social pain point, my little life was good. But then, we became poor. So, let’s do the really uncomfy thing now, and talk about money.
I’ve rewritten, and edited and changed this piece more than I’ve done with any others. I’ve wondered if what I’m about to say is too much. I’ve worried that it’s going to come across as aggressive, or insensitive. But I’m really curious about the messaging I received about money growing up. Or, rather, the lack thereof. This is a brutally honest account of why I think my money mindset is so complicated.
Money, Money, Money
ABBA sang about it. So did Donna Summer. Dire Straits. Lil Wayne. Simply Red. Rihanna. Bruno Mars. Pink Floyd. Drake. Cyndi Lauper. Madonna. 50 Cent.
People are making music about money. But, for a lot of people, talking about money is not done. They find it uncomfortable. They fear judgment. They fear being looked down upon. People who have lots of money fear being exploited. Sometimes it’s seen as tacky.
Case in point: Once I asked a friend how much her jacket cost. It was like I’d asked her if she’d vajazzled. She got awkward. I got awkward. It was awkward. I wanted to plan my funeral in that moment.
But what if your money mindset is up the pole and you want to fix it? Where do you go? Who do you talk to? Isn’t it time we just started talking about it already?
I mean…come on. What is the deal?
Growing Up Poor
My father was an alcoholic.
I was thirteen when things really began to fall apart. He was being treated for chronic depression. He was sober because he couldn’t get out of bed. He wouldn’t go to AA and he refused to admit he was an alcoholic.
We lost our house, the cars, all our money, the education policies, everything. My father had stopped paying the electricity bill. For years. When my mother realised that he was really sick, she started doing some investigating and discovered piles and piles of unopened bills in the cubbyhole of his car. One of them was the electricity bill which he’d stopped paying for years. My parents owed over half a million rand. In the 90s, that was a shit-ton of money. The electricity had been cut, but my father knew how to break the seal that the department put on the box outside. And we lived off that electricity for a few years. So, my dad was an alcoholic and a criminal. Faboosh.
What followed was absolute, sheer hell. We had to move out of our house. We moved into a cottage on a plot. My two sisters and I shared a tiny bedroom, my teenage sisters sleeping in the same bunk bed they’d had when they were old enough to stop sleeping in cots.
We had very little food. People bought us groceries. My mother would bring home leftovers from the nursery school where she taught.
We went to a “good” school. My mom worked from 7am to 5.30pm, looking after babies and working with children so that she could pay our school fees and pay rent and put petrol in the car. She was incredible. Looking back, I realise that her life was pretty damn fucked. And she made sure her kids were okay. That was all she cared about.
I say the school was “good” because it was in an affluent part of Johannesburg, and we were taught things. The things we were taught were entirely stupid and unimportant, and the education was pretty rancid, but at least we were in school.
We wore second-hand uniforms; we had second-hand books; we ate second-hand food. The other kids at our school would arrive in Mercs and BMWs. We’d arrive in a clapped-out old VW golf that was so broken that it spewed plumes of black smoke out of the exhaust pipe. The number of times we broke down in that car is endless.
But…we were in school. We had a place to live. We were not starving. We had a car. Those years taught me gratitude if anything.
So, why am I telling you this? Because I WISH someone had told me a few things about money back then.
I have a poverty mentality. I am convinced, no matter how much money I’m earning, or how much I’ve saved, that I am going to be poor. I fight that mindset daily. I have to talk to myself, sternly, and tell myself that I can order Uber Eats, because I have the money. I can buy that large pizza, because I have the money. I can go out for breakfast every Saturday with my husband, because I have the money.
It also manifests in strange ways like…I can’t buy myself treats and leave them in the cupboard to eat over a week. I’ll eat everything. Everything that’s in the cupboard, I’ll eat it all in a day. I also can’t buy myself one chocolate. I buy two. And some sweets.
Those are the little things. The bigger things? The ADULT things? Like a lot of people, I struggle to price my services. I struggle to ask for more money in return for my services. I struggle to tell prospective clients what I’m worth. Sound familiar?
Another way that my poverty mindset affects me is that I work like a packhorse. Like a donkey. Like…a very large animal that carries things. I work all day, every day. I work weekends. I work on holidays. I don’t stop working. Because? I AM DEEPLY TERRIFIED OF BEING POOR. It is not healthy. It’s not good for my marriage. It’s not good for my mental health. And if I do take time off, or put my laptop away, or spend a bank holiday weekend not working, I have to work incredibly hard to ward off the guilt. The guilt finds me, though. And I have to run it out of my head, like it’s my cat that has walked into the house with a giant rat in its mouth.
So, what do I wish people had told me?
Imma start right there, with the schooling I received. For 12 years, I was forced to put on a uniform every day, like a little soldier, and sit at a desk and learn about this stuff:
· Ocean currents (Wow, Geography was a disappointment)
· Fractions (but not how to manage my money USING those very fractions)
· The map of Europe (but not how to earn the money to GET THERE)
· Geometry (seriously, WTF)
· The history of Russia (seriously?)
· Religious instruction (this was a fresh kind of hell that deserves its own blog post. One day…)
What should I have been learning…
· How to prepare for a job interview
· How to invest
· How to price services
· How to fill out a job application
· How to write a CV
· How to pay tax
· How to read insurance policies
· How to decide on a medical plan
· Just general life stuff that you could learn a lot about in 12 years that would make life and society better for everyone
2. My parents’ story is not my story
I realised this on my own one day, when I was at university. I had got myself a student loan and I was thinking about how I was going to pay it off. I was working four jobs, and getting a degree, and spending extra hours at the university working on credits, and then writing essays through the night until 3am. So, I was scuuuured. (And tired).
I was like, how am I ever going to make it in this life? I’m poor. I have nothing. And then I heard a voice, and I don’t know where this voice came from but there was a very definite voice. And it told me that my parents’ story was not my story. That was a pretty stunning moment in my life. I held onto that voice as tightly as I could, and I worked to make it true.
You can change your story. It’s not easy. But it’s possible.
3. How do you change your story?
Your relationship with money is very personal. It’s born out of your life experiences, so it’s not for me to tell you how to deal with them. But this is what I did:
· When I was in my mid-twenties, I read The Artist’s Way. If you’ve not done it, you should. One of the things you’re encouraged to do is write mantras. Now, let’s address the giant elephant in the room. I am not a believer in The Secret. I don’t think that I can manifest things into being. BUT…
At that time, in my 20s, I held a deep, deep belief in my brain that I was never going to make any money. I was certain of it. I carried it with me, like a small dog in a handbag. A vicious dog. That bites.
It affected my behaviour. It affected the way I was in the world. I began working through the Artist’s Way, and I wrote the mantras, three times over, twice a day. It shifted something. When you write, you access a different part of your brain. A part of your brain that is untapped; it’s more open to being moulded and shaped because it hasn’t been polluted with the terrible things you tell yourself. That part of my brain got stronger and more forceful and fitter than the part of my brain that was telling me that I was always going to be poor.
Slowly, things shifted. Very slowly. But they did. I had more belief in my potential. I started getting calls to work for people. It was the beginning of my earning real money, and leaving behind my life of physical poverty.
· I listened to Suze Ormond cds. I realised that in order to take control of my financial world, I needed to acquire some financial tools. Suze teaches a LOT about money, and I didn’t get through it all. But, there were two things I learned from her:
The first thing, which I started doing immediately, was to save 10% of everything I earn. Put it away into a separate account and pretend it doesn’t exist. I did that. Soon, I was able to invest that money.
If there’s anything you take from this post, it’s that. Save 10% of everything you earn. If that means you have to cut back somewhere, do it. The security and peace of mind it will bring you is enormous.
The second thing, was to start paying off debt as soon as possible, in manageable bite-sized chunks. I had a student loan that I’d let spiral out of control a bit. I had to sort it out. It took me ten years to pay back, but I did it. If you’re in debt, it’s going to be okay. But don’t do what my dad did and pretend it doesn’t exist. That debt will find you, and it will eat you alive. Start paying it now. Work out a plan and stick to it.
· This I did later, but it’s vital. Do not get married in community of property. Do not do it. Don’t. The heart will flutter. The loins will talk to you, out loud sometimes. It’s normal. But when it comes to your money, your investments and your property, you protect that shit like it’s a tiny precious creature that’s going to be devoured by a dark and evil force if you don’t take care of it. What’s yours is yours, lady. Promise? Good.
If you buy a house with someone, you make damn sure that that house is in both of your names.
You protect yourself first. Before anyone else.
· Get your affairs in order. Hire a financial advisor. Hire an accountant. Pay your taxes. Pay your bills. If you can’t pay for it with the cash in your bank account, don’t buy it. Unless it’s an asset that will appreciate over time, like property, or education.
4. Talk about money. Talk about it loud and proud
This is ACTUALLY the point of today’s ramblings. Why, in the name of Sainsbury’s Factory vegan chocolate balls, are we always told not to talk about money? What crazy shit is that? Why is money held in such a covert, psychologised space? IT’S JUST MONEY.
I wish people had talked to me about money when I was growing up. I wish people had said, “This is what I earn…”, or, “This is how much I asked for…” or, “This is what I’m earning, but this is what I should be earning.” Or…”When you’re older, this is how you ask for a raise.” Or…”This is how you set your rates.”
I go back to my poor, poor education and I am baffled that these lessons were never taught.
One of the most pressing challenges many new entrepreneurs have is how to set their rates, how to charge what they’re worth, knowing what rates are in their industry, and asking for more money when they do bitchen’ work. Books and books are written about it. Podcasts obsess over it. Blogs ponder on it. Money mindset is a challenge faced by millions and millions of people all over the world.
Slowly, slowly, I see people starting to talk about it. I see people in Facebook groups openly asking…what are your rates? How much do you charge for X? What are you earning? People are putting their rates on their website for prospective clients to see. It’s totally wonderful. More of that, please.
MY MONEY MINDSET TODAY
So, Imma say it: I love money. I love it, probably, more than anything in the world. Does money make me happy? YES. IT SURE DOES. And I know it does. Because I know how unhappy I was without money. People who say, money doesn’t make you happy…have never HAD piles of money.
I love money.
It makes me feel safe. It lets me pay for the things I love. Like good coffee, and good food, and travel, and good pet food for my dog and cat. Gifts for people I love. It let me adopt a rhino in South Africa, and donate to friends’ medical bills. It lets me support causes that I believe in. It enables me to learn and grown. It’s helped me to start a business that I love, during a pandemic.
I love money.
Not afraid to say it.
I still have the poverty mentality which I’m working on every day. But it’s getting better. And I’m also starting to charge rates that reflect what my skill set is worth. And people are paying those rates. They’re happy to pay it.
Start With the Kids
So, how do we embrace money, and change the way the world thinks about money? Talk to the kids about it. Make things easier for them when they’re older, so that their money mindsets are tops of the pops:
1. Talk to them about money; the good, the bad, everything
2. Teach them that things cost money and that money has to be earned
3. Stop giving them everything they want (no, really. Please stop)
4. Make sure they’re earning money as soon as they’re able to
5. Teach them how to save, how to donate and how to spend. My friend has a ten-year-old kid. That child has to earn her own money. She’s old enough to understand that money is valuable and that it can buy you things and it has to be worked for. Money is empowering, but it can also stuff up your life. So, my friend made her daughter get a job. The child elected dog-walking. That’s what she does every weekend. She walks the neighbours’ dogs. At home, she has three money jars: Save, Spend, Give. She has to save 10% and give 10%. The rest she can spend.
Pretty damn amazing life skills being learned there, right?
I’m tired of being told that you can’t talk about money. It’s not a religion. It’s not politics. It’s paper that can buy you stuff. Calm down. Breathe. And talk about the money. It’ll change your life.
What are your money thoughts?
Most PHENOMENAL WOMAN. If this blog moved you in any way, and you feel the need to give something back (yes, to me), could I ask you to answer a few questions. I am doing deep research for my business. And I'd love your assistance.
Ashleigh is a conversion copywriter who helps women grow their email lists, create websites that get the YES, and write emails that kiss the screen. For real conversations, join her Facebook group here - Make a Song and Dance: Female Business Owners, RISING