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Poverty is a choice

~The Pinch, Nigeria. Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Author of 'Practical steps to financial independence and personal finance coach', Usiere Uko, writes on raising children to be financially independent

This statement seems harsh and cruel but sadly it is the truth. We are a product of our dominant thoughts. The common saying 'As a man thinks in his heart, so is he' is from the book of Proverbs 23: 7 (NKJV)'. Our decisions create our circumstances. Our financial decisions create our financial circumstances, as in other areas of life – social, professional, heath, spiritual, etc. If you want to know who is to blame for where you are now, look for the closest mirror.

George Bernard Shaw drives the point home succinctly with his famous quote: "People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don't believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can't find them, make them."

It takes a level of maturity and willingness to learn to accept this fact. We are so used to blaming others that we hardly take time to really look at what we are doing wrong.

Nobody can change you

As I counsel people, I often come against a brick wall of excuses. One of the toughest cases I have had to deal with is my gateman. Counselling him is like to talking to a brick wall. He always has a readymade excuse why what I am saying will not work. He has approached me severally for a salary advance for expenditure that will not improve his finances. At each instance, I sit him down to try to talk some sense into him rather than refuse him. When he wanted to buy a motorcycle because he was tired of trekking to work, I warned him that he was acquiring a liability and increasing his overhead. My suggestion that if he must buy the motorcycle, he can use it as 'okada' when he is off duty in the evenings fell on deaf ears.

Many times, he needed a loan to travel to the village for the burial of an uncle, aunt, grandmother etc. My counsel that his presence is not mandatory for the burial to hold again fell on deaf ears. Being broke and in debt became his comfort zone. I tried to suggest possible additional sources of income for him, like sourcing produce cheap from the village to sell to market women in Lagos; he shot it down with excuses. The advice to go to evening school to acquire secondary school education (with my assistance) so that he can use his idle time to read and improve himself rather than stare at passersby and gossip with other idle security men suffered the same fate. After a while, I gave up the fight. There is only so much you can do. The door to change has a jam lock that can only be opened from the inside. Pounding from the outside is often an exercise in futility.

A couple of days ago, he came to me with a request; he needed a loan and a salary raise. Things are hard and his salary was no longer enough. I agreed with him. I also pointed out the fact that we are experiencing same too; hence I am not in position to give him or any of my staff a raise. While companies are laying off staff, I have decided to hold onto mine, but whoever leaves will not be replaced. I still know how to open my gate if he decides to leave. As he walked away disappointed, I shook my head sadly. I wish I could make him see more clearly.

We create our financial circumstances

We daily create our financial circumstances by the financial decisions we make. We make choices every day, often blissfully unaware of the consequences. Ignorance of the law is neither tenable in court nor exempts you from suffering the consequences.

The reality is that we are choosing to be poor, middle class or rich everyday by the daily spending decisions we make, but are often unaware of what we are doing. That is why it will come as a shock to you that you have chosen to be poor. You will resist such notion by saying things like 'God forbid', 'minus me', 'it is not my portion'' or any such slogan you often use when you want to avoid taking responsibility.

What you do with money today determines what money does for you in the days to come. I attended a father's day programme in my children's school recently and a speaker said something about money I will never forget.

He said, "When money comes into your hands, that is the parent, don't consume it. Wait for it to have children. When the children come, don't consume them. Wait for them to have grand-children. You can consume the grand-children."

What excited me was the simplicity of the concept, which many have challenges understanding (interest, compound interest, interest on interest etc). Even a bread seller can understand this.

It is your decision to be comfortable or rich that will make you delay gratification no matter how hard things are, waiting until the grand children show up.

Which destination are you heading?

Whether you are aware or not, you are travelling on a certain road. It is in your own interest to know where that road leads to, and determine if that is where you really want to end up. As long as you keep travelling on that road, you will get to that destination, whatever it is.

If you are on poverty expressway, you will eventually get there, if you are not there already. Each time I enter public transportation or board a plane, I first of all confirm the destination before I board. A couple of times when I did not ask, or asked the wrong person, I ended up in the wrong place. I had to retrace my steps and get on the vehicle going to my desired destination.

Looking at my life today, I am where I wanted to be when I expressed my dreams in clearly written goals more than 10 years ago. I made a choice. If I have any regrets, it is that I did not dream big enough.

Things may not always go according to plan. Sometimes a strong wind may take you off course but if you know where you are going and are determined to get there, you will course correct and eventually get there. It all comes down to a choice.

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