In this interview series, we chat with amazing women about their relationship with money. We discuss all things finance (no-holds barred) with the aim of demystifying money myths, highlighting mutual experiences and learning from one another. Today we are joined by Author of the best selling Smart Money Woman series and mother of upcoming marketing guru, Zikora.
I’ll pretend we don’t know all about you and ask anyway. Please, tell us a little bit about yourself- who you are, where you live and what you do (I feel like I could answer these questions)
You know where I live? Should I be worried?
Be very, very scared. Haha, please go ahead.
My name is Arese Ugwu and I’m 35 years old. I live in Lagos, Nigeria and I am the founder of a platform called Smart Money Africa which creates financial literacy content for the African Millenial Women through books, a TV series, online coaching & courses, and most recently, a podcast.
In one word, what does money mean to you?
Choices- The amount of money you have determines the kind of food you can eat, whether or not you can travel, your healthcare options and so many more. Having money empowers you to be able to make better choices.
What is your first recollection of money?
When I was 10 years old, I left home in Lagos for the first time to go to boarding school in Benin. My mum gave me a small exercise book and asked me to write down everything I bought. Every single thing! I obviously resented it at the time. What I didn’t realize is that she was teaching me how to track my expenses.
Haha, one term I decided not to track my expenses- I didn’t get any pocket money the next term.
Is there anything you wish you knew about money before you started earning an income, something you wish you could go back and tell your younger self?
I’d go back and tell her to be financially fearless. I would tell her “Listen, you’re young. Don’t be afraid to take big risks. Fail as early as possible. Then pick yourself up and get moving.”
When did you first earn money and from doing what?
The first real money that I ever earned was in University when my best friend, Tobi Osoba and I decided to host a party in London. Mind you, we were students in Birmingham at the time. We however managed to convince a club to let us make our money at the door and share the profits on drinks that were bought after a second point. So we made a flyer- we called the party “MANIC” and we cashed out big time! We were 18 or 19 year olds with about 4,000 pounds to split between us. I always think back to how I hoarded the money for a long time and eventually blew it all on stuff I don’t remember.
So even in partying , you still found a way to make money. 🙌🏽 Speaking of making money, do you find that your spending significantly changes when you get a bump in income?
Yeah, and I think that’s true for everyone. Your consumption has a way of rising to meet your income. Lifestyle inflation is a real thing.
Would you say money played a role in choosing your course of study and in charting a career path?
I think it was a combination of factors, but I would say yes. I was always very practical about my plans for the future, and I always knew that I wanted to study something that would put me in the best position to make money. The fact that both my parents were in the financial industry- both were investment bankers, was a contributing factor as well. My interest was piqued as a child, growing up in a house where we had a lot of conversations about money and the capital market.
I also attended the British School of Lome for 2 years, where I discovered that I really enjoyed the Business Management and Economics classes.
Which of the characters in your books are you most like and why?
There’s a piece of me in every single character. Each character is a combination of my experiences and that of my friends and other women from stories I’ve heard.
You know how I describe Tami, the fashion designer, as the friend who you shouldn’t go to a party with or they will abandon you because they simply must say hi to every single person? That’s totally me.
And then we have Lara, who is the teacher, we have some similarities as well. In the sense that my friends call me the Career Terrorist. If you’re my friend and you ever tell me that you want to achieve a particular goal, I will be sure to push you hard and keep you on your toes.
Tell us about a time when money really stressed you out and how you managed the situation?
Money stresses me out everyday.
Really? How so?
Yeah it does, for different reasons. The first time, I would say, was when my marriage ended and I had to move to a new apartment and pay 2 years’ rent upfront. I didn’t even have the excuse of being a low income earner. I simply wasn’t saving & investing as much as I should have.
Today, it’s piracy that is stressing me out. It’s very disheartening to spend one and a half years writing a book and have someone just steal your intellectual property for their own gain.
How does one strike a balance between supporting your family and increasing your portfolio?
If you’re a good person, you obviously don’t want to feel like you let your family down in their time of need. I think the key is to strike a balance. Start by determining how much aid you can afford to give out monthly and stick to that amount. One of the tricks I mention in my book is to create a revolving fund for your family. So for example, if you decide to set 1 million naira aside for the purpose of giving out loans, you set up a transparent process whereby everyone knows when a family member has “withdrawn” the money. That person has to pay it back to enable other family members access the fund. It helps keep everyone accountable.
Do you think our “Africaness” and unwillingness to accommodate the thought of tragedy works to prevent us from creating safe guards like emergency funds, life insurance or even a will?
Definitely! I mean, think about it. We’re a very superstitious community. Our response to the possibility of a tragedy is usually to “Pray about it”. The truth, however, is that bad things happen to good people all the time. I encourage people all the time to start by creating an emergency fund.
There’s a pidgin proverb “Na when pesin wake up be him morning” that loosely translates to “When a man wakes up, that is his morning”. We’ve heard a lot of stories from older women who are close to retirement age or who have already retired, but who have no pension, savings, investments etc. How would you advise these women who are only just “waking up” to proceed?
The rules don’t change! You have to go back to the basics. Generate an income, save, invest. Rinse and repeat. Chances are you would have built a network over the years. Leverage on it and begin to rebuild. You must be resilient. Afterall, there are people who lost the income they built in their 30’s. What matters most is your mindset, your resilience and willingness to rebuild. The mindset is especially important. If you’re in a fearful place, you’re not likely to get great results.
It is often said that “your network determines your net worth” or “If you hang out with four broke people, you’ll be the fifth”. Have you ever had to break off a friendship because someone was the exact opposite of what you needed in your Smart Money Tribe?
I don’t unfriend people because they’re broke o! I maintain friendships with people whose values I share, intelligent people who I can have valuable conversations with. Being broke is a transient thing because money has seasons. That somebody is broke today doesn’t mean they will be broke forever. So I don’t choose my friends based on how much money they have. We just need to have shared values. Actually, scratch that, I’m hugely attracted to go getters. If I met an unmotivated person, we just wouldn’t get along as well. To simplify this: I think people should only be friends with people they like. I’m also lucky because amazing people like my closest friends, who I’ve known since I was 10, are still in my life. We’ve grown together, invested in each other, and have a bond that I can’t compare to anything else.
Speaking of people you like… You have an adorable daughter – a sales and marketing queen in her own right. Are there any tips you can share on teaching children about financial literacy from a young age?
Okay, so you know how children of pastors are reputed to be rebellious, or how a lot of actors’ kids don’t appreciate being in the limelight? I try not to breathe finance down her neck. She’s just 8. I’m teaching her the basics about needs and wants, about how you need to make decisions because you have finite resources. She understands that resources are limited and you have to allocate them intentionally. Sometimes, she’ll be interested in buying something while we’re on holiday and when she remembers her spending tab, you’ll watch her turn over her options in her mind… She’ll be like hmmm actually, do I really need or want this item?
She also understands that you have to provide value to make money. I would say she has a pretty good grasp of hustle for her age. I posted a video of her on instagram recently where she was praying over copies of my book and declaring that they would sell. She’d been playing just before she came up with that.
Lol there’s an incident I remember. I sometimes take her to book events with me. So we’re at this event and a lady goes “Hi Zikora, you’re so cute, do you mind taking a picture with me?” Zikora insisted she buy a book before taking a picture together. She sometimes gets a commission on books that she sells directly.
On that note, I think it would be a great idea to buy a few books for our followers. But we would like to buy them from Zikora, not you.
Sidebar: FemmeMinty will be giving out 10 signed copies of Smart Money Tribe by Arese Ugwu over the next few weeks. Be sure to follow us on social media and subscribe to the newsletter so you don’t miss a thing!
What do you think about fully funding your child’s college education versus letting them learn how to work for money. How do you strike a balance between funding their dreams and teaching them to pay their way.
I definitely consider saving for your child’s education a priority. One thing I learnt from my own parents was that resources are scarce, and your parents’ money isn’t necessarily yours.
I still remember the exact amount my first term fees cost in Secondary School. It was a lot of money at the time. My parents chose to make certain sacrifices to be able to afford the best possible quality of education for us. They were very clear about the fact that investing in our education was a priority for them. It made me want to work harder, to make their investments worth it. To this day, I still strive to make them proud. My favourite compliment from my father is probably when he says that the money he spent on my education “did not waste”.
If you could be a superhero, which character would you be?
My heroes are generally people who are able to overcome obstacles with grace. It could be my nanny who’s had to hustle hard to provide for her children or my mentor Tara Fela-Durotoye who started building her business as a 20-something year old and now has over 22 stores across the country. I’m deeply inspired by women who overcome challenges without letting “them” see her sweat.
What has been Your most ridiculous purchase ever?
I don’t know oh. Let me think. I spend a lot on food and travel.
We don’t judge because one is life and the other is living.
Exactly! Experiences are worth the expense.
You said, and I quote “We live in a society that shames people for living within their means”. When last did you turn down aso ebi?
Girl, I’m shameless. You cannot shame the shameless (I’ve borrowed this saying from my friend, Taymesan). I turn down aso ebi more times than I agree to buy it. I don’t mind being the odd one out. I would gladly wear an outfit I already own or get a dress made from a cheaper fabric. I only buy when it’s for a close friend’s wedding. And to be clear
Admittedly, I now have the luxury of having passed the age when most of my friends were getting married.
What book, movie, podcast or person has had the greatest influence on your financial journey?
I read a lot of books. This is a difficult question but I’ll try.
I know you’re expecting me to mention a finance book but… there’s this novel titled
The Rich Are Different by Susan Howatch. My dad read it in University and somehow, everyone in my house has read it. My copy is dog-eared. It’s basically about this guy who has nothing and hustles his way to the top. The book goes through all the obstacles he overcame to become an investment banker. I read it once a year because it motivates me.
I love the So Money podcast by Farnoosh Torabi
I also like the How I built this with Guy Raz
In walks Zikora
So Zikora just came to tell me that she’s emailed me her birthday wishlist. Her birthday is not till the end of July. Remember how we discussed what I do to teach her about money earlier? She’s learning how to plan ahead and ask for stuff she wants.
Last summer, she really wanted a particular doll. Before we even left Nigeria, my daughter had done her research about the store that offered the best price close to where we were going.
A queen, I stan. What is the greatest lesson you have learned from the experience of writing and self-publishing your books?
I’m both amazed and grateful for the fact that my idea has turned into these books and this platform that has had such a huge impact on people all around the world. It’s such a humbling feeling.
We’ll round up with a lightning round of quickfire questions
Entrepreneurship vs. paid employment?
Saving vs. Investing?
Spending your own money vs. spending other people’s money?
Other People’s Money
A song that describes your current relationship with money?
Can I say an album? Young Jeezy’s 2005 album “Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101”
That album used to motivate me in uni, and it still does.
If you had a money growing tree in your backyard or if you suddenly came into a huge fortune, What would be your first three spends?
Hmmm. I would buy assets in other countries- property in South Africa, London, and the US.
Then I would go on holiday to the South of France, and
I would do something elaborate for Zikora.
The year is 2030. You’ve been invited to give a TED talk on how you built your immense wealth, lay it on us in 60 seconds ending with “Thank you for coming to my TED talk”?
This is the story of a small Bini girl whose superpower was resilience. She always dreamed big, took big risks, and in spite of all the obstacles that life threw her, she just kept going. Her motto? Get rich or die trying. Thank you for coming to my TED talk.
Any parting words? When is the next Smart Money book coming out?
The next book, hmmm… When people stop pirating my books. You people should help me beg pirates, and please stop patronizing them. We’ve seen paperback copies of my book everywhere. From Tejuosho, Lagos to Accra, Ghana.
However, I have something for you guys. I’m starting a 30 day bootcamp where I’ll send one financial task to your inbox every day. We’ll have weekly group coaching calls and 3 smart money toolkits for debt, investing and budgeting. Please check it out here.
Know any other amazing women we should interview? Please shoot us an email at email@example.com