To realise dreams, seek financial empowerment

To realise dreams, seek financial empowerment
26 March 2013

I KEEP hearing the words "financial literacy" - it's been a buzz phrase for some time, especially on the back of the global financial crisis, but for me, it's not the whole story, I'm not buying into it.

It's not good enough to put out reams of information to do with how to better manage our finances and expect people to suddenly change what they've done forever.

I believe many of us know what we should and could be doing with our hard-earned cash, just as we know we should exercise more and make healthier food choices. But we get sucked into our daily lives, our ingrained habits dominate our behaviour, and we simply don't take that big step back and tune into the consequences of the money choices we're making every single day.

Knowing vs. doing

The issue is not in the knowing, it's in the doing. And a big part of the problem is this: the fear of coming face to face with the truth; that you can't actually afford that special once-in-a-lifetime holiday unless you stop eating out every day or week, and don't treat yourself to your therapy that is retail for, ooh, three months? And put that money aside for said holiday.

Or that if you really do want to change careers and do what will give you more satisfaction, but for less pay, you need to downsize; move into a cheaper home and buy a basic car that doesn't guzzle petrol.

With information comes the responsibility of appropriate action.

But how can we do it? Make those painful changes that will actually make us happier, better people in the long run?

Well, just as we seek out experts, role models, self-help books and support groups to quit smoking, lose weight or eat our way to a healthier body, we need the same approach to tackling our monetary issues - but even more so.

Kick-starting a change

One way of making a start and approaching the very emotional issue that is our relationship with money is to break things down into manageable, can-do things that any one of us can relate to, and actually do.

The trick is to think of what our money habit can translate into if we kick it. Let me explain: say you spend Dh50 (US$13) on lunch every day; something to eat, a coffee, a bottle of water - it all adds up.

Now do the maths: if you were to pack your own food just one day a week, and you saved the Dh50 that you'd normally spend on lunch, that gives a grand total of Dh2,600 - the cost of your ticket to a dream holiday destination, or the diving course you've always wanted to do (and probably the cost of a trip or two too). Do this every Monday. Let's call it Pack Your Lunch Monday.

Another example: Say you saved your wage for one day's work a week (do you even know what you earn per day? It's a good thing to know), now put that money aside. At the end of the year, you've got the cash to buy yourself a car outright. Sure it might not be your dream car, but it'll be one you can afford. Do this every Sunday. Let's call it Savings Sunday.

Financial empowerment

This leads me on to a very basic word that I'd like us to really think about - and work on achieving: financial empowerment.

It's all about the "how to" and the "doing". These examples are just simple ideas that give you real results if you change your behaviour, and stick to it. It boils down to you making deliberate, conscious decisions with what you're going to do with your money, and it means you don't have to find the money to do things - you already have it - you've just been using it for stuff that actually isn't as important to you as other things.

I'm not saying financial literacy is not important - after all, knowledge is power, as they say. I'm saying that we're missing the empowerment issue - financial literacy is part and parcel of financial empowerment. And in a nutshell, it means you putting yourself in charge of your own life. And while you're at it, get together with your friends and colleagues to share your packed lunches every Monday, get to know each other a bit better, and find that support and camaraderie that is so often missing in our busy world.

This article by Nima Abu-Wardeh first appeared in The National.

Pic credit: freedigitalphotos.net

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