I was born in Cameroon, a small African country in West/Central Africa. Growing up, I never really needed anything because my family was solidly middle class.
Although I was frequently surrounded by poverty it was never something that lingered for an extended amount of time in my mind.
We weren’t rich by any stretch of the imagination but we were certainly better off than a lot of people around us, as well as our extended family. So, for the first seven years of my life poverty was an abstract feeling that only applied to “others”.
But my naïve illusion was very quickly shattered when my family immigrated to the United States. We were excited and full of hope, and that’s all we had and nothing else.
For the first few years after we arrived, we moved around from apartment to apartment always sharing a space with another family. At one point we were seven people living together in a two-bedroom apartment.
Even as a young child I understood clearly that we were poor. I never went to bed hungry, but I also never wore new clothes. My parent’s prayers were the things that we clung to for hope.
We didn’t have anything to our name but an understanding that we were not granted the ability to come to this foreign country only to see us suffer. So, we went about our days working, stressing, praying, working, stressing, praying.
Eventually, the prayers beat back the stress and my parents found decent jobs that allowed them to get us a house in a quiet suburb.
Even though we were now okay, we still did not have much. This meant that I grew up in an environment in which worries about money were like a rooster’s call coming every day yet still managing to startle us.
This also meant that I quickly understood the importance of money and the ways in which having money can ease one’s worries and simplify one’s life. These experiences and feelings are the reason why I started working as soon as I could.
I took this same attitude with me when I entered college a couple of years ago and I learned about the FIRE movement whilst blogging.
FIRE stands for financial independence retire early. It is essentially a movement in which individuals try to increase their incomes, cut their expenses, and invest diligently so that they can become financially independent and retire early.
I was not particularly interested in retiring early and I am still not. However, I am interested in financial independence and have been working very hard (as much as I can as a college student) to achieve that.
Dedicating my time to financial independence has meant that I have taken on multiple jobs while trying to balance school, social life, giving, and familial expectations.
This past spring semester I was balancing three part-time jobs while still being a full-time student. This has also meant that I have made the mental decision to limit the amount of waste full spending that I have.
So, no new “fun” fund for me, no eating out at a whim, no new clothes unless I actually need them, and no wasteful spending at all. I don’t even have Spotify, Netflix, or Amazon Prime!
Although this may sound extreme it really has not been that bad for me because I find other (free) sources of happiness. However, because I am laser-focused on my financial goals and do work very hard for my money, I oftentimes have a hard time letting it go. Giving starts to feel like a burden.
GIVING AS A BURDEN
This oftentimes puts me in uncomfortable situations with my parents and extended family in Cameroon. Although I am not explicitly asked to give money to my extended family in Africa, I oftentimes feel this burden.
They have very little if at all and I have been fortunate to be in a country that has afforded me countless opportunities.
I never worry about where my next meal is coming from and thoughts of empty stomachs are just whispers that have long since faded.
But, as the oldest child, and especially the oldest daughter I feel an obligation and pressure to give money that I sometimes do not have. And, when I do have it comes with the knowledge that parting ways with it put me farther and farther away from my goals of financial independence.
So, for a while there it was a really toxic inner struggle as to whether to give or to keep. In my mind, it became an either-or situation. Giving meant that I was somehow taking away from myself.
This turmoil and mentality are something that I struggled with until I unexpectedly received a small refund from my university.
This was not money that I had worked for and instead has just been something that I had been given. I was being blessed again and I had not done anything to earn it. While my extended family couldn’t dream of making that same amount of money in a year, let alone a month.
It dawned on me then that giving did not have to be a burden. I did not have to choose between being financially independent and giving back. It was not a zero-sum game.
As a matter of fact, I could entrench giving back to my financial goals. By putting aside some extra funds in a high yield savings account I could give back on my own terms.
When you are razor-focused on financial independence like I am. It can be easy to lose sight of what’s important. Cutting costs is essential and sometimes giving can feel like a cost that needs cutting.
But it does not have to be. I look at it as an investment. I have been lucky my whole life and now it’s time that I give back. Even If I am still a broke college student.