Helping You Build A Relationship You Can All Be Proud Of

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

THE BOURGEOIS NEXT DOOR

Lifestyle, living within your means, living to impress others and the proverbial saying that evil company corrupts good morals. These were some of the things I was discussing with a couple of my boys a few days ago. We concluded that most young Ghanaians, single and married, are ill influenced to adopt lifestyles that have one endpoint – self destruction. Most of us are living way above our means; living to impress others,because of the kind of company and social groupings we belong to. 


We live in a time where meeting our daily needs has become something like a demanding mistress – nothing seems enough and everything is almost done on impulse. Our urges are fueled by what we see on TV or read about in the newspapers, or see others do. From the world of fashion, to technological yearnings to cravings in the type of residential location and the kind of wheels that convey us, we acquire things based on a lot of external or impulsive influences rather than genuine need for them.

A lot of young people have undergone protracted and often painful divorce proceedings with the word CAUTION and are now unrestrained by it, freeing themselves to doing anything or aspiring to having anything that may pop up in their fitful hearts. There was a time choices and decisions were made after a careful contemplation of the pros and cons of same. Now caution has been evicted from the equation and in its stead a silently haunting and often enthralling rhythmic chants of Do it! Do it! Do it! And I must admit in this day and age where one thing comes up with sunrise and disappears with sunset, there is always the ever pressing, yet often unnecessary, need to be a part of the trend or the talk of town…and chalk one’s name on the board of the fashionistas around. This, most unjustly, drives poor and gullible young men and women to run amok looking for money, opportunity and contacts to help them catch a glimpse and be a part of the bliss that comes with the galactic happenings before the sunsets down on it and see that trend rise no more. 


It was a common thing for people to use their Nokia 3310 phones for years before they saw the need to change them. Now in a year, the average income earner in Ghana – and I mean someone who earns less than the equivalent of $1,000.00 a month, changes his or her phone, sometimes, twice, hopping from one high end phone to the other. I wish I could blame the manufacturers for always churning out mouthwatering killer-app-infested phones, but no, the blame, as far as I am concerned, rests with those who do not see the importance of managing their craze for these things.

Beyond the addiction of phones and other portable personal gadgets are the other related lifestyle demands which all together determine if a person is living within their means or not. 

Let’s talk about clothing. Now it is a normal thing to see a young Ghanaian wear a shirt or dress costing GHC200 which translate to about $85.50 for work [and do not forget to look at it through the lens of the same average income mentioned above] It is a common thing to go to a shop and pick a pair of shoes, ladies or gents, and see a price tag of GHC250.00. Yes, they are in the shops to be sold and be bought. The problem is those who buy them. And I need not tell you that most often the prices include the cost of having those shoes and clothes sitting in the boutique for months without purchase and the cost of daily keeping them there; rent, and other utility bills that accrues to them. The truth is some of these clothes are cheap imitations from third world countries or clothes sold on sales in European shops. These clothes are sometimes sold for twice the prices their original prices were going for in Europe. 

Ah, let’s talk about cars. We all want to drive either the latest SUVs or the stylish pimped up rides, not thinking of the fuel they guzzle, the cost of maintaining them and the cost of spare parts when we have to get them. One of my boys who drives a Beamer said, anytime he hears the slightest squeak in his car, his heart picks up speed because the cost of diagnosing the fault may be as high as a fourth of his salary. And if there is a real problem, he either dips into his savings or borrow money to sort it out. You are asking the same question I am asking, why not sell the ride? And your answer is as good as mine, how can he? How can he come down? 

Renting a house in Accra is another killer. A regular two bedroom house in the prime and less congested locations will set you back between $300.00 and $3,500.00 a month. Yes. And they charge in USD and take at least a year’s rent. And guess those who go in for them? Regular average income earning Ghanaians. I understand we all want to live in nice neighbourhoods and feel a little bit secure. But safety is not necessarily East Legon or Cantonments where young people who want to be seen as having arrived [mostly on loans and borrowed money] go to live among those who are truly and legally rich. 

I can go and on, but in the end it comes to one thing: Ability to fuel your lifestyle. I was having lunch with a couple of friends and we were talking about how to have multiple streams of income to augment our regular incomes. We talked about how the bank guys earn good cash, drive the latest high end cars and have mortgages going on for them. One of my friends opened our eyes to something that made us stop to think for a moment. The bankers get access to ridiculously low interested if not interest-free loans. Loans for cars, for rent, for mortgage, personal loans, educational loan, stupid-reasons loans, no-reason loans… name it, there is a loan for it. So at the end of the month, after they have been paid, some of them end up with the equivalent of $300 after all deductions are made. You may see them looking all nice and crisp, but some could be walking around on borrowed life. If that is the reality, then it is a sad reality.

That is the lifestyle of most of us at different levels. We have all been caught in the sticky mesh of consumerism, living for and working to pay debts; debts we willfully contract to fuel our gluttonous heart desires. Always buying and always appearing to be on point just to be seen as part of the ‘ish’ crowd yet in the end when we all recoil into our cocoons, we lay in our beds counting the invisible numbers on our ceiling, calculating and strategizing on how to wreak in the next cache of cash to keep us running, depriving ourselves of precious sleep and forgetting we are only borrowing to extend our borrowed life. 

I Cannot rave and rant without mentioning the effect of this on the family and various relationships. There are young women who kill their young husbands who are starting up with their tastes. I call them the Range Rover type. You can have them, but you may let them go in no time when the maintenance costs start hitting you; something young men are yet to wake up to. The wedding must be done at the beach. No matter the frown on the man’s face; she is yet to start. There must be twelve bridesmaids and twelve groomsmen. Clearly that comes with clothing cost and car rental charges. Every table must have its own champagne, everything must be customized and everything for the wedding must be imported. The guy is about dying. But he forces himself to stay alive. ‘Oh honey after the wedding we must live at East Legon or Airport Residential Area until we can buy our own house in two years’ time. Pressure.   

The problem is not with the woman; she has her taste and she should, of course. What we have here is a man who is trying to live above his means by indulging a woman who is clearly out of his league.  This taste did not just show up; it started from somewhere. At your level [economic mostly] in life, it was not yours to take her to Movenpick, and LaPalm for weekends, paying for expensive trips to Dubai and all that. Maybe it was one off and you could afford it for that moment, but after marriage, if both of you do not sit down to plan and clearly chart a financial road map, it becomes a pattern and a wearying routine. 

In other to prove the size of his guts [You know the real word I wanted to use], from the onset the man uses expressions like, Oh no problem’. ‘Oh seriously?’ ‘Trust me, I am paying for this’. ‘Oh no, you don’t have to worry; I will take care of it.’ In the end, the impression created is that, ‘she can pick, you will pay’. What we fail to see is that once it gets to marriage, the frequency is sustained and can become a vicious cycle if you do not have a considerate woman with her head effectively detached from her heart. 

‘Baby we need to have a Jacuzzi at home.’ These are the comments that start getting the man moody and inexplicable grouchy. Jacuzzi....Seriously? When we just started life.

Some modern Ghanaian women do not have it, but have the taste the size of India for it. A man who indulges it may end up carrying a load he did not plan carrying; a load the one encouraging him to carry has not carried before. Some women have it; it could be from her family, her career success or from previous relationships. What some men do not do is to pause to ask if they can continue fueling such demands and tastes if they get entangled with such women. Some women are expensive, if you cannot afford them, do not waste their time. It is like Onion to their eyes. One millionaire was asked how he became a millionaire. He said his wife made it possible. The impressed host asked him what he was before he met his wife, his answer was simple: A Billionaire!

The good thing is some women are moderate and mature, knowing not to burden their men with their lifestyle demands. Some women have their own cash, they take care of their own business and sometimes extend it to the men in their lives. Some women also fine tune their tastes to suit their financial status and or that of the men in their lives. Some women have sponsors who pay. Whoever a woman is, there will be peace around her if she can sort her own business out from her own purse, or there is a man who can pay or she appreciates the adage of sewing her dress in a style commensurate with the length of the cloth she has.  Anything aside the above will make her and invariably the man in her life miserable.  There is no shame to back out if you cannot pay as a man. I think it is more shameful to pierce yourself trying to pay; trying to prove a point where there is none. It is only shameful to have domestic problems because of demands you cannot meet yet keep indulging. 


Talking about sponsors. I heard of a lady who has so lived above her means she planned the biggest wedding in town. Everything was up to the last detail. Then a month to the wedding, people started coming up with excuses, phones went off, people traveled. Most of these sponsors were guys. You should have seen the frustration. Why can’t a sister leave within her means and plan a wedding which is affordable to her? No. She wanted a wedding that was to match her self-ascribed status, but with no financial muscles to push it through. In the end women like that end up sleeping around to raise up the funds, lie to borrow and do everything a woman about to marry must not even think of. 

A good portion of the blame will surely go the men. How come we do not ask where the money is coming from? And if we do, do we find the answers satisfactory? Your girlfriend is a bank Teller. She drives a $28,000.00 showroom SUV in Ghana; you should be asking questions. You should, especially when she is also doing an MBA and sends money to her mum who is not working. Her apartment is on point in its décor and location, you need to ask questions. She is always on point on her appearance. You need to ask questions. Clearly GHC2,000.00 cannot afford all that. Who is carrying the excess load? Uncle? Cousin? How come all her siblings come to collect money from her? If an uncle is that generous, why is the uncle spending money on the one who is working and not those who are in school and not working? Go to the lab and do a research. The sad thing is men start asking these questions after they are married to the women. 

Enough of the ladies. So we have men who create the impression they can fuel the life style of these women, by borrowing to do so, and those who create the impression they have so  create a social image for themselves. This does not just happen without consequences. There will be demands made upon you based on who you claim to be. You will be viewed and judged based on the things you claim to have. For any woman with taste to accept or reject you, it will be based on the picture you paint of yourself. It is not any woman’s fault that she likes the fine things that once in a while pop up in this plebeian existence of ours; no. If you brandish gold under her nose she will assume you have it. 

Some young men in Ghana do not do this to please only women; they live above their means as a means to belong or gain entry into certain class that they are effectively excluded from. Some also do that because of their obsession with themselves, the sense of fulfillments that comes with knowing that you are the talk of town, the gossip among the boys and of course the ooo and aaa of women. Such ugsome competition with no one but one’s own sick ego.


I feel that every man or woman ought to be bold to question the source of their partner’s income and the income that fuel their lifestyle. Yes, you might be high on it and may not want to rock the boat, in case they wise up and turn the tap off on the portion that drips your way. But if you two are thinking of something serious like marriage, you need to look at your finances well. Many decisions will be made in the light of perceived financial strength and the ability to sustain your marriage will be based on that perception. If it is a floating one with no solid foundation, it is only a matter of time before that hoax is revealed, and once the fake paint wears off and the true colors come out, you may have more than money to deal with; you will have trust as well to deal with. 

It is ok if all that was a show just to impress the woman, but if it is becoming something serious and permanent both of you need to declare your true financial status. This helps manage expectation. We all do things to impress, but there is always an expiry date to the impression version, soon the real you must come out and it must come at a time where if one of you is not comfortable with the feedback of that revelation, it will be safe to withdraw.

A woman need to be bold to ask a guy who works as a Client Relations Executive in an IT firm how he is able to afford all the luxury around him. A man needs to have that piece of information about the woman. Your joy and peace of mind and sustainability of your marriage depends on that information. What if some sugar mummy is paying for all that? What if he is borrowing them? What if he is into something sinister or illegal? What if it is the woman…maybe she has a big boy who is paying and sharing her with you...Don't you want to know?

We are not in competition with anyone in this life. Wealth is good and living large is not a sin. But a wise man is the one who lives on what he can pay; the one that indulges what he can afford. We may all borrow at one point in time or the other, depending on the circumstances, but do not borrow to fuel your prodigality or worse that of someone else. Do not follow someone into destruction. most people have their reality and their façade; scratch a little and you may discover that indeed, not all that glitter is golden. 


 PG Sebastian
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