“Time is your most valuable commodity.” Arese Ugwu on what turning 30 taught her about life and money


Arese Ugwu, Founder Smart Money Africa is always a delight to listen to and learn from.

In this article, which appeared first in The Guardian, she shares insights on what turning 30 taught her about life and money. Enjoy.

Ok technically, I turned 31 a few months ago but that’s not the point. Lol! Birthdays always, make me feel some type of way because every additional year is a reminder that, as Yorubas say Agba ti de! My cousin Kike is probably rolling her eyes right now. Our birthdays are a week apart and every year since our 16th birthday as said birthdays approach, I call her to lament! But this time I didn’t.

This time I spent quite a bit of time reflecting. I reviewed a journal I kept when I was 23 and had just moved back to Nigeria. It had detailed lists of all the goals I hoped to achieve by the time I was 30. . *I laughed in Bini* Let’s just say my life took a very different turn and looks very unlike the vision my 23 year old self had imagined and was confident that she would achieve.

As I looked at the journal, I took stock of all the goals I was yet to accomplish, the failures and mistakes that had led me to succeed in new opportunities that were never part of the plan. The obstacles that were meant to break me but only made me stronger because I overcame them. I am grateful for the lessons.

Life and Money lessons you should learn by 30

This life is 100% your responsibility… No one is coming to save you

In my opinion, the typical Nigerian in their 20s regardless of education or social standing is subconsciously looking for a savior. We finish school and are subconsciously waiting for someone to come and rescue us and improve our financial lives. Ebuka is waiting for the government to improve its policies and create more jobs, Anita is enduring her 9-5 life as banker while she’s waiting for a rich husband to come and marry her, Yomi is waiting for his uncle to find him a job and Sade’s lifestyle is supplemented by ‘uncle hep me’. Sometimes the saviors will come through but its not sustainable and you must realize that you are the rule not the exception. In the event that the said savior does not come through you have to have a financial plan that is dependent on you.  Start improving your finances by putting 20% of your income aside to build assets for the long run. It took a few experiences for me to realize that no one was going to come and save me and these bills weren’t going to pay themselves.  Don’t wait for a crisis to view your finances differently. Look at them differently now and avoid a crisis. You are entitled to nothing, if you want it you are going to have to earn it. The tougher the economy gets the more financially responsible you have to become. ‘Aunty hep me’ just won’t cut it anymore because even the people that gave handouts before have their own responsibilities to think about so as you approach 30 you must take full responsibility for your financial life. The world does not align with your goals simply because you wish it.

Arese Ugwu

Time is your most valuable commodity

Lots of people in their 20s don’t save or invest because they are waiting to get a better job or start a business to earn more money but the truth is most millennials spend 30-50 percent of their paycheck on entertainment while they claim they are too poor or too young to save and invest but the reality is by the time you get to your 30s you realize you wasted a golden opportunity… time!  It’s better to start putting a little aside when you have minimal responsibilities and take advantage of the power of compounding interest. You have to find a balance between having fun and having funds. Sometimes It’s okay to miss out to stack up.

Your Network is your Net worth

By the time 30 is approaching you need to examine the quality of the relationships you’ve built over time and do a necessary edit, demote and promote accordingly because you are the sum total of the five people you spend the most time with. Avoid enablers of bad money habits.  Fadeke who is always saying ‘YOLO! Spend this moneyyyyyy’! Or Dupe who gets so sucked into ‘keeping up with the Lagbajas’. Any type of person you can’t be the real with about money has got to go. Terrible money habits are formed and replicated across friendship groups and so are great ones. If one friend talks about her business and investments – others in the group are likely to start thinking about it etc.

Divorce yourself from toxic people and expand your network with value driven people because your ability to attract wealth is intrinsically linked to how well you are able to leverage your network, to take advantage of opportunities. The business or job opportunities you’ll have access to will come from your ability to harness your network and learn how to convert that network into opportunities because the more people you are able to reach and influence, the more likely you are to attract new business, gain access to partnerships or raise funding for your business.

Learn to play the cards you are dealt like they were the cards you wanted

Listen! Its great to have a plan for your life, its very important actually. Nobody ever wrote down a plan to be broke, fat, lazy or stupid. Those things are what happens when you don’t have a plan. I’m a ‘lists’ girl! I have goal lists for everything from career to motherhood but I’ve learned that life won’t always go exactly as planned and you have to learn to be fluid.  In fact embrace the struggle because there will be struggles but overcoming them may lead you on a path with greater opportunities. Don’t be afraid of failure as long as you are dong everything within your power to succeed. The challenges we face in life are always lessons that serve our personal growth.


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