16 Life-Changing Lessons I Learned In My 30 Years

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“Ah! When I am 30, I will totally be retired.”

At least that’s what I thought. Today is my 30th Birthday and I have A LOT to reflect on.

When I was younger I thought that by the time I am 30, I will have a successful business and won’t have to work another day of my life.

Bahahahahahahaha! Allow me to laugh at my naive 14-year-old self while I fall over the chair.

Don’t get me wrong, I did work hard towards this goal but as time passed I rapidly came to the conclusion that life doesn’t always turn out the way we want. In fact, you don’t always get what you want; or, even ever know exactly what you want for the rest of your life. One thing remains true though: We need the courage to take risks and see where things go.

I learned earlier on that being in control of your money and having money stashed away helps smooth the ride of life. It helps us take risks when we want to and rescues us from unforeseen situations. My 20’s have been interesting as I spent most of my time, mastering money and sharing my technical knowledge of it – How to invest, what to invest in, how to think about money, what to use it for, and also making mistakes of my own.

Here are the 16 life-changing business, money and life lessons I have learned in 30 years and how they can help you too.

1. An ‘escape fund’ is the key to freedom 

More commonly known as the F**K Off Fund, it’s used when you want to escape.

Many of us find ourselves questioning the path we have chosen, the choices we make and what we want from life. You see senior people above you at work and you really don’t aspire to be like them. Perhaps deep down, all you want is to follow your passion, start a business and work in your own terms; or, simply wonder when you will have that sabbatical to travel the world.  There you are, no money and you need to live. Having an escape fund is what will give you that freedom.

Those things I wished for, become things I can do. You might be having a happy life and career now, but if things change for the worse, you need a fund to do something about it. I am all about financial security – to have the ability to give a finger to whatever doesn’t float your boat anymore.

My Story: I used my escape fund to start Wealth Architects. I didn’t leave work, I got fired. My work situation was toxic. Constant changes, people being fired. I was really stressed out most of the time, unhappy and burnt out from all the politicking. Luckily, I had been saving for financial independence for a while because I knew that one day I’d need to leave. Now, I get to do what I love and live by my own terms, life is pretty awesome 🙂

2. Being Unapologetically You 

You can’t let other people stop you from getting what you want in life. Own what you want and go after it unapologetically.

I have learned to accept that we live in an imperfect world and therefore, you can control your surroundings and your destiny. The choices we make, lead us onto a path to get to where we want. Make those decisions unapologetically, else you will stray and take even longer to get there.

Choose you and be happy – no need to apologise for that!

3. Educate Yourself 

All the knowledge I have acquired on finance from life, college, books, courses (CFA) and podcasts have been invaluable. It has saved me from the ‘get rich quick’ schemes on countless occasions. In my position in the field of money, a lot of people approach me with all these ‘amazing’ products and having a deep understanding has enabled me to sniff out scams from a mile away.

Once you finally make peace with the fact that it takes time to build wealth and compound interest, you will start making more money than you lose.

4. Life’s a marathon –  slow and steady wins the race 

I have never been one to fear missing out on things.

I am just not built like that and thankfully, it has saved me from temptations to jump onto the latest ‘big thing’ and try to ride every wave upwards as quick as possible (here’s looking at you, bitcoin). Although it is boring, the best way to grow your wealth is investing consistently over time into investments that earn you a favourable return – interest or capital gains.

Nothing beats the power of compounding.

5. Hedge for peace of mind

There are so many sensational headlines that just won’t let you chill – ‘Tax will hurt markets,‘ ‘NSE sheds billion,’ ‘Fortunes in sharp fall!’.

I’ve always been aware of the element of risk in every investment I make and also, understand that risk cannot be eliminated. While that may be true, there is less risk when you spread out your investments rather than placing them all in one basket.

Personally, I like to spread my investments across asset classes. Should the stock market fall, like it has before, I will still have other assets to provide gains. However, if the whole market takes a massive dive, I have enough cash to ride it out while  I figure out how to earn some more money.

6. Cheap isn’t always better, so is expensive 

This is Kenya.

You’ll find yourself buying fake things touted as original/better, and cheap just because it’s cheap and supposedly better.

Just because something is being sold at a discount, doesn’t mean that it’s a good option. That’s why I subscribe to minimalism (rather than frugalism) because it is better to buy less, but focus on quality rather than price.

In the long run, it will be a better option.

7. Lifestyle inflation takes away from your future 

Lifestyle inflation is when you inflate your lifestyle each time you make a little more.

Being tempted to buy nicer things isn’t uncommon, but will surely take away from a better future. Simply don’t engage in things that will kill your ability to save.

To overcome this, you’ll need to take note of any real changes in your budget (i.e. the net effect of the raise – after tax and expenses), value experiences over things and choose to make planned gradual changes to your lifestyle.

8. The friends you keep, matter 

In the last year, I realized that most of my friends are 40 and above. By virtue of my work, they are the people that I have naturally gravitated to by default. These people have taught me so much. I am so grateful.

Since I started this journey back in 2014, I have managed to weed out all the petty bullshit and toxic people, leaving me right where I am now. Happy.

9. Making money isn’t hard

Unfortunately, most of us tell ourselves that making (even keeping) money is hard.  It really isn’t.

Making money is the result of an exchange, not the cause –  provide value and receive value in return. Also, there is no such thing as luck, merely opportunities created.

Changing your conditioning, rewriting your psychological blueprint, bad experiences and their negative biases is the first step to liberation from this mindset. When preparation meets good attitude, it creates an opportunity; where an action that results in making money can be taken.

10. The biggest risk is not taking one 

Although I consider myself naturally risk-averse, I have taken some serious risks in my life.

Quitting my first job was a big risk. Starting my own business was an even bigger risk. Making financial investments that I wasn’t 100% sure would pan out, was another risk. And you know what? With the exception of maybe one (or two, perhaps it was three), they’ve all panned out.

The fear of the unknown keeps people stuck. We always want to know all the risks and have the guarantee that they will all pay off. However, there is really no way of knowing that. Until you realize that, you will remain where you are.

11. There is no single formula for financial success 

I have talked about survivors bias before and it is my firm belief that reading about people who have made, it doesn’t guarantee your own success.

Everyone’s situation is drastically different, particularly when it comes to personal finance (aside from the basic stuff  – saving, retiring, taxes etc). This is why you need to figure out ‘YOU’ – what you value and translate that into your financial life.

12. Perfection will keep you broke

Being an A-type personality, I can be quite obsessive, ergo meticulous with my work. I find myself taking ages to get something done. Guys, perfection will keep you broke. It’s better to be done than perfect.

This is the delicate balance I am still battling with every day.

13. There is a dark side to frugality 

Because I can be quite obsessive, I am very thorough on how I spend and calculate my money.

When it comes to saving, I am always pushing myself to see how much more I can save – trying to squeeze as much as possible, constantly using hacks to get it done.

There were days I didn’t spend anything and it wasn’t hard at all – but over time, I was tired and miserable from restricting myself. All these things, take a great amount of energy and time to play out as it depletes your decision making power. Ironically, after I decided that that policy was for the birds, my month to month spending didn’t change.

14. Spend mindfully 

I’ve had people come up to me and questioned me on how I live or spend my money.

Don’t be swayed by those who love to ‘spend-shame’ so that you can appear to be on the ‘same level’. Everyone has their own opinion about what is good to spend on or waste money on. So don’t cancel on those things you enjoy or buy things that you consider unnecessary in your life. Only spend on things that bring you joy.

Carefully thinking about what you spend on and what it means to you, will naturally save you money.

15. It’s better to be respected than liked

Being a woman, I am culturally conditioned to believe that my value as a women lies in being liked hence, perfectionism, the martyrdom, the doormats, and the underearning.

The truth is, if you want to make money, you need to be respected. You can’t do that by merely being liked by people. Striving to be liked will only ruin the relationships you make because it is difficult to set boundaries and get things done.

One needs to create value, be kind to everyone, deliver above and beyond expectations. I am more focused on that – that is, being respected – above the fickle fleeting feeling of being liked.

16. Finally, sometimes it’s worth to wait 

Society places so much pressure to achieve certain milestones by specific ages. Don’t fall for it. 

You aren’t a failure for doing things a little later in life. Personally, because of my unconventional path in life, I have had to start something(s) later in life. I have taken a lot of flak for it and it has led to many internal battles for several years.

Now, all the chances I took back then, my patience and perseverance are slowly paying off in ways I never even thought possible.  

Before you go…

If you found this helpful, click the share it on your network so your friends can benefit too ?


Image credits:  Top by Pixabay, via Pexels.

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Irene Makanga
Irene has an MBA in Finance and is an avid businesswoman, passionate about financial literacy.

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