Personal Finance: How to strike a balance when helping family

How to strike a balance when helping family. PHOTO| FOTOSEARCH

What you need to know:

  • This African thing of not counting our coins also has us approaching money as a taboo topic
  • We’re shameful when we’re drowning in debt, we struggle silently when purse strings are tightened and expend too much energy maintaining appearances

It is a general rule amongst us Africans that we shouldn’t ‘count’ our wealth. It’s frowned upon to quantify what we own by attaching quantities to it. So we don’t count our children. Or our wives. Neither our cows or the poor chicken. Not even the acreage of our land. We rather talk about the ‘blessings’ of owning such wealth and say things like, ‘I’ve been blessed with many children. Or, ‘My shamba goes as far as my eyes can see – I am blessed.’

(Oh, forgive me, where are my manners? You and I haven’t kicked it back in a year. How have you been? Me? I’m doing swell! Thrilled to be back in this space. I was away mothering as I watched the theatrics of the pandemics from the comfort of my living room. Like anyone else out there, I’ve smelled the roses while getting pricked by the thorns amongst these bushes.)

Anyway, we respect the abundant humility of being African while maintaining that you can’t write about money without crunching the numbers. And so we break the rules.

I’m from a family of seven children. (Yeah, try having seven kids in this economy. I’m already feeling the pressure of having two.) I’m the fourth and smack in the middle of this melee. The beauty about being a middle child is that your folks almost forget about you. Almost. Their attention is fixed elsewhere; you can quietly carry on with your shenanigans like a sleuth.

When it comes to your family and your money, it’s crucial that you live by some guiding principles. Principles that will maintain a healthy and balanced relationship.

Don't Disclose

The first guiding principle is that your family need not know how much money you make or know all the places you are making it. Don’t disclose figures to them or hint at it with ballpark figures. Keep them in the dark and keep them guessing.

Do you know what happens when you disclose your income to your family? There’ll be expectations proportional to your take-home: Your family will expect you to shoulder a greater responsibility in the household.

And yet, as is the irony of life, the more money you make the more you have to take care of. You who earns Sh200,000 probably has less money left in your pocket than he who earns, say, Sh60,000. Your family may not understand why, in a WhatsApp group harambee, you’ll contribute Sh2,000 instead of Sh10,000.


Give what you can. Going beyond this self-established boundary builds resentment against the very people applauding you for your generosity.

The second guiding principle is that no one of us has a right to judge the other for how they spend their money, moreso on indulgences. You know, those little guilty pleasures that make money sweeter? Our eldest sister splurges on wigs and makeup and all that shebang. One of my brothers is a clotheshorse, his wife a foodie. I’m into home décor.

My other sister loves fitness gear. She has this beat up phone that constantly has a dark screen, calls sounds as though they’re on loud speaker and takes photos no better than CCTV.

Last December the girl decided to continue suffering with her phone and invested in this fancy running watch. One of those that measures the quality of your sleep and your cholesterol and happiness levels. Did we judge her? A little. Should we have? Nope, let her spend her money on whatever makes her happy.


Third, we can each support our families in different ways, not just financially. We are after the same thing, after all – family prosperity. My little brother is excellent with farm work and speaking to cows. He’s a cow whisperer. So he supports the family with the heavy lifting in the shamba. I’m good at managing projects and laying the groundwork that’ll get us to our shared goals. My sister – the one with a hundred wigs – has the gift of the gab to reunite us when we’re in disarray.

And lastly, let’s normalise conversations about money. This African thing of not counting our coins also has us approaching money as a taboo topic. We’re shameful when we’re drowning in debt, we struggle silently when purse strings are tightened and expend too much energy maintaining appearances. Speak up when you need a lifeline, not when the auctioneers are bringing down your door.

Bett Florence-Kinyatti is a certified accountant with ACCA and a former financial auditor.