My Money Mistake is a weekly PiggyVest series that explores the worst money mistakes real Nigerians have made, and the lessons they learnt from it.
For this week’s episode of My Money Mistake, we spoke to a 31-year-old business administrator who got into a debt of ₦2.5 million to keep up his girlfriend’s lifestyle. He tells us about the lessons he learnt and how the experience affected his relationship.
Could you tell me about your money mistake?
I got into serious debt because of a woman.
There’s a lot to unpack there. How did that happen?
When we met, I was running on a reserve of about ₦300,000 because I had made a major expense that required me to spend practically all I had. She was high-maintenance, and I had very low self-esteem. So, I felt like I didn’t deserve her, and I was willing to go beyond myself financially to keep her interested in me.
But how do you go from that to getting into debt?
The problem is that when you’ve created an image of yourself to someone, you have to work hard to maintain it. From the moment we started dating, she didn’t have any reason to spend her money; it was always my money. Of course, that money finished because it’s limited, and then things started stacking up.
How much debt are we talking about here?
Wow. How does a management-level, working class person get into a debt that huge?
It shocked me, too. I’d always judged guys that sold their cars and houses to impress a woman. But it didn’t start off that huge. It started very small, then it escalated over time. There was this big expense she needed to make, and I just assumed it shouldn’t be a problem because I was earning enough and considering taking on new side-projects.
I went ahead to take a loan, and, unfortunately, the projects didn’t materialise. So I had a loan to pay off. I had to take a new loan to pay off that loan. But my expenses didn’t stop because her desires and lifestyle hadn’t changed. That created a deficit that I needed to get a loan to cover. So I was spending faster than I was earning. And it just went on and on.
At some point, I ran out of legitimate loan sources and found myself in illegitimate sources of loans like online loan sharks with insanely high interest rates and the anxiety that comes with the fear of defaulting on their loans — loans you have to repay weekly and biweekly when you earn monthly.
Did this cycle ever stop?
Eventually, yes. It took me 10 months after the first loan.
Where did the money come from?
I’m always doing things on the side, and one of them is business consulting. I got an opportunity to consult for a business owner. He loved the proposal I prepared, and we signed the contract, part of which was an 80% upfront payment. That wiped out the debt.
How did you feel getting the money you knew could clear all the debt you were in?
The payment happened so quickly; I got the deposit right in that room. I tried to compose myself and be calm, but once I got back to my room, I just wanted to cry. It was the first time in months that I had a full night’s rest.
Are you two still together?
No, we’re not.
Did the debt cause that?
She didn’t know anything about the debt, but – and this might not be correlated – at the time I was drowning in debt and stopped spending as much, she seemed to be withdrawing. I can’t say it for sure, but I suspect it played a part in it.
I suspect a ₦2.5 million debt didn’t teach you one lesson, so what were your lessons?
Oh, it taught me a whole lot of lessons. The first is that you shouldn’t get into debt, but if one must, then find favourable terms. The other one I learned, though, is to not live to impress people. You have what you have, you don’t have what you don’t have, and that’s fine. You shouldn’t have to borrow money to take someone out. It also taught me how to manage a debt crisis, which I now teach people.
Tell me, what should I do if I’m in debt?
You need salvation; you can not get out of it on your own. I was lucky and I appreciate that, but not everyone is. You’re better off getting a loan from your friend with a repayment plan that is spread over a convenient timeline than getting ₦100,000 from any loan company in this world. Talk to the people around you about what you’re going through. Write down how much you owe, how much you earn, and formulate a realistic payment plan.