Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Help! They want to take all my money!

In the six years that I lived in the US I no one ever asked me to lend any money or anything worth more than ten bucks, except once. That once, I lent money to a fellow Ghanaian student, who was schooling at the University of Toronto in Canada. He had a story I could relate to. It was nearing Christmas, he wanted to visit his family, and had found an airline ticket for a good price through a travel agent. However he didn’t have the money to pay for it and the travel agent was not going to hold the ticket for him past the next day. He first asked a mutual friend whom he was closer to, but she did not give him the money for whatever reason. Convinced by his reassurances that his father-a well respected minister who was at that time the head of one of the more popular Christian denominations in Ghana- had already wired him the money from Ghana, I sent him the $500 he had asked through Western Union. He made me believe that the money would get to him within 2 days. He confirmed receipt on 05/05/2004 after Western Union had also sent me a pick up confirmation email which I still keep. Then he disappeared. To put it into context, I was a rising Junior in college earning hourly wages of $7.5 before taxes. As an international student, I was only allowed by law to work a maximum of ten hours/week. A little calculation shows that even if I spent very little on myself, it would have taken me nearly 3 months or close to a whole semester to save up that amount of money. Imagine my growing consternation when 2 weeks passed and our guy had made no attempt to either send me my money or explain his failure to do so. I went through all the stages of loss and when I finally accepted it, I was glad that this had happened to me at a time when I had so little money and that having learnt from it, I was now wiser.

What I didn’t know then was that I wasn't really any better at handling such situations. It just seemed that way because no one else asked me for money, and I didn’t have any to give. Now that I think of it, I even realize that there were several other instances when people who had asked me to buy things for them promising to give me the money as soon as I got to Ghana, would pay only half of the money, and not pay the rest. What’s really disturbing about these minor thefts is that is that they were done by people who are respected in society for their smarts, their family connections or financial standing. Yep, there are people who seem to be or make believe they’re doing okay financially but somehow they manage to still need to take loans from the “poor” ones like me. That’s something I’ve never understood because I always live within my means. Whatever money I have, whether it is little or much, is always enough for me and I can’t understand people who consistently live beyond their means, then borrow money from me, and pretend they’ve forgotten they owe me.

When I moved to Ghana, a friend of mine who had been living here for many years cautioned me not to disclose to people how much I make, or they’d start asking me for money. I followed his advice to the letter, so that when he asked me how much I make, I didn’t tell him but it doesn’t seem to matter that people don’t know how much I make, they still try to borrow from me. First someone asked for a loan of two hundred cedis, then two thousand cedis, then fuel. Can you imagine, someone actually tried to make me share my fuel allowance? and then someone said (not jokingly) that I should be sharing my phone units, and then another one asked for eight hundred cedis, and yet another for seven hundred cedis, all in three months of working here. These people have to be kidding me! I live waay below my means and that’s why I’m able to save money. If I wanted to blow my monthly income, you’d better believe I could. You know how many times I’ve walked away regrettably from Chez Julie in Osu because an outfit there was too expensive for me to purchase? If I wanted to, I could buy those clothes but then I’d have to be content with living in the one-bedroom that I have in the house my father built and maybe even begin asking my friends for money too.

I don’t know if this has anything to do with people knowing that I just returned from Abrokyire (abroad) and so erroneously think I came back with a fortune or if I look like someone who has money. I swear 3 different people who smelled like confidence tricksters asked me for money in Osu on the same day. I felt sorry for the first one, and was suspicious of the second one but by the time the third person approached me, I felt harassed and exploited.

Ghanaians living abroad who chose to return home for good need to watch out for this. I’m reaching breaking point. I am resolute about not giving loans but it is still affects me negatively when people ask. I wish I could do something to stop people from asking me ever again. Equally important, how can such people be helped? Financial independence/ personal finance workshops? It is really disturbing that the people I speak of are not those who don’t have jobs but those whose incomes I could live on but somehow they can’t seem to manage properly, including bankers, and managers! There are even those who will make you buy music on itunes with your account and then not pay you the proper amount for it. It's like high class theft! With such people, it’s not that they don't have money; it’s about the proper management of it, or the mindset. What can a sista do? Help!


  1. No worries, I've been taken advantage of also and thought I learned the first time, but I guess I felt sorry for them. I've truly learned my lesson...NOPE sorry, it has to be $10 or less and even then it can be tough. Now I seem to be able to give money to people when they don't ask and it's at my discretion and they have no idea about it...that's more satifying to me than when asked and you clearly know they can afford it. In regard to your question, I believe it's multiple concurrent things:
    (1) the just returned from Abrokyire & you loads of $$
    (2) they don't want to spend their own $$
    (3) living beyond their means to impress others
    (4) poor financial management
    and I can go on...

    I read an interesting article in the Washington Post newspaper, but can't find the link but it stated that poor people are better manager of their finances and often don't default on their loans.


  2. Hi Esi,
    I love reading about your experiences, my advice, start asking them for money small amounts like 20 cedis for phone units or lunch etc. That will establish with them that you need every last cent of your money plus some of their own as well.
    I know it’s easier said than done

  3. Esi tht is Ghana 4 you. I think you came home with loaded cash so you could invest in them.
    i honestly think the financial workshops you mentioned will do our folks good. I personally have not been home in 4 yrs but i think folks at home like to live large. even when they dont have, and the little they get too, they will spend it in a flash.

  4. Tht is Ghana 4 you my sis. People think you went home stacked with cash and you came to invest in them.
    Most peeps in Ghana dont live within their mens just like you said.
    Financial education to the youth and the workshop you mentioned might be of help.
    I have not been home in 4 yrs but i think folks back home like to leave large even when they dont have
    just my opinion

    Ps: you have inspired me to start bloging again

    Esi please when you have some time can you check out
    i will be very greatful

  5. Esi, I know and feel your pain. It is quite pervasive these days. And I assure you it is not because you 'just' returned from Abrokyire. Maybe it's because you have a job and they sniff out the kind heart your obviously have. It may make you feel better or worse, but a lot of people get asked, and not all of them just returned from Abrokyire. People just think of the craziest sob stories and look for who be taken in.

  6. @first anonymous who always signs off with the signature Maifren! (what does that mean anyway?), interesting point made in the newpaper article. Grameen style microcredit works because poor people pay back what they borrow. It would be interesting to investigate whether Ghanaians who do not like to be in debt (but may not necessarily be poor) and therefore are least likely to borrow are also more likely to pay back the loans they take.

    @2nd anonymous. hehehe. i may actually try that though it's going to be hard because I've never known how to do that. I remember when i was in primary school, my trotro money got lost, and i did not want to take the trotro and have the mate complain about children who spend all their money and then tell stories so i walked all the way from legon, past madina to ashale-botwe! But maybe it is time to get with the masses:)

    @Ghanagirl. Welcome to Wo Se Ekyir. This is the first time you've posted a comment so i'm guessing you're new. I hope you find plenty here that makes you miss gh. enough to visit soon:) I checked out the link you posted but I have to go back and look around the site properly. I also read ur blog and left you a comment. I'm happy to hear that you're going to start blogging again. I'll be reading.

    @Nana Yaw. Can you give me 50 cedis ? Implementing 2nd anonymous' suggestion:)

  7. Esi, "Maifren" is "Mai" = my and "fren" = friend, Ghana style. I sign off as "Maifren!" so you know its a different anonymous from the others, or a consistent anonymous, guess I'm too lazy to register...go figure ;o)


  8. Esi, as a few people have mentioned already, people need to start living within their means!
    Sadly its not just a phenomenon pervasive in Ghana, but worldwide and the credit crunch being felt in the West at the moment has been fueled by people not adhering to this principle.

    That said, i think that being philanthropic and helping those in genuine need is not a bad thing. I cannot offer a rule of thumb on how to distinguish the genuine from the tricksters but you can only go with what your instincts tell you on an individual basis

    Anyway, keep us updated on your experiences which i think you share in a uniquely vibrant style :)

  9. Esi good write up. I will be in Ghana in 10 days and already i am begining to get apprehensive as to whether people will be satisfied with the little I have scraped to bring them. Others hit the nail on the head when they say Ghanaians live beyond their means. There is this school mate of mine who is a total show off. She dosen't mind asking others for large sums of money to buy creme de la creme brand names only to give excuses when it comes time to pay up. As long as you have a Coach bag this and Gucci that, nobody bothers to inquire if one has any savings or is prudent with their money.

  10. And there was me thinking it was because I am white, how big headed of me.

    I was with a lady who said she would take me shopping at Accra mall and proceeded to shop with a vengeance then went to the checkout and told me the price. I looked at her and said sorry we dont do that in england and walk out of the store.
    Ive never been so humiliated and embarrassed in my life .
    still that was 2 lessons learnt, by both of us :D

  11. Esi, just tell them you are not the world bank or IMF. Tell them you have your own bills to take care of.

  12. Esi, you've raised such a good point. Luckily I was prepared for this as my cousin told me in my first week that EVERYBODY will try asking you for money, just be strong and say no wihtout any remorse. I was still shocked when in my third week here a man who had been waiting with me at an office in Min. of Education, decent, in a suit and old enough to be my father, asked me for transport money when I was leaving.

    Agree with Nana Yaw, don't think it's an abrokyire (thanks for teaching me how to spell it!) thing, rather it is an exploitation of the fact that Ghanaians love to show off and never want to seem poor so will never say, 'I don't have money'.

    Well, I've made it my trademark, answering 'sorry, I really don't have enough to lend you', 'sorry times are hard' and I think my cousin's right, after a while they'll realise you're not a walking ATM.

    The other advice I was given, also very good, was that when someone asks you for a loan, consider what amount you are able to GIVE away and give only that (e.g. sopmeone asks for a loan of GHc 300: you can readily give GHc75, then give only GHc75, as a gift, not a lona). That way you've done your bit and at the same time, you won't worry about chasing your money, because the most important thing to note is that in Ghana nobody ever, ever, pays back a loan they've borrowed from another person!

    (sorry for a superduper long comment!).

  13. I beg, just say 'No'. I know it's hard to say 'No'in Ghana especially when the people asking are your old friends or older people you might know but you have to start somewhere. If you don't start putting your foot down, you will get to a point in life and start asking yourself where all your money went. Me, I just say 'No' with a smile. If pressed, I say my money don finish and they keep pressing I say that the accessible one saf is not accessible. In some bank account that needs 2 months to access. So, umm...move on. I agree with the comment about giving away a little rather than the full amount. If I can give $20 away and not miss it, that's what I will give you. If you come again, you get $10. Next time you come, I will tell you that it don finish. I have been told I am mean, so me I no know...
    Just say 'No'. Start am small small and soon you'll be a pro.

    Awansona Miimi
    (since all 'Anonymous posters are signing off with unique names and such and such)

  14. Hi Esi,
    Kamau here. Finally got on. And i love the blog..
    I was recently watching BET (not too proud of that), and the guest defined the meaning of Poverty all so well - Living beyond your means, then borrowing the difference. If you think of it that way, a lot of us here in Ghana are languishing in poverty.
    I'm currently working on an article on Ghana's relationship with China, you might be the first to read it. Okay, i'm out.

  15. Hi Esi

    Don't know if you'll see this, but now that we all know your income thanks to Marie Claire [I did the math, don't remember the last time I saw so many zeros ; )] methinks you will be getting accosted a lot more now! But hey, that's the price of fame, innit!

  16. haha. Actually no one has asked me for money in a while. Maybe it's 'cos i've been around for a while now and people feel the ice has melted:) But i could always say that my money is all locked up in stocks and t-bills. haha!