After her marriage ended at the age of 27, Smart Money Woman author, ARESE UGWU set out to ensure that she was able to be her own financial hero and wanted the same for women around Africa. In a chat with Mo Adefope, the author, speaker and now, executive producer of a series inspired by her hit book talks about how to do money the smart way!


Photo by Remi Adetiba


How did the idea of The Smart Money Woman come to life?

My Smart Money Journey began when I was 27 years old. My marriage fell apart and I had to move to a new apartment, pay two years rent upfront, buy new furniture, pay service charges and on top of that, my daughter was a year old. It was a financial struggle but it was my first Aha! moment, because it was the first time I realised I had not been saving and investing enough in proportion to my salary. I began to think about the need to create financial content for women like me who wanted to live a fabulous life but had to learn to find a balance between spending on lifestyle and building assets that could protect their financial future.


What were the lessons you learnt from writing The Smart Money Woman that you thought were important to get across your second book, The Smart Money Tribe?

The Smart Money Woman did so well across Africa. On my book tour to countries like Tanzania, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa, I loved the way women responded to the characters even though they were predominantly Nigerian stories. The pain points cut across borders. The smart money tribe was an opportunity to make a sequel to the book that is more Pan-African, showing the characters on a new level in their lives and careers dealing with new money problems and proffering new solutions.


Would you say we’re finally at a point where young people on this side of the world are becoming more financially literate and investing more in their financial growth or do you think there’s still a lot more work to be done before we get to that point?

I think the climate has changed. When I started writing personal finance articles in 2014 [targeted at] African millennial women, I didn’t think anyone would care because our focus was and is still predominantly on entertainment and gossip. However, I find that in recent years African millennials are thinking more about how they can invest, monetise their skills, build businesses and their careers.


What is the embodiment of a Smart Money Woman?

A Smart Money Woman is a woman who aspires to be financially fearless, a woman who is purposeful about building her business or career. She loves the good life but is intentional about building assets that provide consistent cash flow and improve her net worth.


Photo by Remi Adetiba


You make use of a number of different platforms to share your knowledge and champion The Smart Money movement. Your books, The Smart Money Africa platform, workshops, social media are well curated. Which of these have been the most impactful for you?

I think social media has proven to be the most impactful platform because it has exposed me to a bigger audience. It has opened doors for me in countries I have never been to. There are women I interact with on Instagram and by the time I get to their country for the first time they’ve planned whole events for my books, media tours and set up strategic partnerships. 10 years ago I would probably have had to visit those countries, physically, multiple times to make any of those things happen.


Some people are of the opinion that the best way to achieve financial freedom is through entrepreneurship or working for oneself, rather than working a 9-5. Do you agree with this?

I disagree. We are all different, we have different skills, different experiences and different work ethics and not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur. I think people need to do what they are uniquely placed to do and sometimes that could mean being an intrapreneur, someone who didn’t necessarily come up with the idea for the business but helps to build structure and execute strategy within the business. It’s more important to be entrepreneurial in your thinking and solve problems wherever you are than to be an entrepreneur. There are employees who are wealthier than entrepreneurs who run substance style businesses. I think you make the most money when you operate where you are uniquely placed to serve.


We can argue that the economy isn’t really set up in a way that most young people can realistically build up their savings and investments. In your opinion, what systems can we put in place ourselves to achieve financial success despite this?

I think the way you spend N10 is the way you will spend N10 million. So if you can’t find a way to save and invest when you have a little, you are unlikely to save and invest when you have a lot because our consumption tends to rise to meet our income. So it’s best to cultivate the habit of putting at least 10% of your income towards your savings and investments before you spend one naira.


Beyond the best selling books and the Smart Money movement, what are your other passions?

I’m a woman who wants to leave a legacy that helped to change the African narrative of poverty because I made financial jargon easier to understand. But I’m also really fun. I love to have a good time with my friends and family, eating at fancy restaurants, drinking amazing wine over quality conversation. I’m passionate about my daughter Zikora, travelling to new countries and trying new food. I like food a lot!


Photo by Remi Adetiba


As a parent with a young child, what methods or tactics have you developed to better help you to put extra income aside for investments and the like?

If you don’t build your savings and investments it makes it more difficult to plan towards things like school fees, travel and all the important things required to give your child a quality life. I’ve learned to prioritise, which sometimes means short term sacrifices for long term goals. Ultimately, the fact that I have a daughter forces me to hustle harder even when things get difficult because she relies on me for so much.


You’ve been working on a TV adaption of the Smart Money Woman, featuring some of our Nollywood favourites. Can you tell us a bit more about the show and what we can expect from it?

The TV show is a 13 episode series adapted from the first book, which stars Osas Ighodaro, Toni Tones, Ini Dima-Okojie and Lala Akindoju. It’s a project I’m very excited about. It was my first time executive producing anything on that scale so the learning curve was steep but we had an amazing crew led by Bunmi Ajakaiye and Femi Awojide as well as support from brands like First Bank and Unilever that believed in the project.


Would you say you’ve achieved the goals you set out to when you decided to create the Smart Money movement?

To be honest when I started the movement there wasn’t a clear road map or blueprint to follow, I just kind of figured it out as I went along. I didn’t think in 2015 when it became a business that I would have written and self-published two best selling books, gone on a book tour across Africa and executive produced a TV series. My goals are constantly evolving so I’m never in a season where I think I’ve accomplished everything I set out to do.


How do you think young women can achieve more financial freedom despite the fact that there are certain barriers to women earning as much or being as financially independent as men?

When it comes to women earning more or becoming financially independent, I think there are external systems in place that are set up to exclude women from going past a certain point but I think there are also internal factors we have more control over like learning to have bigger conversations about money. When I’m in a room with men, the conversation is ultimately different. I think that men are more likely to discuss business opportunities, how to scale their businesses, talk about the financials in their businesses, compare investment returns etc. Women tend to talk more about their ideas, marketing strategies, how to balance being a wife, mother and running a business which are not bad topics but we can’t benefit from the opportunities we don’t discuss or we are not privy to. I think it’s important for women to start thinking bigger and taking more calculated risks if we want to earn more. We have to learn to see past the ‘barriers’ and the self doubt.


How do you discipline yourself when you’re trying to save towards a goal or there’s a purchase you want to make but you know you shouldn’t spend on it?

I decide my goals early in the year, prioritise them and open separate accounts for each goal. It helps me stay focused on what I can afford to do at any given time.


Do you feel like it’s possible to be too financially strict or save too much?

It think its about finding a balance. It’s like a diet. If it’s not sustainable, it will fail.


Personally, what is your biggest financial goal for 2020?

Make a million dollars from my new book and the TV series by December 2020.


Photo Credits: Remi Adetiba

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