Book Review: The Smart Money Woman by Arese Ugwu

by Foluke Okekunjo

This book, authored by Arese Ugwu, founder of, a personal finance platform for the African millennial talks about an African girl’s journey to financial freedom. With twelve chapters and 276 pages, the book gives explicit information on how to go about one’s finances wisely. It’s a book to read particularly during these economy-thriving times in Nigeria. Arese’s storyline was quite relatable and nothing far from the truth. Kindly relax and enjoy the chapter by chapter review together with lessons that can be learnt from each.

The first chapter of the book is titled broke. The chapter focuses on a young lady, Zuri, a US returnee who was enjoying life until the unprecedented happened. She was earning about six hundred thousand a month at that time and had only eight hundred thousand naira in her account which could obviously not cover her immediate needs; fixing her car, payment of her car service charge and payment of her routine check-up for fibroid which she was diagnosed of. Even after receiving her next salary, her expenses far surpassed her income. Her close pal, Tami advised her to date rich guys instead of being independent as she had always been. This was not a good idea for her as she remembered her ordeals in the hands of Folabi and Paul just to mention a few.

We are all left to ponder on, what does being broke mean? It means there is no source of primary income which makes it hard to maintain the lifestyle one is accustomed to because there are no assets or investments. As such, there is a need to have active income which is earned from service rendered and also have some passive Income- which is received effortlessly. One is financially free when one’s passive income exceeds one’s expenses.

The second chapter centered on how Zuri was basically able to overcome her fears. These fears are- the thought of calling her ex, Folabi, to ask for money. She knew he was going to ask for sex and because she was scared of the news flying around, she had a re-think. She also feared attending Women Conferences. She was doing poorly at work so she had no choice but to overcome this fear by attending the next WIMBIZ (Women in Management and Business) conference. She had always thought that Women Conferences were boring as she had attended a few before.
She equally had the fear of facing her landlord. Her landlord constituted a nuisance and became a frequent face at her house. At that time, she knew it was best to confront him. She told him how she intended to pay part of her debt by the end of the month. The final fear that gripped her was asking her family for money. She had asked her brothers for money previously with no response. The next available person was her mother. Even though she knew that she didn’t have much, she was always willing to help.

The third chapter is tagged, Where is your money going? This was the first time, Zuri discovered that she had never opened any of her bank statements because she felt that her salary was covering her expenses quite well. If she had done this earlier, it could have savaged the whole situation. She woke up early in the morning to write out all her expenses particularly in the last one month. She then discovered that more than half of her salary was spent on shoes, clothes and bags; the other half one on fuel, uber ride during an emergency, asoebi and eating out. Her major expenditure was her house rent which was 2.5million naira.

Zuri had to look for ways to cut her expenses based on what she had seen as the major constituents, these include asoebi; wasting money on transportation since her friend, Tami could always drive her to work since her car was with the mechanic. She also stopped eating out and still thought of ways to have fun. She decided it was better to invite her friends over for dinner. She also thought of ways of selling her fairly good shoes and bags at reasonable prices. Even though she wanted her expenses to reduce by 50%, it reduced by 35% which was fairly a good start for her.

The fourth chapter, Dealing with debts, explains how people tend to spend beyond their means. It is the story of Banke, Zuri and Lara’s friend who was holding a birthday party for her son who just turned one. On getting to the venue, Lara discovered that the theme for the party was ‘The Jungle Book’ after taking a quick look at the decorations. Zuri on the other hand, had arrived earlier and was talking with an acquaintance, Chinasa who was known to be a gossip. She had told Zuri that Banke had owed vendors for two years when she celebrated her daughter’s first birthday. Chinasa said that she was sure Banke must have spent millions of naira on her son’s birthday. Zuri explained these to Lara but Lara was quick not to believe since Chinasa was known for her sweet tales. Zuri thought, whether it is true or not, there must be an iota of truth in it. She also thought, ‘Who knows if my neighbours have been spreading rumours about me and my inability to pay my rent?

The fifth chapter named, Surviving Emergencies, Zuri’s Aunt, Uwa had called her at dawn to inform her that part of her mum’s house had been gutted by fire over the night. Her mother’s safety was the first thing that came to her mind. Her aunt retorted that her mother was fine and she was just being treated for shock. She knew she had to travel to Benin once it was weekend. She wasn’t even sure the money she had could cover her flight not to talk of renovating her mum’s house. She thought to herself, “My brothers would support me”.

On her way to work, she kept thanking God for saving her mother’s life not knowing that another terrible news was waiting for her at work. Her boss had called for a meeting. Obiageli, one of the accountants had hinted her that the company wanted to lay off twenty five members of staff. Zuri prayed silently to God that she wasn’t going to be a part. She had no back-up funds anywhere. Fortunately for her, her name wasn’t mentioned. She was grateful to God once again. After the meeting ended, her boss asked to see her. He informed her that she needed to up her game and that the only reason she was not laid off was because she was on probation.

There are some salient lessons to learn from this episode too. A smart woman shouldn’t wait for financial surprises. She systematically saves towards her emergency funds. Not everything that happens should be termed as emergencies. Emergencies should be defined e.g an impromptu trip, car breakdown etc.

For every form of income, there should be some goals, this was treated in the sixth chapter tagged Money Goals. Zuri had prepared for a presentation as instructed by her boss. They were expecting representatives from Zuma Capitals. She needed to put in her best since a deal was at stake. Though she got in late for the presentation, she was able to give her best. One of the people that couldn’t help but notice her was Tsola of Zuma Capitals. She liked him too because he was attractive but she was quick to rebuff him.

Later in the day, she had booked her flight to Benin, only for her to meet Tsola again, the guy that probed her and scrutinized each of her slides. She wanted to ignore him but Tsola was the first to sight her. He looked cool in his white native attire unlike his ‘workish’ look earlier in the day. They were both heading to Benin and their flight was delayed by an hour. This gave them ample time to talk. In no time, Zuri talked about her money woes. Tsola was quick to advise her. He told her of how he sets three main goals every quarter and denies himself of getting an official car or going on all-paid expense trips just to make sure he achieves his goals

His game plan for Zuri- He said, ‘Think of how you would want your perfect day to be. Write out three goals that can help you achieve that’. Zuri laughed but later considered it. Essentially, we can draw a valuable thought from this chapter, which is most successful people are the ones who are able to articulate what they want for their lives. Success is deeply rooted in having a solid plan that is tailored to what you want.

Do you have a Spending Plan? That’s what the seventh chapter is about. Zuri had visited her mum at Aunty Uwa’s place. She was still there when Aunty Grace, one of her mother’s old friends came visiting. Aunty Grace told her mum about her woes in the fabric business. She needed money to clear her goods at the port. Zuri knew that her mother was going to borrow her money as she was used to giving out money she never gets to collect. This angered Zuri alot.

As Zuri landed in Lagos, Lara one of her friends had asked her to come for dinner at RSVP, one of the most expensive restaurants in Lagos. She told her that she was broke. Lara agreed to pay for her meal. Now, her spending plan was working, she thought.

They got talking about investments and Lara educated her. ‘Divide your income into three’, she said. 20% should go into Long-term Financial Goal (LFG) e.g buying assets, 10% into Short-term Financial Goal (SFG) e.g buying a bag and 70% into Living Expenses (LE).

The saying that “Nobody is an Island to himself,” is a pointer that every person needs to Networking. The eight chapter spoke of Zuri’s exposure at the WIMBIZ conference. She had forced her friends; Tami, Lara and Adesuwa to attend. Surprisingly for her at WIMBIZ, she met wonderful people who were CEOs and she was an active participant in one of the segments that had to do with investments. What really made her day was that Zuma Capitals signed the deal with her company the same day WIMBIZ started. Tsola of Zuma Capitals also told her he liked her and asked her out for lunch.

The pivot of this chapter is when we meet people, instead of talking about yourself, ask questions about the other person, find out common points of interest and then continue with interesting tit-bits about yourself e.g I used to be so depressed about my weight but last year, I lost 15kg with a smoothie-inclusive diet and decided to start a business that will help other women like me loose weight.

Chapter nine is titled Life Happens. Some of the things that happened are Zuri and Tsola had started dating; they both attended Ladun’s father-in-law’s burial, Baba Ashoni. They went in company of Zuri’s other friends; Tami, Lara and Adesuwa. Ladun was a full housewife and depended solely on her husband. It was after Baba Ashoni’s death that it was discovered that the man was indebted to banks and had used his houses as collateral including the one Ladun and her husband lived in.

Soji, Adesuwa’s husband had been withdrawing money consistently from their joint account. She had expressed her fears to her friends. Tsola advised her not to put her whole salary into the bank account anymore.
These realities brings some thoughts to the fore- keep personal account separately but have a joint account for household expenses with pre-agreed amounts that each person will contribute.

The tenth chapter is about the Long Investment Game. Tsola had helped Zuri organize a meeting with Omosede, an investment guru. Omosede told her to prioritize and make her steps towards investing a gradual one. She explained all these to Tsola and when he asked her the first thing she would love to get after saving, she said a second hand car. Tsola was not happy about this. Tsola jokingly said that he could not date a broke and beautiful lady. This made her angry and they did not talk for the rest of the night.

The chapter educates the readers on the various forms of investment which are Mutual Funds; Real Estate; Treasury bills amongst others. Let’s further by thinking about Earning More. Zuri met with her mentor, Mrs Abafor-Williams to ask how she could earn more money. Her mentor noticed from her response that she really did not like business. She was more of a career person. She then told her to leverage on her skill set to maximise her earning potential. ‘The fact is that not everyone is an entrepreneur’, she said. Zuri then began to think of ideas that could bring growth and profit to her company. This she did, presented to her boss and it earned her a promotion at work.

As a reader, it is very important to take some active steps to getting where you should be. These are- write down at least three skills that can improve your earning potential. What problems do people ask you to solve? Write out ten things you complain about daily. Break down the problem into smaller tasks. What skill do you have that can solve an aspect of the problem amongst others.

The final chapter takes us back to the title of the book, Becoming a Smart Money Woman. She is a combination of the best parts of African Women. She pursues a dream of owning her network regardless of how impossible it seemed. She is a woman whose hustle has purpose and has learnt to make money, keeps money and grows money. She’s a master of her craft, lives by her own playbook and is in the top ten percent of her industry. She is the sort of woman I am capable of becoming!

I have learnt to maximize my all that is within my capacity to be a better woman. Who you also rise to the occasion and become the smart money woman that every man loves and cherishes.

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