My mother (whom we still call mum) turned 78 years last April.
She has been retired for a good 13 years now. When she retired, at 65, she had been living and fending for herself for more than 10 years.
As a State Registered Nurse (SRN) and a State Certified Midwife (SCM), she had left the then perceived to be “secure” employment of government for the lucrative private institutions/hospitals/clinics because they gave her the latitude to choose the hours she wanted to work.
This was important to her because she wanted her professional programme woven around the demands of her children, so that she could come and go as she pleases, while still being a co-provider for the family, at the same time, watch her children grow.
In essence, she gave up the right to have a state-funded pension and medical aid and ended up with the expensive option of self-insurance.
Self-insurance is risky because once you leave formal employment, it is conceivable that you might not have the cash-flow to continue paying the monthly instalments as they fall due.
Things are never what they seem
Growing up, we were not rich nor were we poverty-stricken.
My take is, we just had enough not to ask for salt at Mai Hazel’s next door in Highfield.
Personally, as a child, I wanted more.
It is only with the wisdom of hindsight that I realise now, that the background my parents delivered was more than enough.
Mother was married to a patriarchal man dad (we called him baba), who took pride in providing for the family singlehandedly.
All patriarchal societies tend to be wired that way I guess because from where I am sitting, the situation has changed very little, if not for the worse.
Baba did not stop mum from working (some patriarchal men do) and pursuing her nursing profession, but I often used to hear him chuckle that mum’s income was her pocket money and she could do as she pleased with it.
For as long as I can remember, although mum was a qualified SRN and SCM, rising up through the ranks to become a matron for a geriatric home in the city, she did not rely on that income alone. She had multiple income streams.
Where there is will there is a way
As a young unenlightened person, I would inquire why she multi-tasked and where she got the time to do it.
Mum’s reply, was always, “where there is will, there is way.” After retirement, she has lost her nursing income, but she continued to benefit from other income streams such as, knitting, crocheting, tailoring, poultry farming and horticulture.
Earning a minimum of $1 000 upwards per month excluding the monthly stipend she receives from her five children.
I am discussing a woman who at close to eight decades also suffers from osteoarthritis.
As I write this article, I am panicked and petrified for my generation, in their fifties, who are female, flat broke and “waiting to die” just like our mothers. It seems like we are just across the road from the squatter camp.
Many from among us lack personal viability and sustainability.
The church has become a hiding place for unproductive women
To kill time, many have resorted to finding solace in the church.
It commendable to serve the church, but many are hiding in the church, praying for a better life which the husband can no longer deliver, while doing nothing to improve the lot of the family.
If you are not deaf and disabled, there is no reason why you cannot be a matemba merchant.
Money can also be made in Zimbabwe, a dollar a time, in the informal sector.
It is lack of wisdom to listen to the judgmental opinions of mouthy people for you can never pay your bills with their jaundiced opinions.
It is a tough life for women in their 50s to get by, without a viable job, nor business, nor considerate, caring and concerned children working in the diaspora.
I get a sinking and very sad feeling every time they share their stories.
Education has got nothing to do with it because the structure of the economy the new dispensation inherited from the previous regime was characterised with the prevalence of the feminisation of poverty.
Waiting to die
It would appear, many young women in their 30s, 40s, and 60s are “waiting to die” just like our mothers and sisters in their 70s and above.
But mothers to my generation who are still alive, have had good innings and if the end comes, would not cling to life, satisfied that they did what needed to be done, left a legacy of working hard and smarter and will reluctantly exit making way for the new.
Simple ways to achieving financial freedom
So if you are in your 50s, female and flat broke, here are simple ways to achieving financial freedom:
l Take an audit of what you know and love doing. Make a quick assessment of what it is you might want to produce and who might want to buy your product or service.
As you conduct this quick survey, get out of your comfort zone.
Seek help from those you believe know better and ask them to comment on the quality of your product and service.
My sister, in her 50s, a PhD and a director at an international university, bought a two-family home in New Jersey more than a decade ago.
She is laughing all the way to the bank ever since she registered the 4-bedroomed upstairs part of the house with AirBnB a couple of years ago.
Today, she is a superhost of Airbnb and she can run it from wherever she is in the world.
My retired sister-in-law, a former SRN and SCM, turning 76 years this year, found herself with an empty nest, in Harare and has also gone the guest route way often housing part-time and full-time overseas students and therefore not financially needy to her only child and grandchild residing in the US.
These two have succeeded in this business because of their high standards in housekeeping and the universally tasty breakfasts they serve.
Banks make money from both small and big deals.
The bank charges of $2,50 or $5 or $22,50 seem like they are negligible.
But they add up.
Imagine taking in bank charges $2,50 per transaction from, say, 300 000 customers.
So women are well-advised not to look down at business models where money trickles in.
Managed well, that business can grow.
l Always start with what you have in terms of material resources and skill so that there is no need to borrow.
Many people always use money or access to funding as a barrier and often, if you harness current non-financial resources, the enterprise can be self-financing.
The other day, I had a business meeting at the house of a potential client who wanted stuff I manufacture in my Metal Studio.
I found this lady drying cabbage and she advised me that she was doing it for charity.
When relatives visit from the rural areas, she gives them for free.
At 60 years old, this woman has just completed her first degree with UNISA, hoping to join the queue of younger unemployed graduates with more qualifications, hungrier and more energetic than herself.
She is a housewife and is often flat broke because she has no income stream of her own.
Yet, she is giving away, a potentially viable product for free!
l Get out of your comfort zone and form new networks.
You cannot plan your future based on your current circumstances.
Mum sells to people in Southern Africa, the UK and the USA.
The quality of her work and designs market the products for her.
Imagine if she was aggressively marketing her products!
Handmade stuff is sought after by people who understand and appreciate the value of work done by hands.
That market is insatiable.
l Do it from home so that you are not bogged down with unnecessary expenses before the business takes off.
If need be, get a business licence.
The unfortunate thing with our local government regulators is that, many who make critical decisions impacting entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs, have never run even a tuck shop.
So their general mentality is to put up barriers to entry in the form of high licence fees and so on.
Given the uncertain business environment that is Zimbabwe, business rentals can be astronomical and therefore unaffordable even after your business has taken off the ground.
So I am suggesting, depending on the nature of your business, you are better off operating from home.
Also when you are in your 50s, you do not want to accumulate unnecessary debt.
Operating from home or better still online, if you are tech-savvy is even better.
I prefer to work from home a choice I made because of my personal health circumstances.
As a result my businesses are self-financing with no debt, because I have set up offices in the same compound where I live.
The peri-urban location space I operate from has allowed me to craft my operations in a manner where I target only those who can drive out to us, which is considered far my many.
This means my products and services are not for the mass market.
Do not get me wrong, there are many viable ventures in the mass market.
l Money is an enabler, but is not all things.
Financial freedom allows you to be a mistress of your own destiny.
Just do not embark on this journey if the motivation is money alone.
Unfortunately in Zimbabwe right now, many of us are solely now motivated by money.
If you love what you are doing work becomes play and play becomes work.
As you continue to sharpen your competencies in your chosen area and customers fall over backwards for the products and services you offer, you are well on your way to achieving financial freedom, if of course you do not “overspend on big houses, big cars and expensive entertainment”.
lRefrain from being a copycat and duplicate businesses in markets that are oversaturated.
You will struggle and lose money.
Be creative and innovative.
Cull your ego and never be ashamed to pursue a business you know is potentially viable but your family and friends believe is not good enough.
Remember that if you are sleeping hungry, you are sleeping hungry alone.
Poverty is burdensome, stressful and unsavoury.
Get up and do something. You owe it to yourself.
l Gloria Ndoro-Mkombachoto is an entrepreneur and a regional enterprise development consultant. Her experience spans a period of over 25 years. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org