My Parents Cut Me Off Financially, & it Might Have Been The Best Thing They Ever Did

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

When I was in college, my lifestyle was funded by my parents. I was given an allowance of R500 a month (which works out to about $34.74), and I lived at home. It was a comfortable life and I never thought much of it–none of my friends received allowances. They lived at home, too, but their parents paid for everything outright, from cars and food to textbooks and clothing. I liked the independence I got from having my own money, because I could do what I wanted with it without having to explain myself.

I wrote my last paper on December 5, 2016. I was pretty excited to be graduating from the prestigious University of KwaZulu Natal (in Durban, South Africa), especially since there was constant protest action during my last year–between violence or fires on campus and clashing major courses or cancelled classes, actually attending a class was difficult–but I graduated with degrees in English and Criminology. I was convinced that I would land a great job right away; In addition to my degrees I had six years of writing experience, so I considered myself an asset as an employee. Like every graduate, I made the, "Oh, look, I'm unemployed!" joke, but things were about to change. Big time.

The End of an Era

By the time 2017 rolled around, my father expected me to be employed. No such luck. I’d had hopes of getting a job as a journalist, or even in the police field (which was my backup plan). I applied for every job that came my way, even if I didn’t qualify for it–which was more often than not. People wanted work experience, which I didn’t really have in an official capacity (what do you mean internships and jobs in your teens don’t count?) So imagine my shock and horror when I found out my allowance was cut off.

"That was your college money," he said simply. "You're no longer in college." I thought he was joking. He had to be joking.

He wasn't.

I knew it wasn't as awful as I was making it out to be; I had a roof over my head and food to eat, but it was suffocating. Suddenly I had no financial freedom, and I had to ask if I wanted something. It felt like I had turned back into a child after college. But it would be fine; it was just going to be until I found a job. Just a few months, right?

Wrong.

I couldn't find a job in my field. No one wanted to hire me, despite my years of writing experience, and I couldn’t get into another field since my only work experience was writing online or freelancing for a few magazines and newspapers. It was desperation that led me to accept the first job offer I received. This led to a whole new set of issues, since my new job was at a call center.

The Call Center Stereotype

In South Africa, especially among Indians, call centers have a bad reputation. They're seen as lowly, and the staff are considered to do nothing but drink, smoke and party. I don’t know when or how this stereotype started but in the conservative Indian community, this behaviour is frowned upon. Therefore, so is the call center. While this drinking/smoking/partying habit is true of several call centers (my place of employment included), many are just trying to make a living.

I was forced to make a decision: be looked down on for my place of employment, or be unemployed. Which was worse? I remember talking it over with my mother once as we were grocery shopping, and a random shopper told me not to work in the call center. Her exact words were: "Don't ever work in a call center. It's not nice for young girls. It's better if you go study, get a degree and then find a nice job." All I could do was stare at her. I did study. I did get the degree. Where was my nice job? Throughout my life, I had been given the same advice, but what was the point if there was no 'nice job' to begin with? I had a degree. I’d taken countless extracurriculars to try and boost my CV, and I even took a few online classes on tools like Microsoft Outlook and Excel. Where was the nice job that I was supposed to receive? It felt like I had been working my entire life for nothing. The concept of being unemployed for more than a month had not occurred to me, and it was driving me crazy.

In desperation, I picked the call center. I needed an income and something to do with my days. What followed was the most exciting, exhilarating and exhausting six months of my life (the time required to move from a temporary position to a permanent position).

girl stressed at computer

Welcome to the Real World

My job was data capturing, but it was a new department in the business and highly competitive. Data capturing itself was not a difficult job, and I found the work soothing–but we were told time and time again that only the best would stay, while the underperforming agents would be sent to other teams. I was a temp, so if I didn’t perform well enough I knew I would be left jobless again. I threw myself head first into the job, determined to stay, and determined to make a good impression.

Since I was the only college graduate, my colleagues looked down on me, because I was considered privileged, so I did everything I could to prove that I belonged there. Whether it was coming in to start work an hour early, or helping out anyone and everyone, I made it clear that I was a team player and I was there to stay. Surprisingly, I grew to love my job. The attention to detail required in data capturing calmed my anxiety, and eventually the staff and I grew to get along. Was it my dream job? No. Did I wish I could stay at home and be funded by my parents until I did find my dream job? Hell yes! But unfortunately that wasn’t possible, and being forced to take the first job that came my way was a huge wake-up call. It wasn’t glamorous. It wasn’t fun. It was hard work, and I kept pushing to show that I deserved to be where I was.

All I Really Need is the Money

Outside of the workplace, I still needed to fend for myself financially. I was excited to have my own money, but once again there were surprises in store for me: namely medical aid and car expenses. It was like life kept slapping me in the face. My medical aid came to R800 ($54.59), but I didn’t understand why I had to pay so much when all I needed was glasses, but I remember reading once that you should never skimp on medical aid so I paid the money. But I also wasn’t going to deprive myself of a good time. After all, having money to spend was the main reason I took the job. I wanted to treat myself, and I did. Every. Single. Month. I needed nice clothes for work, I wanted to expand my book collection, and I just really liked eating out. I spent most of my salary, but left a tiny bit (another R500 a month) just in case I ended my six months’ probation period without a job. At the time I was saving because I just wanted more money to spend if I lost my job, and I admit I might have had a spending problem.

Later on that year, shortly before I become a permanent staff member as I so desperately wanted, I had to deal with my car battery dying. I was able to pay for the expense, but it made a huge dent in my spending for the month. From then on, I started setting aside a portion of my finances for emergencies, but it still took about a year before I managed to find the perfect balance between responsible and reckless. The turning point for me was when there were rumors that the company that my dad worked at was about to close. This led to my dad admitting that he didn’t have a retirement fund, which was shocking to me. This was the man who insisted I put aside money for a rainy day; the man who got me a bank account when I was three, and had been saving since then to put me through college.

Immediately I started my own retirement savings. The money that I had kept for spending when I lost my job became my retirement money. Inspired by an article I read on Her Campus, I got a credit card and managed to keep it only for emergencies. I felt pretty pleased that I had a savings account, a credit card (with a positive credit balance), retirement savings, and still had money left over to treat myself–my life’s motto.

Looking back, I'm glad my dad cut me off when he did. It made a huge impact on my sense of finances, my work ethic, and the way I carry myself as a whole.

Fast forward two years, and I still haven’t managed to find a job in my field, made worse by the constant retrenchments in South Africa. My dad’s company did finally liquidate, leaving me as the only employed person in my family, but because of my father’s insistence that I become financially independent I was able to restructure my budget so that I was able to help out at home. If it wasn’t for my dad’s insistence that I “go out there and do something,” I don’t know how we would have made it through this year.

I’ve been working in the call center for three years. There are days that I desperately wish my dad had let me stay at home and wait for a job. I have tons of friends with even postgraduate degrees who stayed at home for two to three years before finding a job, and they finally ended up getting jobs in their field. I worry that that may never be me. In the past year I’ve finally found opportunities in my field, but they’re all unpaid, which is not something I can afford to take up right now.

I would be lying if I said that the situation didn’t upset me–three years ago there were no jobs that I could find in my field, and now there are no paying jobs. But I’m still immensely grateful for the way things turned out for me. I’ve seen friends remain fully dependent on their parents, unable to fend for themselves at all. It was a tough lesson to learn, but I’m glad that my parents cut me off when I graduated. I learned to work hard for my job, because I needed the income. I learned to value money, because I didn’t always have enough. I learned how to be responsible with it in a way that allowed me to live my life the way I wanted to, while still having enough set aside for the future.