FIRE is only for privileged people. FIRE is not doable unless you’re a DINK (double income no kids). We get this pushback all the time. Well, today, I’m going to introduce you to a couple who are neither of those.
Meet Ken and Mary, the founders of TheHumblePenny.com, who became financially independent in 2017 at age 34 with two kids. They live in the UK but they both came from Nigeria and grew up with parents who struggled and gave them something that I know all too well—the immigrant mindset.
I first met Ken and Mary in 2019 at the London premier of Playing with FIRE and then we connected again at Chautauqua this year, with Ken as a fellow speaker. It’s very easy to relate to them because they understand what it’s like to grow up poor, struggle as immigrants and, to quote Ken, realize that “there’s no one coming to rescue us.” I wanted to interview them to find out how it was possible to overcome the scarcity mindset and the immigrant/black tax to become FI while raising a family.
Would you like to just start and introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your story?
Ken: Yeah, sure. We’re Ken and Mary from TheHumblePenny.com. And we also publish on a YouTube channel by the same name. We started writing in 2017 and we’re a husband and wife team, but we do other bunch of things for our Academy.
Mary: We also run the Financial Joy Academy where the aim is to help 10,000 families achieve Financial Independence. And so the way that we guide them through that is through a series of courses and master-classes with guest experts like yourselves. And also, we run masterminds where we get people in a hot seat each week. A mastermind could be on property investing, blogging or running a YouTube channel.
We also run accountability sessions when we pair each member with another accountability partner. We also do fortnightly coaching calls where they get to send in questions and then we answer them live on a zoom call.
One of the unique things about you two is that you work on this together. So, what’s that like? How do you do this without killing each other?
Ken: Well, yeah, I guess. A bit of background. Mary and I’ve been married for 11 years, that’s worth mentioning. And we’ve always had this vision of doing something in the future together. We didn’t really know what it was going to be, running TheHumblePenny.com just happened to be one of the things we do together. Other things we do together include parenting, you know, and we just enjoy each other’s company.
Mary: There’s that love and mutual respect that we have for each other and we respect each other’s spaces as well. So, we understand when the other person just needs their own space, where we have our own time to ourselves. So we respect each other and we have boundaries where we shut off from work mode to kind of husband and wife mode and we tried to not let our work life seep too much into our personal world.
What do you say to all the critics of the FIRE movement who think the only people who can do this are double income, no kids?
Ken: I’d say first of all, we’re proof that you can do it with a family. But the thing to know is that the extent to which children are expensive is driven by the choices that we make. And so we’ve had to be very deliberate about what choices we make relative to parenting our children whilst also prioritizing our vision, our goals, our dreams and stuff that we want to achieve and not let the fact that we have children stand in the way of ultimately achieving our goals.
Mary: Yeah. And I think that the fact that we decided we wanted children and we wanted to also work towards Financial Independence meant that we were more intentional about creating more streams of income to support that choice.
Ken: And working on our careers and stuff, leveling up and supporting each other. Sometimes I’d have to work long hours and Mary might be at home with the children. It was a joint effort, we’ll just bring different things to table and vice versa.
Another thing that people criticize about the FIRE moment is that it’s a space mostly for privileged white males. Are you a privileged white male?
Ken: *laughs* No, no, no. Mary and I are a Black family, Nigerian heritage, living in the UK. I was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, and I then emigrated to the UK at the age of 14 and started at ground zero with no money, and moved with my family as a way to start a new life.
Mary: I was born in London to immigrant parents who immigrated to the UK in the late 70s to study and to make a better life for themselves.
Ken: Yes, the both of us had this vision of trying to create better lives for ourselves compared to our parents. So when Mary and I met, we met at a property investing seminar! It was a weird place to meet your future partner, but what was interesting about that was that we met knowing that our mindset were quite similar. That helped us become friends, and as we started to date and stuff, we realized that we wanted quite similar futures.
We wanted to become Financially Independent, we wanted a family, we wanted to not live life paycheck to paycheck. We didn’t want to work like our parents until the age of 65 or 67 and still be struggling. So all those elements meant that even with our quite challenging backgrounds economically, we still felt this was a possible thing to achieve.
Mary: Yeah. And going back to growing up, I saw my parents struggle and they had to work around the clock night shifts, early morning shifts. They were barely at home and they had to budget. We didn’t do holidays. We didn’t have fancy cars. We didn’t go out to eat. It was literally just my parents trying to survive and give us the best kind of childhood, which they did. We had a very good childhood. It’s just that I saw my parents always struggle paycheck to paycheck, and we didn’t want that for my life.
Ken: My mom had three jobs. She would work round the clock washing dishes, cleaning, and factory admin jobs. Anything that meant that she could put food on the table for us. All those things just basically meant that we wanted to change the game, not just for Mary and I, but generationally for our children.
Is there anything about your background that you think actually helped you become Financially Independent?
Mary: Yeah, I’d say that for us, we definitely didn’t feel like there was any entitlement or that necessarily that the state would help us. If anything, there’s no one coming to rescue us. So, I guess it meant that we had to work maybe twice as hard and I guess we had more of a drive because we didn’t want to be dependent on a system that we knew we couldn’t really rely on for our financial security so I guess that gave us like more of a drive actually.
Ken: Yeah. And I’d say tied to that, when you’ve come from a place of lack, you want to change your life, for me I envisioned this burning flame of desire. You really want to change your life. When you’re in that position, you have to look at playing the game very differently from everybody else. You have to really look at like this game knowing that all these other people here are running a completely different race to me.
Like, I need to literally get into my own lane and play this game differently. That’s why Mary and I have to be slightly unconventional. We had to look at exploring side hustles, we had to really work together and rely on one income and take your other income and invest.
That meant that FI didn’t happen in 20 years or 15 years, but under 10 years for us. That came from a place of deep lack. But also from a place where you believe that through doing deep work on your inner person, that there’s a rewiring going on with your mindset, and you believe very strongly that you are going to be one of those people who emerge actually crossing the finish line.
So, for me, I’d say that element of our struggle, almost reframing your struggles was actually a big thing for us on the journey.
One thing that you talked about at your Chautauqua talk that I found fascinating was what you call the Black Tax. Can you guys talk about that and how you managed to overcome it?
Ken: So, the Black Tax is a term that originated in South Africa, and it referred to money that black or other persons of colour provide their families every month outside of their own living expenses. Usually out of obligation, and it’s caused by continued economic imbalance that can be traced back to apartheid and slavery and so on.
What does this term mean for us practically? Mary and I have Nigerian heritage, and what this means is that there’s an expectation culturally that when you’re living somewhere that the world sees as very successful, like the UK, US, or Canada, there’s an expectation. You almost become like the bank account for the people back home and there’s an expectation that you send money back monthly.
You have people on payroll, essentially, and the challenge with this is that it creates an environment where people stop thinking of themselves. And on your journey towards becoming financially independent, you do need to think of yourself because if you don’t, again those dreams just remain dreams and plans never become a reality. And so, it’s really about having this balance of: “How do I achieve my goals whilst navigating the cultural dimension of things like the Black Tax?”
And so, for us a big part of that was first of all, trying to shift away from the way our culture presented things. I could get a call from some cousin who I haven’t spoken to for over a decade, suddenly they remembered me. And so, they’d be like “something’s happened” and then suddenly they wanted money and so it’s about shifting the expectation. So, for example rather than just send money, how about I teach you a skill set that actually makes you money, right? How about I show you what we actually go through to make money?
There’s an assumption that because you live in the UK that you’re just minted. The money just flows, you’ve just got money all the time! And so, we’ve had to really fight that cultural expectation, and we’ve seen it affect people around us, family members, our parents even. It continues to affect our parents even today.
Mary: So, my mom is the first in her family to migrate to the UK, and same as my dad. He’s the first in his family. My dad has eight siblings, and those siblings have many children, same as my mom, her siblings have many children and there was an expectation for them to be sending money to support them, their school fees, hospital fees.
If there’s any problems with my grand-parents home, it would be my parents responsibility to send money back to fix it. And even like Ken said, we’d send money to our relatives to maybe open up a shop or go to university. And then we’d find out that actually, the shop never opened. They never did go to university. But they’re still requesting money, so it’s really tricky, and it’s hard. It’s an emotional blackmail.
This interview went super in-depth, especially the discussion about the unique challenges facing immigrants, so we’re going to turn this into a two-parter.
Have you ever had to deal with friends or family members emotionally blackmailing you into sending them money? How did it affect your FIRE journey, and what are some of the ways you deal with it? Let’s hear it in the comments below!
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