Meet Ken and Mary: Part 2

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After last week’s discussion about FIRE with kids and the Black Tax, without further ado here’s Part 2 of our interview with Kan and Mary from TheHumblePenny.com.


This concept of the Black Tax is really interesting to me, because it echoes a lot of our friends who have to deal with this from an Asian background. Can you tell us a little more about how this affected you personally?

Ken: Sure. One of my family members called and said to me, “I want to start this fish farm. I found this piece of land and I just need to buy some machinery. I have some fish and I want to create a business out of it. Oh, I need this much money.” It was actually quite a lot of money for me, it’s almost £500 and that’s real money. But I was thinking I’m helping my uncle out, he’s going to start his business and that’s great.

I sent the money, what happens? He didn’t get the money. I say “What do you mean?” He said “The transfer people said the money hasn’t come, can you please just send it again just in case?” So, I sent it. I sent it twice. What happens? He disappears.

And this is just one example, and because you’re dealing with family members, it just turns the relationship into a really weird thing. And then this is the worst bit. Lots of people can’t say no. And so, it gets so bad that people start to go into debt to meet the cultural expectations.

So there are people on credit card debt right now who don’t want their family to know, but they’re actually not doing as well as they’re perceived to be doing. They’d much rather go get an overdraft or a credit card and use that to keep up with the image and expectation.

That’s real. That’s expected of them. So, it just causes a lot of people to just remain enslaved in a way if you think about it. That’s really what’s going on. It’s quite ironic to think back to that definition I gave you for what the Black Tax actually was.

Mary: So chances of you to be able to create generational wealth for your children…

Ken: Oh, there’s no wealth being created because you can’t. If you’re being dragged, if you’re being held back from that perspective, you can’t even create wealth for yourself. Let alone generational wealth.

So, we have to change the narrative and focus on mindset improvement, in skill set improvement. It’s about how we use those elements to start to retell a different story for what black tax actually means.

Like when someone says “Send me some money,” well actually, how about I pay for you to go and acquire a new skill set because then that skill set might actually be something you can use in a global market via the internet. It’s about finding alternative solutions to what remains a big cultural problem.

What was your FI number? What was the point that you realized you didn’t have to struggle anymore like your parents?

Ken: So, for us, it was a point where the income from our assets was able to cover our monthly ongoing expenses. One of the key things we did was to pay off our mortgage early. We chose to do that because we have children and for us the security of having a home is a pretty important thing. So, for us, paying off our homes dropped our costs massively.

After that, our aim was for our income from assets to cover around £2500 per month in living expenses. And once we were able to achieve that we kind of sat back at this point and thought “What does this move for our lives going forward? Does this mean we quit our jobs? How should we carry on?”

We became a F.I. in 2017 but we stopped working in 2020. Mary stopped working in 2019 but since then things have changed quite a lot because our wealth has actually increased and our costs of living has actually decreased over time as we simplify our lifestyles even more. So yeah, that’s how we looked at the number first. Income from assets, making sure that covered our expenses on a monthly basis.

Talk to me a little bit about how your expenses decreased, because I think there’s something people don’t realize until after they leave their jobs. That we are paying to work.

Ken: Well, so a big one was travel. Travel costs were quite a big, big thing for us because Mary and I live on the outskirts of London which meant that I would usually commute every single day. So, you’d have to buy an annual season ticket and, you know, prices go up every single year without fail. So not having that helped a lot.

Mary: We decided to have a £50 weekly food budget for a family of four, which was challenging. But because we were so determined to reduce our costs it was an exciting challenge for me to try and do that. So, things like shopping in cheaper supermarkets like ALDI, writing meal plans, batch cooking, and living on a mainly plant-based diet really helped to reduce our costs.

Ken: And tied to that, not having to spend on lunch and stuff when I went to work.

Mary: Yeah, we always took food in.

Ken: When you actually stop working and doing all that commuting, you don’t have that cost to think about anymore. It’s now really your normal day to day cost at home, which made a big difference as well.

Mary: We also sold our German guzzler car and opted for an electric car, a Nissan Leaf 2013. We’re fortunate enough to be able to have a driveway where we’re able to charge our car. So, our monthly expenses to run the car are £25 a month. That’s all we spent to run a car and we would do a thousand miles a month. That’s turned out to be an even better decision now with energy prices going bonkers around the world, but this was a decision that we made in 2017. So, we have made a lot of savings room switching to an electric car.

Ken: Yeah, in many ways actually taking that early leap has been massive for us. In terms of savings there’s probably other stuff I’m not even thinking about. A lot of the savings we think about is not even about money. It’s your mental state. Just for me, I was working pretty long hours. I’d leave at 7 AM, rush to the train station and on a good day, I’d be back at 7 pm. But on a really bad day I’d be told “Hey, you need to work on these financial models. You need to stick around and there’s a board meeting tomorrow” and I’d get home around 1 AM the next morning. So, for me, work wasn’t just the financial costs but also my brain, my mind and my mental health. You know, just work was a massive drain, the type of work I did anyway.

What advice would you give to other people trying to follow in your footsteps to become F.I.?

Mary: One point that I would like to make is that you have to make a trade-off which is something that we always share on our journey towards Financial Independence. You will need to make a lot of sacrifices, but the way to look at it is that it’s only a season and it won’t be like that forever. But the idea is that you increase your savings rates.

And if you want to accelerate that journey towards Financial Independence, look for other ways to maybe increase your income whether that’s via career maximization or via starting a side hustle or, you know, just investing in a stock market or property investing. And there is a lot of work involved, but it’s a sacrifice and investment that will serve you more in the long run.

Ken: Yeah, I’d say one important thing is to have goals, because research shows around one in 20 people become financially free because they had it as a goal in the first place. 95% people don’t because they don’t really believe that it’s possible for them which means that there’s work to be done around their mindset. So, I’d think of it in three buckets.

First, you need to work on your mindset because you need to overcome certain beliefs, rewire certain programming that you might have grown up with in order for this to actually be something that you believe you can do, you know? And part of that mindset might be seeking evidence of people who became Financially Independent. Oftentimes, if you don’t see people who’ve done it, you don’t believe you can do it. So, finding those people really helps with the mindset piece.

Second, then there’s a skill set piece. If you stay where you are nothing happens, your income doesn’t grow. You don’t grow as a person. Your savings rate really can’t increase because there’s only so much you can save by cutting costs. Your skill set really must change. You must really develop new skills where let’s say you’re acquiring new digital skills or you’re learning to invest, you’re learning something else. Obviously, acquiring a different set of skills means that your income grows over time. That’s a definite requirement on this journey and it never happens overnight. Skill sets take a while to develop.

And finally, the third piece is having a tool set. You need a framework. You need something you’re following because of times people say yeah, I want to become Financially Independent. They start something and suddenly something happens like the stock market crashes. And suddenly people go actually, I’m not going to follow that goal anymore.

When natural fact, if you follow what’s tried and tested, if you follow a pathway that’s tested from other people, like you guys, from people who’ve actually done these things, then no matter whether it’s raining or snowing, you’re going to stay consistent. You’re going to keep that savings rate going up, you’re going to stay the course. And then that pathway will lead you over time to where you want to get to.

So, I think all those three combined: Work on your mindset, work on your skill set, and have a highly effective tool set. All those three combined really give you the holistic picture for what it takes to then say, you know what, I’m one of those five percent who will get there one day because without that, you’ve only got dreams. And dreams without plans never become anything.

Where can people find you?

Ken: Please feel free to check us out at our blog at the TheHumblePenny.com. You can also find us on YouTube or join us on Instagram. We have a fun Instagram, sharing our stories as we go and travel, and have fun with family and that sort of stuff.


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13 thoughts on “Meet Ken and Mary: Part 2”

  1. I’m not sure this “tax” is unique to any single culture, perhaps a bit more honest in expectations or acknowledged in non-western culture?

    I’ve personally lived my whole life with this experience and the greatest common dominator from my observation seems to be class, and perhaps the expectations just change with class as the resources change.

    Poor = expectations to provide financial aid.
    Weathly = expectations to provide opportunity aid.

    I grew up in very white, very rural America and my parents didn’t go to college, I didn’t go to college, none of my cousins went to college. On top of that, most everyone that shares my blood also have some charges of petty crimes against them. And yet, I would still consider my family mostly “middle class” for the region… and relatively well off compared to true object poverty.

    But I vividly remember when I was younger, desperately believing that if I could just make 60K, I could support myself as my own household, and also my mother and sister.

    It’s always been the expectation that because I earn the most, that I’ll be the one that pays for things. It’s something that’s so deep that I believed I needed to try to earn more to support my family if I didn’t want them to live with me. It wasn’t until I was able to do so that I could start “living my own life”.

    Here’s a quick test if you think this doesn’t exist to some degree in the US/UK/CA, see how families handle paying for a meal. When it comes time to pick up the tab, is there pressure it’s the highest earner?

    It’s probably something deeply human, but when you’re the one with resources in a family unit, you’re expected to share said resources or face repercussions from the group. This seems to be universally true, and radiates out in zones of tribe and society.

  2. LOL. “Black Tax” is just like Pink tax, Brown Tax, Yellow tax, white tax . Just another phrase to explain and excuse away bad choices and personal decisions. Every group knows that rule #1 is never live beyond your means and rule #2 is never lend money to your family or friends as you’ll never see it again. Like who would send $500 to an uncle and then send another $500?

    1. I used to think like you until I married into a black family. My wife is a very successful lawyer with a huge family, many of whom look to her for both financial and other types of support.

      She has done a great job of setting boundaries and reducing the number of dependents, but the fact remains that we will be supporting several of her family in Jamaica for many years to come. If we don’t they will die, it’s as simple as that.

  3. This is not a Black tax. Race has nothing to do with this mistake as it happens in families around the world. If this was a gift, end of conversation. If this is a loan, sorry to see it happen. Working on financial models for your employer implies a formal accounting or finance education. Where was your due diligence on the initial transaction? Why did you not use the basic tools and resources available to users of bank or payment service providers to trace the first payment? Can’t be a every close relative. Shame on you for using your race as an excuse to label yourself a victim in this situation.

    1. You are right about it not being about race, it’s about culture. If, like me, you are from a culture that doesn’t have this form of expectations then, again like me, you are lucky.

      However, most non-Caucasian cultures come with this form of cultural tax, and it’s not easy to break away from.

  4. We all have blind spots when it comes to family and questioning them may seem like we are calling them a liar which can cause friction. No amount of financial education will help you where emotions are concerned. Over time and experience some of us learn to separate our emotions from our wallet but some do not. Now that you guys are FI and everyone knows, how do you handle family members reactions now, when you refuse to just give them the money? Have you lost contact with some family as a result?

  5. “Black Tax” can have different meanings. The one referred to in this interview is one that is based on the expectation, within the culture, for those that become educated and/or make money to assist their family members that are still in poverty. It becomes a financial burden that makes it harder for the individual to financially excel and the whole to become financially stable. I do agree that you will find this “tax” in more than just the black community.

    Someone referenced other “taxes” but they are not same. For example, Pink Tax is gender based pricing or actual taxes charged on products that are for women. It happens and women don’t even realize it. Take a bottle of shampoo…same size bottle, same ingredients (just a different fragrance) the one labeled for women is $10 and the one labeled for men $7.50. That would be a Pink Tax.

  6. However, the introduction of new cybersports and the introduction of tomb reaver video games in classrooms presents a number of challenges: firstly, the idea of how exactly to teach new disciplines and effectively use gaming opportunities in the classroom has not yet been fully formed. Secondly, it is not quite clear how to minimize the risks associated with a long stay at the computer: these are problems with vision, excess weight, posture, social, offline interaction, possible computer addiction. Despite this, online and video games have good prospects for a more firmly entrenched in the educational process, and perhaps very soon parents will not berate their children for spending a long time on the computer, and will begin to participate in these games and help make the most out of the process.

  7. I grew up benefiting from white privilege which meant that this type of cultural tax on the relatively successful was not something I was aware existed. Of course, all this changed after marrying a person of colour with a large family in a developing country.

    To put it in stark numbers, we would be FI already if it were just the two of us, but due to our cultural tax payments, we need an additional million.

    There are some positives however. Most importantly, the additional responsibilities have helped us be more financially cautious

  8. The hard part of sharing your success with others, is sometimes the pressure to help or them coming to you for a “business idea”. Wise people before me have said to treat it as a gift, or have very formal written agreements around it. It’s a hard topic when it comes to balancing the trust of a relationship.

  9. If you live long enough and traverse the financial ladder high enough…
    You will clearly see…
    There is no Black, White, Yellow, Green, Republicans or Democrats…
    There is only the 90% on the bottom and 10% on top. I called this the 90Percenters and the 10Percenters respectively.

    Emotionally, the 90Percenters will take an entire of life time to grow up.
    The 10Percenters mature early and became the babysitters of the 90%.

    For those who have achieved FI early in life it is just meant you are minimizing your “babysitting” financial responsibility within your circle of influence!

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