College Connect: Being money savvy and balancing family demands as a first-generation student

Posted By David Wilhite


By Bo Tefu

The expression “money doesn’t grow on trees” is a cliché. However, it is often overlooked by the people who use the expression the most. My family is the perfect example.

Growing up I never had the luxury of saving money to buy myself a cute present. Saving money meant I had to make ends meet on my own by finding a way to be self-sufficient.

Going to university was the perfect escape plan. I would go to college, get a full-ride and never bother my family ever again. My family was supportive when I left and excited to see me chase a dream that was only a fragment of my parents’ imagination.

I was excited to take on the challenge of higher education as a first-generation international student. Money was no longer a problem for me, and my family was relieved to have one less financial burden.

Fast forward to sophomore year, Spring 2016. I got my first paid internship with a prominent media publishing company in South Africa. This meant I could finally visit home and see my family after two years of being abroad. I contacted my family and told them the big news.

My first mistake was telling them that it was a paid internship. So, in their minds, a paid internship means a full-time job for the summer. This was when the demands came flooding in via text messages and phone calls. I was even being contacted by relatives who don’t speak to me at all.

Cousin: “Hey, how you are doing?”

Me: “Good thanks. What’s up?”

Cousin: “Uhm, how much are Yeezy’s shoes that side (U.S.)? I heard they’re cheaper.”

Me: “I think about $400, not sure.”

Cousin: “Okay cool. Please buy me a pair, I’ll pay you back.”

Me: “I live on a student budget, so I can’t promise anything.”

I didn’t buy the Yeezy’s, but I bought my cousin a designer handbag. I didn’t even own any designer items. An even crazier request was from my aunt who demanded that I buy her sunglasses she saw me wearing in my WhatsApp profile picture. Those weren’t even real sunglasses, it was a Snapchat filter and she refused to believe me when I told her.

I blew through my savings to buy people ‘welcome’ gifts from America. I had spent over $2,000 on gifts, to show people that America hadn’t changed me like the ‘others.’ I wanted to prove to my family that I was doing well.

When I started my internship, I was broke and in debt. This was a rough start. A month later, I got my first ‘salary,’ it was $280, and it only lasted 10 days. I had to pay my aunt $130 for transport and groceries during my stay at home. The rest was used for basic personal needs like hygiene and phone credit.

When my internship was over I was back to square one, broke and in debt. I flew back to Arizona and had to move from Tempe to Phoenix. I spent money I didn’t have and owed over $400 in my bank account.

Once I settled into my new Phoenix apartment, I contacted my family to let them know that I was safe. Rather than receiving messages of endearment, I received more demands about what people would like me to bring them the next I visited home.

Now I laugh it off or simply say no when people ask me for things I can’t afford.

I’m savvy with my personal finances. I save 50 percent of every paycheck and divide it between my savings account and emergency checking account.

My outlook on money has matured from “ballin’ on a budget” to “spend less that you earn.”

Bo Tefu is a student at Arizona State University.

SABEW - Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication,
Arizona State University

555 North Central Ave, Suite 406 E, Phoenix, AZ 85004-1248
Phone: (602)-496-7862


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