Episode #6: Lola
What it takes to save £60,000 to buy a home of your very own
In this episode, Caroline talks to Lola Abitogun, host of Adulting by Lola and AdultingFest about the hard work, career choices and compromises she made so she could save £60,000 by the age of 28 to buy her own flat in London.
Welcome to Money & Me, the podcast where we talk honestly about money and how it makes us feel. This is Episode Six, Lola’s story. In this episode, Caroline talks to Lola Abitogun, about the hard work, career choices and compromises she made so she could save £60,000 by the age of 28 to buy her own flat in London. And what this meant to her, having come from a family that had never owned their own home, and in terms of her own independence.
Hi Lola, welcome to the Money & Me podcast.
Thanks for having me.
Oh, it’s such a pleasure.
So I think I found you because I saw an article about you in the Metro saying that you’d managed to save £60,000 pounds to buy your first home. And I think for a lot of people listening, that’s going to feel like quite an amazing achievement. So, how did you do it? What were the key things? How did it all come about for you?
Okay, so what you need to know about me, fundamentally, I’m not really interested in things, I’m more of an experiences person. So when it comes to, the way I spend money, I’m less likely to buy stuff. Stuff doesn’t mean that much to me. I’m not necessarily into luxury fashion, I’m not necessarily into gadgets. So a lot of that kind of spending that people would tend to do, I don’t do. When it comes to experiences, I would spend my last money on a holiday. 100%
Okay. Are we talking about big holidays?
Unknown Speaker 1:53
So I’m a bargain hunter like it’s in my DNA. So even on a big holiday, I think last year I went to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and I did a stopover in China, that was all one trip. I think that trip probably only cost me about £1,000 pounds, which actually is not that much. Maybe a little bit over with with spending and stuff like that. But the good thing is like those kind of destinations you go to are relatively cheap once you get out there.
Already in terms of discretionary spending: what we would call kind of spending on stuff and things that you buy. That doesn’t interest you. So you didn’t really have to cut that out of your life?
Yeah, I also don’t drink. There’s no alcohol expenditure, even when I’m doing stuff like going out on a night out. It’s relatively cheap because alcohol is so expensive.
Yes, of course there’s like other things that I did in terms of actually having a budget, deciding on what I was trying to achieve and what I needed to do kind of an monthly basis. And the thing that drove it all is I wanted to buy a property. I don’t think I could have saved the money if I didn’t have that kind of ruthless tunnel vision. I come from a family which is great. I have a great family and my parents are awesome. But we’re not necessarily the best when it comes to finances. And my family are not particularly well off. As kids we’ve done decent for ourselves. But my parents were never in a position where we could own our own home.
Yeah, so no bank of mum and dad.
Yeah, they were they were able to support me in other ways. So I stayed at home with my family for a while. I got to that point where I just needed some respite. But, for the most part, since I came back from uni when I was 21, I lived at home and I bought the property when I was 28. So probably for all that period (except maybe for like a year, or a year and a half when I was renting) but for the most part of it I was at home. I think because of the environments that I’d worked in, like Deloitte where I spent five years – it’s a great place, I had a lovely time working there – but when I got there, I’d never been somewhere that was so white and middle class. There was an element of shame actually. Because where my family lives – I’m a council kid, so my family live in social housing. It was quite close to the centre [of London]. It wasn’t when we moved there many years ago, but later on it was. So people used to say: “oh, you live here, your parents must be really doing well, if they could sell that property.” There was an element of shame to me saying (and I avoided it so much) well actually, we don’t own the property. My mum rents.
This is so familiar to me. This is exactly my story. My mum is still in the council house that we grew up in. And as a lawyer and you were like an accountant, it’s just an assumption that people have.
Yeah, and it’s such a wild assumption as well. Especially because when I joined that business, I probably sound very different now than I did back then. And there was this thing about: “Oh, you sound like you’re from South London.” A lot of people were very clear about the fact that they knew I probably was poor. And the two things didn’t necessarily match. Ok, so you know I don’t come from a particularly well-off background. But you can’t fathom that somebody who is working here doesn’t own their own property. So you’ve just made this wild assumption. I’m sure a lot of people would be mortified if they realised kind of in hindsight how uncomfortable that made me. Yeah, but I used to just avoid the question. “Oh, yeah, yeah”, just kind of scoot off and like avoid it. But it was an element of shame for me – not that I was ashamed of my family – but I felt like everybody else’s parents had bought their home, why can’t mine?
When I was joined the NHS graduate programme, actually, I was on £22,000. As a grad, I think that decent money. But even from then, when I was on, like my very first job, I was on £22k, and I remember thinking, ok I need to save.
You already had that mindset.
I just had this thing. I wanted to have a place to call my own. I wanted to have my own space.
I think, probably from when I moved back after uni when I was 21. I remember thinking, I didn’t like how things are, and I would like clash with my mum. And I’d say: why can’t we do it this way? I’m Nigerian and it was a very hierarchical house. “This is how I want it”.
And it’s very funny because when the Metro article went out, I said, Okay, I lived at home. And that’s how I was able to save what people spend on market rent. But there was also an assumption that I wasn’t contributing anything to my family. And so I did so I contributed kind of what I could. And at points like you know, I contributed a bit more when there was stuff to do, so just giving money to my mum.
It’s interesting, isn’t it? Because I do think that people would look at your story and be like you managed to do this at age 28 with a massive chunk of deposit. That’s a huge amount of money, right? If we objectively we look at it. To be able to save £60,000 pounds to anyone I think is a big deal. And then I wonder if sometimes people do try to get behind the numbers a little bit to maybe make themselves feel better that they haven’t been able to do it. And either look for ways in which they think that you’ve had help. You being able to say at home was great, but also there’s a compromise there.
Man. An absolute struggle! Just to talk on all of that stuff. There was lots of positive stuff that came out of it. And lots of kind of more more negative comments. I am kind of black, working class, millennial. And actually in London, that is most of our story. Most of us live at home. So I don’t think it is like, it’s kind of unusual to have a young person that that can’t afford or chooses not to rent.
So there was a lot of people saying, hey, well if I didn’t have to pay rent… I’m a very direct person. I think if you’ve come from somewhere outside of London, and you come into London to work. I appreciate that there are some struggles there. But actually, most people have the choice just to go home. There was an MP who moved home because she said: it’s too expensive to rent, so I’m going to move home. It’s going to be uncomfortable, but I’m going to do it because it’s for the greater good.
I struggled so much at home because I mean, me and my mum clash (maybe could be similar). I just think we have a very different mindset. And I’ve always been quite an independent person. I did move out for about 18 months. I felt like I wasn’t in a good mood a lot of the time and I think it was affecting them. I was just complaining about everything. My mum didn’t want me to move out, right even even when I said, I think this is the only way to do it. So I moved out and when I moved back temporarily, I called up my mum and said: “look, mum, something’s happened and I’m probably going to have to move back for a few months.” She said: “of course of course”. And then she set about this plan to slowly seduce me into not leaving. I moved back in Christmas 2016 and every day she was messaging me: “what do you want to eat today? What do you want to have for dinner?”
A classic mum trick!
You’ve been my mum for 26 years and I’ve never had this kind of service!
It’s like the mum hotel! What’s it going to take to keep her?
I’d come home and then the food would be on the table and it would have steam coming off it! And I remember thinking this isn’t that bad…
She went all out, didn’t she?
This is not that bad! Why wouldn’t I want to be here again?
And by that time I was much closer to saving a substantial amount of money, like £25,000 or something. And I just remember thinking, you know what, I’ll put a date in the diary of when I want to buy and it just made it so much easier to be at home. It made it like okay. So even when I was renting, I was still able to save. So my savings was just kind of going up and up and up. And I remember thinking okay, it doesn’t feel like it’s forever now. Whereas before I felt like I didn’t have enough money to even be thinking about things. So it felt like he was going to be forever. So knowing now that this is for a finite period of time, I’m getting closer to where I need to be. It just felt different. I was just more able to manage and to cope with it.
But there were certain things. Like I never had friends over to my house and I’m quite a sociable person. And I always yearned to have like a space to host people. So now I live by myself, I host people a lot. Even to stuff like, you know, I had a boyfriend. So I’m like, I want to have sex in my bed. In my bed! And it’s just not something that – some people can do that – I would never. I wouldn’t dream of bringing a fully-grown man to my mum’s house.
And then in your childhood bed?!
How can I do that? How would I do that? Like, I think it’s simple for guys. My brother had – even when he lived at home, he had a girlfriend and I’m sure he never had any qualms about it. But especially being Nigerian, the way you see your sons and daughters is different. I’m a precious possession. Noone cares what happens to my brother! But I didn’t want to bring the six foot three guy into the house to say hi to my mom…!
That’s really interesting and we’ll touch on the fact that you have like a YouTube channel called “Adulting” because, I think it does affect you in terms of relationships. It does affect you in terms of socialising.
When you’re older and you’re living at home, you spend a lot of time in your room because you just need a certain amount of space which is just yours. And you can’t do it in the communal space.
Did you at that point work how much you needed to save or did you just set yourself smaller chunks?
It’s funny because I kinda worked out what I needed to save. This is what 2011 when I had this thought in my head and house prices then are not the same as they are now. So I kinda though, oh maybe I can get to £20,000 pounds and that would be a stretch. And maybe then I’ll be able to buy something.
I love it the idea all of us like listening now, in the year 2020, that you could just do something in London with a deposit of £20,000.
And I just thought, I’ll save that. And that will put me in a good position. I’m one of these people who decided how their life is gonna be when they’re 21. I was gonna be an accountant. I’m not now, but I was at a point. I was gonna qualify by the time I was 24, in three years, you know, and then I was going to probably meet my future husband around 25. Probably be married at 27, my first kid about about now aged 29.
It’s amazing isn’t it how we plan it when we’re young and it’s just gonna be boom, boom, boom, boom boom…
But I think the constant through it all, even though didn’t really know ultimately what the amount was. I knew and I think that’s the key thing. I knew that I was going to have to make money. That was it. I was like, ok make money. My mum was a single mom with 4 kids at that point. Now she’s married it’s a bit easier. But I didn’t want to be a social worker. I knew being a social worker wasn’t going to pay me a lot of money. And I’m Nigerian so the dream is doctor, lawyer. So I was thinking, Okay, probably something along those lines I studied accounting and finance. I knew I wouldn’t be a doctor because I didn’t like science. I knew I didn’t want to be a lawyer. Even though my mom said I’d be great at it because I love to argue (and apparently that’s what makes someone a good lawyer!). But I like numbers. So I was happy with finance.
When I came out of uni I had a job. Because in my second year, I was hustling. I was like – everyone was doing assignments – I was doing assignments too. I failed to get internship in my second year, right? Because I didn’t necessarily understand the process. And then in my final year, I was like, at interviews every bloody week, I applied for every grad scheme under the sun. I was trying to get my grades better so that I could get on these grad schemes if I did. But yeah, so that was it. I just knew I need to make money. I knew that I wasn’t going to be in a position where I would be able to get cash from my parents. But I also didn’t want to be burdensome. I didn’t want to come out of uni and have to ask my mum for money.
My first job was when I was 16 when I got it, I was working in a call centre. And then I moved on to Hamley’s, which is the best job I’ve ever had in my life.
Sorry. I love Hamley’s. But is it not just absolute chaos?
Yeah, I was a Christmas temp there.
So you’ve always been quite a self starter?
Yeah. And I’m just, I’m a fairly ambitious person. And what the thing with the Metro article, and I’m so like, so overwhelmed with all the positive responses, but the thing that that killed me the thing I remember thinking about, is them saying: “well, she’s in this job, she’s in this high paying job”. And so I’m Head of People now, but when I bought my flight I wasn’t actually in that position. I was an HR manager. But the thing that kills me is like, do you think that when I was born, they bestowed me with this rights? I’m like, Come on, guys. I worked hard for this job. “She’s in a high paying job”. It’s like: you’re not asking the right question. The question people are asking is: “well, how could I do this on my own now?” And I think is a wrong question. To be honest. I think the right question is: “how do I earn more money to be able to do this?” Because the reality of the situation, we can talk about saving from here too. But the reality is, the more money you earn, the more money you can save.
And that was what my focus was. So I did stuff like you know, I used to analyse my Monza account from start to finish. You know, I, I like it because it keeps me accountable. I like to know what I’m spending, I can set targets, I want to spend this amount of money. When my friends want to go out and I don’t have coin, I can say: I don’t have the coin. I’m fine with those things. But the thing that made it much easier for me that it may be some other people is that I earned more money. And my income has gone up and down. I used to be an employment tax consultant at Deloitte, and then I left and I took a very substantial pay cut to do it. And I just thought I want to be happy. So I worked really hard to get this you know, to become this accountant tax advisor and then actually, it’s not really what I want to do.
But even that is hard right? Even that I think takes some confidence, because I did it when I was a lawyer, I’ve worked in law firms and I didn’t really enjoy it, I didn’t really like the structure of it and the environment. And I looked at kind of the path that was ahead of me like, you know: if I make partner (which was an ‘if’ at that stage, not even a given, nowhere near a guarantee), and I looked at it and went: this isn’t for me. I also took a substantial pay cut for like, about a third of the salary I was on then to go and work in a different industry. But that I think even that, in itself takes a level of confidence of you saying to yourself, this is okay, because it allows me to do things that I actually want to do. I think it’s quite brave.
Yeah. And I think what helped me to do that because we talk about this kind of bank on mom and dad, but what helped me do that because I didn’t have a financial safety net, but I could just be at home.
Yes. We’ll call that a cushion?
Yeah. My expenses are capped at this amount I have to give to my mom every month, right? And it’s not market rent, I could do that. It’s about choices. Some people say: “I can’t move back home”. You can. I have some friends who live at home now. They don’t live at home because they want to. They live at home because financially their parents need them to live at home. So I do think that needs to be some education around all these assumptions people make.
Out of all of the kind of interactions that I’ve had with everybody – only one person asked me how much money I make. One, only one, only one. Somebody said they thought I made £80,000. I wish I made £80,000!! And the reality of the situation is, it probably took me about four and a half years to save that money.
So sorry, one sec. Let’s just pause there. So you managed to do all of this in about four and a half years. But I just want to kind of just break this down and just slow down on a couple of these bits because I think they’re really important. Four and a half years is actually quite a long time. Yeah, and a lot of people are gonna sabotage themselves and not even try. Yeah. Because they don’t want to have to do that for four and a half years. That feels too far into the future. That just feels like oh my god, I might as well not bother. Yeah. So I think there is a point here, which is, if you do want to do it, understand that it’s going to take you potentially four and a half years plus. Yeah, right. Particularly if you’re in London,
If you think about it, even if you save £500 a month, at the end of the year, you have £6,000. If you multiply that out by five years it’ll be £30k you know. And obviously, throughout this period of time, I’m living my life. And I’m not one of these people. I’m not going to eat noodles every day and suffer! I went on holidays. I went out, I did things and when I when I took a pay cut, I just cut the things I didn’t need to cut out.
So I’m happy to talk about numbers. So for the majority of the time that I was saving this money – probably about two and a half years of it, I was on £40,000. I think when I was at Deloitte, I was on £41k. Then I got this massive promotion which catapulted me up to £59k. I stayed there for about nine months. And then I took I had a career change. Right then I went back down to £40k.
£40k – £59k is an enormous jump, but the fact that you only had it for like nine months, did it almost feel like oh, that wasn’t really a thing. So you didn’t feel the loss of it? Because I think other people will be like, Oh my god, you just lost yourself £9,000!
Yeah, so I only got to taste it for a certain period of time. But I think it was helpful to know I can live nicely. Because I’d saved some money. I’d saved about £15k or something. Yeah. When I was earning £38k and £41k, so I was like, I can still save money on this. Yeah. And for part of it I was renting as well. So I was saving like £750 a month or something like that. I bought a bike right because obviously I’m not paying for public transport. I moved to Leyton in zone 3 and I wasn’t paying for public transport. That’s £130 a month! So I got a bike on the Cyle-to-Work scheme at work. And I cycled to work. Like I was like, Okay, what are my expenses? How can I reduce them? Because I want to save. So…
You’re quite systematic about stuff, right? This is what I’m getting. You’re basically going through stuff and you’re going: right what are the things that are within my control? Yeah. And then what choices am I going to make around those? I agree with you that often we just look at what we spending our money on. Instead of thinking about the bigger things which are within our control, to an extent. Which are: how much I get paid. Where I choose to live if I’m renting and how much I choose to rent. Those are the enormous things that make the biggest difference?
And so I just made cuts where I needed to make cuts. Because I could have also taken the tube to work. Yeah, but then not gone on a holiday. But that would make me sad!
I’m going to cycle. I’m gonna be getting fit while I do it. I’ts not great during winter, but I’m just gonna do it.
Exactly, I cycled in the rain. And my mom used to be like, what are you doing? And I’d be like, mum, it’s just needs must! And then from there, I moved on to another company where I was on £55k. And that was the point at when I got my mortgage, I earned £55,000 and that was the basis on which I got my mortgage. And because I had a certain amount of money saved, I could get a mortgage which was five times my salary rather than just 4 or 4.5 times. So because I was putting at least 15% down, they were able to lend me more money. Those numbers to me, especially in London, earning £40,000 (to be honest, it might have taken me another two or three years to do it on £40k). But those numbers are not unachievable. I think the average salary in London is £36k, £37k. And obviously that’s inflated with lots of kind of senior executives.
I also bought a 2-bedroom flat, I could have bought a 1-bedroom flat. I have a friend looking for 1-bedroom flats right now. And we’ve been looking at places like £220,000. They exist!
They do exist, we have an interactive map on our site where it shows you and we deliberately run all different types of numbers, all different types of scenarios to see what people could afford. And there are always pockets of affordability.
I bought in Catford. It’s what I could afford. 11 minutes into London Bridge on the train. And it’s wonderful. I love it. But it’s all about making choices right? Some people said to me, oh, you could have bought a three bedroom house in Kent. Who wants to live in Kent? I don’t! Some people want to live in Kent and that’s fine. But my support network, my work, my whole life is in London. I’m single. So it’s not like I’m going to cuddle up with somebody on the sofa at night. I will literally be by myself. Who’s going to come and visit me?? I like the idea that I can stay out until midnight or 1am. On the weekend. I can get the overground straight into New Cross and get my £3.99 Uber Pool. I like that. I like that.
This whole conversation is all about choices, right? It’s interesting, because you said, the things are in your control. And within that you put how much money you earn. And I think a lot of people would dispute that. Yes, that is within their control. And I don’t agree. Like I, I have made some very strategic career moves to put me where I wanted to be. I didn’t always enjoy my time of Deloitte, but 100%, I appreciated that it was an opportunity.
It’s a springboard, right? It’s a pedigree name…
100%. And I knew that if I did the right thing, people were going to invest in me. The level of training you get there is phenomenal. If I stay here – and I had a good team, I didn’t hate it – but I was like, if I stay here, then I can invest in myself. I can put myself in a position where I have choices later. And my whole thing is about choice.
I think there’s two sides to choices there. There’s choice in an active sense and then there’s compromise (which I also think of as kind of like the flip side of choice). Which is the fact that all choice comes within constraints, you know, very few of us have absolutely free choice to have whatever we want. So, it’s not disputing the fact that that everybody will have certain constraints: when they’re financial, whether they’ve got family responsibilities or caring responsibilities that are going to keep you in certain situations. But it’s all about finding what are the choices within – if you think of the constraints as the box in which you live. They’re the borders, the boundaries of your of your life. But within that, where do you get to make the choices? What do you get to kind of control.
Even though I was taking the piss out of myself with the bit about planning my life, I think having been the kind of person that looks at things in a bit more of a long term view has helped me. I’m studying a Masters [degree] at the moment. So when I was at Deloitte, I had to study to be a Chartered Tax Advisor, so I did that. And in my spare time, I studied ACCA to be a Chartered Accountant.
Sorry, in your spare time you studied ACCA to be an accountant?!
Yeah, I did in my spare time. So I actually did it secretly, because I was worried that if they found out I was doing it at work and then I failed my tax exams, they would say it was because I wasn’t focused, right? So I secretly studied at night. I had like two friends at work and I told them I was doing it (they said “you’re insane”. But I booked the exam whilst doing the other exams. I just thought like, I was worried because I felt like I always had a foot in tax and a foot out. And I just thought, if I ever want to leave, I don’t want to be boxed in. I want to have options and I thought this qualification would give me that option.
I used my own money to do it. Because I was using my own money, I didn’t go to all the classes. I used every single free resource that was online. I think London School of something – anyway – you can basically study ACCA online for free. So that’s what I did. I just paid for my exams, which was about £100. I bought books secondhand on Amazon. And I thought, I’m gonna do that because it’s gonna give me more options.
And then when I moved into an HR associate role, where I had a good understanding of business, but wasn’t necessarily the best at HR. So I didn’t studied CIPD in in the evening. I got it written into my contract that they would pay for me to take CIPD. I did two evenings a week, so that I could get it done as soon as possible. And pretty much as soon as I did that I used it as a springboard to get another job. So it’s just about strategic things like that. That £3,000 that I could have spent of my own money, it still would have helped me. I think having a long term view – even to say: ok I’m going to take a slight step back (especially when you’re doing something like living at home) to say: hey, this is what I want to do in the future.
I’m in the process of brainstorming. I want to put a series together on YouTube, which is about “3 years to £40,000. It’s about jobs, where you’re starting from nothing, or having some experience but not in that field, you can make £40k within three years. And I think for most people, three years is not a long time when you know when you
I think three years, when you when you think about it as a concept. does feel like a really long time. But six month periods literally whip around! Absolutely
This has been a brilliant conversation because you have identified I think, which are a couple of the key drivers for people. The idea that you need to have that goal. And that involves a lot of compromises. A lot of hard choices. And then this other part (and I really do hope that you do your “£40k in 3 years” series because I think it will be really enlightening people). This idea that, within these constraints, you do have choices, or at least you should be spending some time asking yourself: What do I want? What’s stopping me right now? And what are the steps that will actually genuinely unlock things for me? If I don’t feel like I can have stuff now, what can I change in my current situation that would unlock things for me? If I don’t feel like I can have stuff now, what does it look like at the end of this journey that justifies whatever I have to do right now. Yeah, huge.
Exactly. And and as we say, in Nigeria: “A person doesn’t have two heads, we’ve all got one head.” So if they can do it, you should be able to do it too!
Perfect. That’s a great thing to end on. Thank you so much for joining us Lola. This has been incredibly inspiring. Where can people find you if they want to find you online?
I’m on YouTube and on Twitter and Instagram: @AdultingbyLola, if you google “Adulting by Lola”, it will come up.
Amazing. We’ll put it all in the show notes. And thank you so much for joining.
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