Every week, Zikoko seeks to understand how people move the Naira in and out of their lives. Some stories will be struggle-ish, others will be bougie. All the time, it’ll be revealing.
This 25-year-old fashion designer has had a fair share of tricky circumstances. But the consistent pattern in her story is how she always finds random people to get her out of them.
This is what her #NairaLife looks like.
What’s your earliest memory of money?
I lived with my aunt and her husband from when I was three to ten years old. I didn’t think about money during those years, but on some level, I thought we had it. My aunt’s husband regularly changed cars, but I later realised it was because he was a driver for transport companies and private individuals. I went to a private school, but I was sent out of school a couple of times because I owed school fees.
The reality was we lived in a face-me-I-face-you apartment and shared our bathroom and kitchen with a few people in the compound. But credit to my aunt and her husband because they protected me from having to worry about money. I wasn’t aware of it until I was in secondary school — which was a catholic-run school.
I had a second cousin in SS 3, who took me under her care. She handled my pocket money (₦1k) and provisions. During my first mid-term break, she returned what remained of my pocket money to me, and it was ₦950. She’d been taking care of me with her own money.
I had to start taking care of myself after she graduated the next year. This was when I really became aware of money and economic classes.
I struggled during the first term of JSS 2. I finished my ₦1k pocket money within the first week. I’m not sure how I survived until the mid-term break. When school resumed for the second term, I latched myself to a teacher, which was easy to do because I was intelligent. This teacher became my guardian and kept my pocket money for me until I needed it.
By the time I got to senior secondary school, I stopped needing a guardian. I moved on to the next best way to maximise my resources.
What was that?
My best friend and I started living on the food supplies we brought. It was a smart way to stretch our supplies, but it showed me the financial gap between my friend and me. She always had more money and contributed more food supplies. I also started noticing how other students lived. Most of them brought a lot more provisions from home than I did and were driven to school in their parent’s cars. I couldn’t compete.
Fast forward to 2013, I graduated from secondary school and got into university. My first year was another reminder of how little we had.
Tell me more
My parents struggled to pay my acceptance fee, which was ₦75k. When they finally sorted this and my school fees, there was nothing left to pay for my rent. The plan was to rent a room with someone and split the cost. So I was supposed to pay ₦55k out of ₦110k, but we couldn’t raise the money. Thankfully, my roommate allowed me to move in until I could raise my quota of the rent.
My allowance wasn’t set in stone. I got what I got whenever it came. I trekked a lot in my first year. I was dating my course rep, so he covered for me a lot of times, especially when I couldn’t buy textbooks and materials. Sometimes, he bought me lunch or gave me transport money. He was a huge help.
In my second year, I couldn’t cope with how broke I was, so I got a job at a restaurant.
How much did it pay?
₦15k, but I only got the full amount once. In my second month, the restaurant changed the pay structure and reduced the base pay to ₦5k. The rest was commission-based. I was there for three months and struggled to combine it with school. Luckily, someone gave me a lifeline.
What do you mean?
One of the customers took an interest in me. During one of his visits to the restaurant, he asked why I was working there, and I told him it was to support myself through school. He was empathetic and offered me a flexible job: I’d clean and take care of his house whenever he was out of town and do grocery runs when he was around. I accepted the offer without agreeing on an official salary, but I got ₦20k – 30k from him per month. Also, if any school expense came up, he took care of it. This man paid my final year school fees and bought me a laptop for my final year project. According to him, he was taking a chance on me, and the only way I could repay him was to ensure I didn’t fail out of school.
That must’ve been a relief
It was. He also bought me my first sewing machine when I decided to take up tailoring. My mum and aunt sewed, and I learnt the craft from them but never took it seriously. In my final year, I registered for a six-month course. By the end, I was almost done with uni and had only my project to sort out, so I launched my fashion design business. I made about ₦100k – 120k after the first two to three months.
What year was this?
2018. After graduation, I was posted to the north-central for NYSC. I had a cousin there; the plan was to live with them for the year. I thought it’d allow me to save as much money as I could, and I’d get a job that’d pay me at least ₦100k per month. None of that happened.
My service year was my first full taste of adulting. On the day I left the orientation camp, my cousin stopped picking up my calls and didn’t show up. I followed a friend from the camp whose boyfriend came to pick her up, but I wasn’t comfortable staying over with them, so I found a hotel. I had about ₦50k in my account and paid ₦15k for a night. My cousin called later that night, but I was too mad to pick up. I took their earlier ghosting as a sign to sort things out myself. They never called me back.
Then my Place of Primary Assignment (PPA) rejected me, claiming they didn’t need a corps member. I had no job or place to live.
What did you do?
I don’t even remember how many offices I went to the following morning, but they all rejected me. And I was burning money to get to these places.
My frustration grew, and I couldn’t hide it because one staff member called me back and asked what was wrong. I burst into tears as I narrated everything that had happened in the last 24 hours to her.
I didn’t expect what came after — she asked me to fetch my stuff from the hotel and offered to let me stay with her until I figured things out.
Did she say why she wanted to help?
She said she didn’t want her two young daughters to be in the same situation.
I had somewhere to stay. But I still needed a job. It took two weeks to find an admin role at an outdoor advertising agency. My salary was ₦20k, and the government paid ₦19,800, bringing my monthly income to ₦39,800.
In the first few months, the lady didn’t ask me for anything. However, I tried to pull my weight around the house and bought groceries when I could.
How long did you stay with her?
Three months. I left in June 2018 because I wasn’t comfortable living with her anymore. I was in a relationship, so I moved in with my partner and started looking for my own place even though I had less than ₦150k in savings.
But how did you even raise that?
₦39800 for three consecutive months, and my PPA had a culture of giving out money. It could be anything from ₦10k to ₦20k in a week. During this time, my combined income was higher than my expenses.
Eventually, I found an apartment for ₦150k/year. It completely wiped out my savings, and I couldn’t even move in because I couldn’t afford to furnish it.
I continued staying with my partner and living on whatever money gift I got from work, while slowly setting the place up. My partner bought a new mattress at some point, so I took the old one. I think this was when it occurred to him that I didn’t have anything in the apartment, so he bought the basic things I needed.
The timing was perfect because the relationship ended the following month.
What went wrong?
I found out that he had a fiancee. He said he’d broken it off, but I didn’t wait to find out for sure.
How did living alone impact your finances?
My biggest expense was transportation. My apartment was on the outskirts, so it cost ₦1,400 to get to work and back every day. I was spending close to ₦30k/month on transportation alone when my income was ₦39,800.
How did you make that work?
I picked up sewing clothes for people again. Another friend I made from camp had a bit of clout and directed people my way. Slowly, I started growing a client base, making an extra ₦30k per month.
By the time I settled my basic expenses and miscellaneous bills, I had nothing left. I decided to get a grip and join a savings programme at my place of work. Each person saves ₦20k/month and takes everything at the end of the year. I couldn’t afford it alone, so me and a co-worker agreed to both drop ₦10k/month.
For the savings arrangement to work, though, I had to be retained at the end of my service year.
Were you retained?
Yes, but the promotion to full-staff barely reflected in my salary. They bumped it up to ₦45k gross, ₦39k net. After saving ₦10k, I had only ₦29k to live on. By the end of 2019, I’d saved ₦120k. I received about ₦90k in bonus and ₦50k in money gifts from work.
Nothing major happened until the lockdown, which helped me cut down on daily expenses like transportation. I only had to sort out my rent. A friend had started living with me, and we’d moved to a bigger apartment, which cost ₦500k. When it was time to renew in June 2020, it took some doing to find the money. I figured it out, but it wiped my savings once again.
I decided to quit my job in March 2021.
I was done with how little the job paid. Plus, there was no room for growth. I didn’t even have a safety net. I was just exhausted. I wanted to face my fashion design business full-time. But I needed capital to do that. And everyone I told I was quitting my job to start a business had something to chip in. I raised about ₦1m from money gifts.
Between renting out a space and miscellaneous expenses, I was out of money again. I didn’t have a solid client base by this time because I hadn’t been consistent with the business. It took about three months before it picked up.
I started attending trade fairs. I either sold the ready-to-wear clothes I made or offered custom services to people who didn’t find what they liked or their size. I’d collect their numbers and call them later to pick up the conversation. Slowly, my clients increased.
I wasn’t making enough profit to live on, so what made all the difference was the money gifts I got from friends who’d left the country and my bosses at my former workplace.
Then something else had to set me back.
What was that?
I entered a new relationship in 2020 and fell pregnant in July 2021. I was barely surviving on my own, so I went to a fertility clinic and got some abortion pills for about ₦50k. After two weeks, I still had pregnancy symptoms. When I returned to the clinic, they suggested another procedure, and I went through with it. But in August, I still felt bloated. One day, on my way to the shop, I started feeling sharp stomach pains. I had a feeling something was wrong and went back to the clinic. After a scan, the doctor referred me to another hospital.
Did they say why?
They didn’t understand what they saw, so they sent me to another lab to get a clearer image. I paid ₦24k for a transvaginal scan, and all hell broke loose. The radiologist said they couldn’t get a good view of my reproductive system because there was a lot of fluid in the area due to a rupture between my fallopian tube and ovaries. They concluded that I was carrying an ectopic pregnancy.
When I returned to the fertility clinic, they said they couldn’t handle the surgery it required and referred me to a government hospital. After waiting at the hospital for hours, I found out the doctors were on strike and didn’t have enough doctors around to carry out the procedure. This was a huge blow because doing it at the government hospital wouldn’t have cost more than ₦200k.
What did you do?
It was now a medical emergency, so I was referred to a private hospital. They wouldn’t let me see a doctor until I registered with the hospital and got a card, which cost ₦40k. And there was no guarantee that they’d take my case even then. I also found out that the surgery would cost about ₦1m.
How much did you have?
I had ₦200k left. The doctor referred me to another clinic where the surgery cost ₦450k. And my boyfriend sent me ₦150k.
₦100k to go.
I’m not sure why, but every time I put myself in silly situations, someone randomly comes through.
How did it manifest this time?
Out of the blue, my former boss called to check up on me later that night. When I told him I was in the hospital and being prepped for surgery, he promised to do something. The following morning, he sent me ₦250k.
The recovery was hellish. I couldn’t work for three weeks, so my income dried out, and I was back to living on money gifts. My friend and I were struggling to pay our rent. In October 2021, we were served a quit notice. My friend was leaving the country in January 2022. Because of this, I started thinking about japa too.
In January 2022, I started applying to schools abroad while living with a friend. In February, I found another apartment for ₦400k. I had about ₦100k and borrowed ₦300k from my friends to move.
One month later, I was offered admission to a school in the UK. The tuition was £14,800, and they requested 50% upfront.
What did you do?
I called my parents and asked them to find the money for me. The plan was for them to borrow it, and I’d pay back when I got to the UK. I went ahead to borrow ₦9.5m for the proof of funds, so I could go ahead with the other processes. But I had to pay 4% of the money for every month it took me to return it. I locked it in my account for two months while the school and visa people confirmed. In the end, I paid the lender ₦760k extra.
You want to know how I found the money, don’t you?
My former roommate who left in January borrowed me ₦500k from the money she planned to use to balance her tuition, which was due in August 2022. I raised the rest from my business proceeds.
Did your parents find the money for your own tuition?
They found someone who promised to loan them the money if they could provide some collateral, so they put down some of their property. But the person ghosted when it was time to fulfil their end of the deal.
This put an end to my japa plan. I returned to face my fashion design work, but there were lots of pieces to pick up. I had to return the money my friend loaned me and renew my shop rent. I haven’t recovered from it. I worked twice as hard before I managed to pay her back in September 2022, but we fell out for a bit because I missed her deadline. Luckily, the school didn’t throw her out.
My shop rent has been due since last month. My house rent was due earlier this month. I need ₦900k for both, and at the moment, my cash at hand is ₦390k.
What’s your plan?
I’m a little at rest because I have enough to cover my house rent. But I’ve been asking myself recently how I manage to push myself into sticky situations. I’d probably be in a better place financially if I didn’t go through with the whole japa thing last year. But I have more clients now, so unlike the previous times I’ve been in tough spots, I have a clear pathway to making money in the near future.
Can I ask what you make in a good month?
Between ₦300k – 500k. About 40% of that goes into expenses.
What do your recurring expenses look like?
I struggle to keep the records, so I can only give you ballpark monthly figures.
Is there something you want but can’t afford?
I wanted to expand my business with about ₦3m in 2022, and someone was going to put the money down. Unfortunately, they pulled out at the last minute. I’m confident it’ll happen by the end of 2023.
How would you rate your financial happiness?
It’s a 5. I’m not comfortable with where I am, but I’m no longer that girl who had to live on handouts. I may not have all the things I need, but I’ll always be good. I have people around me who have my best interests at heart. That’s good enough for now.