She’s 27, A Researcher, And Tired Of Being Broke

December 9, 2019

If you’ve been reading #NairaLife long enough, then you probably know I’m currently on the #JollofRoad, our West African road trip. Along the way, I’ve found all kinds of people. And what good is it if I don’t run into people and ask them about their finances?

The subject of today’s story lives in Abuja, where she works as a researcher, while still nursing a PhD ambition.


What’s the first thing, no matter how trivial you think it was, that you ever did to fetch money?

The first thing that fetched me money – this is actually a stupid story hahaha. 

Hit me.

I was about seven or so. My mum had a hair salon, but she also sold drinks and snacks at the salon. Basically, you don’t have to die of thirst while you wait your turn.

We also got our daily supply of drinking water for the house from the shop. So one day, she packed about 20 sachets in a bowl for me to take home – the salon was about five minutes from the house. On my way home – literally ten feet from the gate of my house – two men asked if I was selling the water.

I said yes. 

Hahaha. 

And they bought two sachets. Voila, I had sold something. I dropped the water at home and hurriedly returned to my mum to tell her the good news. She just laughed and told me to spend the money on whatever. I think I bought chewing gum or something. I still think about it and laugh. Maybe I should’ve waited outside my gate for more thirsty people. Maybe I would’ve sold the whole bag. 

I stan a baroness. 

Hahaha, please. 

Also, there was that time when I was 8. I went to my classmate’s party. My entire class had produced a dance and song for her, so we literally were the entertainment, minus the DJ and clowns of course. I think people were just in awe of us, so they kept spraying us money.

I just kept packing my own. 

I stan a focused woman.

I probably made ₦200. But since it was the year 2000, that meant I was a rich babe. I eventually gave the money to my sister because she asked nicely. She wanted to buy Home Economics supplies and for some weird reason, she didn’t want to ask our parents.

I basically paid for her education. 

Hahaha, when was the next time you earned? 

It was an unpaid internship at a broadcasting station, but I was quite curious about marketing so I managed to work my way to that department. The work was annoying but with my boss, we were able to bring business into the company. So I got paid a commission. The three of us – my boss and another intern – shared about 15% commission.

I used that money to buy a dress for my sister and me. 

Cute. 

Then service year and the ₦19,800 per month. Most of it was spent on flights back home when I was bored of staying at my PPA. And food. I don’t think I had anything saved after service. 

Oooh, did I mention that my mum and my siblings started a small business too?

That’s interesting. How did that go?

It was hard to pull off and funds were tight, but I got paid sometimes, never consistently though.

You get bonus points for effort.

After service though, I returned to school in a small town – postgraduate diploma. My mother wanted me to focus solely on school, so she told me not to bother with a job. It was really scary to me because I needed the money and didn’t want to ask my parents, but I kind of didn’t have a choice. There weren’t a lot of job offers there and I was a full-time student.

During your time there, when did you feel totally broke?

Can’t exactly pinpoint but there was a point after I paid my fees and everything that I barely had any money left. Legit started planning how to trek to school. Lived very close to the school so it seemed doable at the time haha.

When I wasn’t studying, I was checking new recipes online and baking. Speaking of baking, I sold cupcakes for a hot second. 

I love baking. And I’d been doing it a lot at the time, but mainly for myself and family. So I thought to myself, why not make cakes and see if they sell? I also had encouragement from certain friends even without them knowing that I actually had been thinking of selling cakes. Bought a few cake mixes and I baked about two 8-inch cakes and cut them up in slices to sell at school. 

How did that go? 

Not very well, because it didn’t make sense to university students to buy cake slices/cupcakes for ₦300 apparently. There were always complaints about it being too expensive. So I stopped after the first two batches.

Ouch. Back to depending on allowances from home? 

Yes. Honestly, I was really desperate to do well in school so that’s where 80% of my energy went. I didn’t have any type of social life; entertainment was mainly from the internet and old movies on my laptop.

Anyway, I got my diploma in February of 2017. Then I started my MSc that same month.

I’m making plans to start a PhD soon. But I’m also trying to take the time to get more work experience and explore my hobbies. I’m no longer dying on the “PhD before 30” hill.

Why though?

Honestly, I’m not sure. Nobody really tells you how mentally draining school can be. I just have to feel like I’m prepared and in the right headspace to go back to school for another three years. Right now, I just don’t feel like it.

Another reason is funding. I want to breathe the abroad air during my PhD. I need a brand new experience with life.

So you’ve gone from trying to pass to trying to get cash. How’s that been?

Not the best, but definitely better than being totally jobless and biting my nails.
I got a research position at a friend’s company at the beginning of 2019. The pay wasn’t too great but I learnt a lot. The job was contractual so it ended after six months.

How much did this pay?

If I was able to work for eight hours every day, five days a week for a month, I would make 100k – on a per hour basis. But I never made up to that because there was always something or the other. For example, I had to travel sometimes, my laptop failed me sometimes, and I flat out didn’t have any work at certain periods. I had a time-sheet to fill and if I didn’t work, I wouldn’t get paid. My average was 60k.

So, the gig ended in July?

Technically, yeah. But then I stayed back for another very short term gig. That one paid ₦150k. It was for like a month so I finally left in August.

After August?

I didn’t have a job for a hot second. I was a bit relieved to be honest, even though I was broke. There was just this need to rest.

I feel you.

I spent the week after I left the office relaxing, reading and just trying to figure things out. I started transcribing for people in the meantime while I applied for other jobs – ₦250/300 per minute. Not great money, but it’s better than nothing.

Thankfully, I just secured a research assistant position. Not permanent, but definitely worth it. Tbh I’m curious about learning new things so I’m kind of excited about this new position.

How much is it paying?

₦120k

Since you haven’t yet earned your ₦120k, how about you breakdown your ₦60k for me and what you’d normally spend it on?

This is hard. I don’t track my spending in a meaningful way, but let’s try.

I save, but the money would go if someone close to me asks or is in need. I never actually find myself saving long term. But I’m trying to change that.

Where’s your relationship with money currently?

I don’t know. I guess with money, I learnt contentment pretty early. I do like money, like a lot. But somehow when my needs are covered, I tend to relax a bit. But I have more needs now, well more desires and hopes. And I kinda need money to reach those goals. So I’m beginning to reevaluate my relationship with money.

The older I’ve become, the more I hesitate before I spend money, especially on myself. I don’t know why, but there’s always this really confusing voice in my that tells me it can be used for something better. Maybe it’s like that for everyone. Maybe it’s not even a weird relationship at all.

What do you honestly feel like you should be earning?

Well, currently if I were working at my dream job with the level of experience I have, I’d probably be earning between ₦250k to ₦300k. There’s a chance to grow and earn better. I’m passionate about gender and promoting peacebuilding and I’ll like to work in an organization that promotes and focuses on that.

What’s something you want but can’t afford right now?

A new car, and PhD tuition. In my dream school, initially, tuition is about 11,000 CAD. Subsequently, I’ll pay about 750 CAD. But then, there’s the ticket and visa and the other travel-related costs which I’ve been avoiding researching because I don’t want my heart to break finally.
Second dream job? University lecturer. I think academia will push me to be my best self. Either that or it’ll completely break my spirit. I’m willing to find out sha.

Do you have any emergency plan for when you get sick or stuff like that?

No actually. So here’s the thing: I never get sick lol. I’m very grateful for this. Maybe a little catarrh or something. Constipation lol. Nothing life-threatening Alhamdulillah. I realise now that I need a medical emergency fund. I can’t believe I’ve let myself flap in the breeze for this long.

What do you wish you knew about money a decade ago?

I wish I knew how to save better. 10 years ago l had just gotten into uni and I would either pinch through my allowance all month long or blow it in two days. No in-between.

What are your biggest fears about your financial future, near and far?

Right now, not being able to handle basic needs.
In the future, not being able to provide or take care of my parents. I don’t know when I’ll start a family, but it’s scary as hell to think my kids will have to suffer because of my inability to adequately provide for them. I want them to have and experience things I didn’t. I also want to have a meaningful career that’s fulfilling financially and otherwise. Here’s hoping that those things somehow collide.

Rate your financial happiness, on a scale of 1-10.

3. I think too much before I spend money. It’s exhausting. You know that gif with the clueless lady and all the math formulas flying around? That’s me every time money leaves my account.

It would be nice to not think so much. To be able to afford to change stuff and partake in things without all the planning. It’s maddening. And to think people actually have it worse.


Fu'ad Lawal

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