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.
What’s your oldest memory of money?
I was seven, and there was a housewarming party at my father’s new house. An uncle gave me ₦50 as per for being a good boy. Later that evening, an aunt asked me to lend her the money for her transport home. She’s never returned my money since then, and it still keeps me up at night 20 years later. I don’t even remember which aunt it was.
Haha. What’s the first thing you ever did for money?
I sold rabbits and chicks as a teenager. But I didn’t do much for money because I was a “get inside” child.
Ah, kids who were barely allowed to go out. What did you do after that?
I vaguely remember marking scripts for money at some point between when I was 15 and 16. In university, for a brief period, I helped out my friend with a printing business to type essays or projects. I made ₦4,000 off a particular one which was a pretty sweet deal. I was also getting allowances from my parents. About ₦2,000 per week – ₦1,500 if the economy was particularly hard that week.
My university was in the same town as my family home, so I regularly went and picked up foodstuff all the time, so it didn’t eat into the allowance.
Who was giving you this allowance?
My father, but work always took him out of town, so my mother would do it. He reimbursed her sometimes; most times he did not. — he had eight other children. But he never joked with tuition.
If he had to sell an arm and a leg to make sure his children never defaulted on fees, he would.
Eight other children?
Welp. He married my mother first, but they couldn’t have kids for a number of years. So he got a second wife, who got pregnant almost immediately. Then my mother got pregnant with my elder sister months later. Another five-year lull in child-bearing pushed him to venture out once more to marry a third wife. She got pregnant with his third child just a month before my mother got pregnant with me. Five other kids came from my two stepmothers in the 10 years that followed.
I’m my mother’s second, and my father’s fourth.
Sensational. What did this mean growing up? Financially that is.
For a long time, especially while I was a dependent, the guy was capable money-wise. It wasn’t anything extravagant, but food was on the table, and he was pretty influential in his circle.
Things got down a bit more in his later years. But I no longer depended on him, so I didn’t really suffer. Some of my younger siblings did. The lesson here is, maybe don’t have nine children.
Post-uni. What came next?
I had to wait one year after graduation for NYSC deployment. It was supposed to be a two-month wait, then it was five months, and everything pooled up to a year.
I turned down a ₦28k-a-month offer to teach a secondary school class. This was mostly because I hated teaching and had a big fear of sticking out in front of other people. I basically did nothing to earn in that entire period except for peanuts on some writing and editing gigs.
NYSC came and I quite unsurprisingly got a teaching posting – ₦19,800 as usual – I loved every minute of it.
Apart from the regular NYSC allowance, I was making money on the side doing extra lessons during the holidays. I had a close colleague that was an organiser, and I was the only English teacher he could find. We got paid well, ₦12k each.
NYSC ended and I had no idea what to do with my life. My pocket was empty after a couple of weeks. I sent dozens of email applications, walked to other places to drop CVs. After a couple of months, it became anywhere-bele-face.
It got so frustrating that when I saw a cyber cafe attendant role I jumped at it. ₦15k a month. Then I was ready to jump back out after a couple of weeks. It wasn’t working out great, other than the free internet.
I typed up a resignation letter towards the end of the second month. Without a plan in sight. Days later, I got a ₦40k-per-month internship offer at a media company in Lagos.
I left my small town and moved to Lagos with my one bag two days later. I didn’t really know anyone there and had no clear long-term plan on shelter or anything. What I knew was that I just wanted to start working where the prospects were better.
New city, no friends. How does one even begin to navigate that?
I got the internship through a friend of a friend who didn’t really know me. But he had to do some vouching that I could do the job. Then I moved in with another friend of a friend who was himself trying to find his own feet. He decided one month later that he was moving out of Lagos. So I suddenly had to start looking for a new place, calling up everyone I knew.
I found a new spot after a week of searching. This time, it was a friend of a friend of a friend. Even my friend was someone from Twitter I hadn’t actually met. It was supposed to be a two-month stay while I got my money to get a place. I ended up staying there for 14 months because it turned out money doesn’t just come because you want it. I moved in with another friend I had made in Lagos and stayed with him for about eight months. Then I finally got my own rented apartment.
That’s almost three years.
I should mention that much of the time I stayed with these guys, I wasn’t really sleeping there. Thing is, I didn’t want to feel like a burden around my hosts. I spent a huge chunk of my squatting times sleeping at my office. 6 days a week at some point. The only reason I’d go back to those guys’ places was to do laundry on weekends. Then I’d just pack again for the week. I was trying to not betray their faith in me being of good behaviour. So I’d contribute to apartment expenses as much as I could.
In real terms, took me about two years to get on my own feet. So, shoutout to the kindness of complete strangers.
You slept at the office for six days a week? How did that work?
It starts with packing enough clothes, and the usual necessities, to last the entire week. Most people go home at the close of work, you do whatever you want from then on. There were a few factors that made the process easier at my office. Like an abundance of mattress-like couches to sleep on. Heck, sometimes, you could just sleep on the wooden tables. There were also quite a few bathrooms at the office, You just needed to wake before work started the next day. Have your bath, and continue with the rest of your day. Rinse and repeat.
There were a few other people doing it at the same time as me. Not all of us were homeless, some just hated going up and down with traffic.
How much was your salary at the time?
How did you feel about the margins for these raises?
The first raise felt good because it was obvious progress. The second one came as a complete surprise because I had not asked for a raise. No one told me until it hit my account. I called my boss to say they mistakenly sent me too much and he said it wasn’t a mistake. I felt really great about that one because it was an obvious appreciation of my work. The raise to ₦122k was really annoying because I did ask for a raise at that point. A ₦5k raise wasn’t what I had in mind. I also received it days after my father had died.
Sorry about your loss.
I was about to have more responsibilities on my neck. Then the ₦200k raise came because I received an offer from a different company and used that offer to negotiate.
This is probably the work version of hostage negotiations.
The bizarre thing about that is I actually negotiated myself well below the mark. I didn’t realise it until months later. I clearly suck at that. I’d prefer the next raise just be double, at least, of what my pay currently is.
Tell me about the responsibilities on your neck.
Thanks. It just meant my father’s death shifted primary support of my mother to me. She’s not completely dependent. She has her own petty trade that takes care of her primary needs. But she had a recurring health problem that was becoming a sinkhole for my emergency fund from time to time. She’d try to hide it from me sometimes. She was feeling self-conscious that I was only spending money on her sickness.
Ah, this struggle.
Thankfully, the health issue has drastically reduced over the years.
I was still trying to find my feet at the time too. I also had to support my sister, also still finding her feet. Things would probably be a lot messier for me if I was closer to my half-siblings. They’d bring their own needs to my table too. I mean, they still do, but not with any regularity that would make it a concern.
Back to your income. You want it doubled, how do you imagine that’d happen?
To be honest, I don’t see it happening any time soon, if at all, where I currently work. The fastest way to that kind of raise would be an entirely new job. If I’m seriously working towards that is an entirely different conversation. It’s mostly just vibes and inshallah at this point.
What do you think comes next?
I really have absolutely no idea, and that can be scary sometimes. It’s such an important decision to make, but I have no wherewithal to do it.
What are your real fears regarding this?
Getting stuck, mostly. Doing the same thing for such a long time that it no longer brings you excitement. It becomes harder and harder to get out of it.
How has your experience shaped your perception of money?
I’m not sure how best to answer this, but my spending habit is pretty annoying because it confuses even me. The most basic way to explain it is I’m pretty tight and loose with how I use money. Tight because I can be very meticulous about how I spend on things for my own benefit. Loose because I’m more carefree with it when it’s to fulfil the needs of other people.
It’s hard to turn people down when they ask me for money whether it’s dash or a loan. Some loans, I just end up writing off when I get tired of asking for repayment. The way I do it, you’d think I’m Dangote, but my bank account knows it’s all smoke.
I have no investments. There’s nothing tangible I can say I’ve done with the money I’ve earned over the past few years.
There’s really no financial discipline and it’s another one of those things in my life that runs on vibes.
Money comes. Money goes.
What is making your money go these days?
I spend ₦15k on internet data subscription, sometimes more. ₦50k on savings. A regular ₦20k split between my mother and sister, minus whatever else might come as an emergency down the line. I also have an adopted family of six back where I serve, so I send something back there sometimes. It’s irregular and not a big deal, just mostly for the children. I don’t really do any budgeting on my own expenses, so I really just spend whatever’s left.
Much of my savings just goes into my rent (₦350k), or part of my sister’s rent. I don’t know what I’m saving for. I don’t even think there’s a significant amount to be saved from what I earn. So, I’m careful with money, but I’m also reckless, and that makes no sense.
What does reckless mean to you?
By reckless, I mean there’s no plan for the money other than to just spend it. It’s simply about spending it on basic, non-luxurious shit or giving it out to people. All this, without mapping out a long term plan for how to grow it and keep the tap running.
Losing my job at any moment would be disastrous. I’d hit rock bottom money-wise after a couple of months with no new job or stream of income.
What’s the last thing you paid for that required serious planning?
I recently bought a new phone for ₦270k. The old one had overstayed its welcome and was really frustrating to use. It didn’t require serious planning though, but it’s the most I’ve spent recently on anything that isn’t rent. I just closed my eyes and went for it.
Money well spent too.
How much do you feel like, at this stage, you should be earning?
₦500k would be a great start. It gives me the freedom to do certain things like ask my sister to quit her job. She gets paid peanuts, and it’s too time-consuming for her to look for a better one. On my current income, I can comfortably pay her salary, or even double it (although that becomes a bit inconvenient). On ₦500k, I could just pay her enough to make her comfortable until she gets something better.
That kind of income lets me breathe a little bit better too. Investments can become a bit easier to make without looking too much over my shoulders.
How much does she earn?
₦25k. At least that’s what she tells me. She doesn’t know what I earn too. I won’t be surprised if she’s lying. But it’s still a very low-paying job.
LMAO. Even though she and my mother (probably) believe I still earn around ₦100k. They expect that I have significant savings and planning for a family. If they know what I actually earn, it’d be a whole different thing. I’d suddenly have two money managers expecting me to build a house as soon as possible.
How would you rate your financial happiness on a scale of 1-10?
A solid 5.5? I’m in a completely different place from where I was three years ago, but I also want more now. You always want more money. More than that, I think it’s also important that, while getting the bag, you find comfort in what you do. You do one thing for too long, and a lull will inevitably set in. So, you always have to evolve or find something new to keep the energy up.
I’m trying to open myself up more. Maybe I’ll put it in my new year’s resolutions list. But for now, vibes.
Because I am an unserious person. I’ve never really had a phase in my entire life where I just set like a long-term plan. I’ve also never wanted to be anything in particular, and just start working towards it. Most of my life choices have really been about just flowing to where the tide takes me. Also, I also can’t swim, lol. I’m not a lazy person, and there’s been plenty of hard work and grit along the way. But I had to fumble my way into position first.
I realise that run ends at some point, and it looks like it already has; but I haven’t properly dealt with that reality.