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 earliest memory of money?
I don’t think I ever had an “aha” moment about what money could do. My parents were civil servants, and being the last born of eight children, I came when they’d finished hustling. I mostly had everything I needed, but I didn’t have access to money at all.
Like, they didn’t give you money?
Whenever I needed something for school, my parents would give my older siblings the money to get it for me. It pissed me off to no end. Was I too small to handle money?
In JSS 3, I noticed that my elder brother, who was in university, always returned from school with goodies for me and my siblings. For some reason, I concluded that once you entered university, you’d start making money. That became my plan. Go to uni and make money.
Did you follow the plan?
I followed passion first. After finishing secondary school in 2013, I did a three-month basic computer training course because the uni I applied to used computer-based tests for their post-UTME exam. But after I took the exam, ASUU went on strike. So, I was home for six months, waiting for admission.
While I waited, I took an interest in graphic design and volunteered to teach new cohorts at the training centre basic computer skills for free. A corps member noticed I was passionate about digital skills, so he taught me web design, HTML, CSS and PHP. When I finally got admitted into uni, my dad gave me his laptop as a gift, and it helped me practise my skills.
Did you monetise the skills in uni?
Sort of. In 200 level, a friend ran for a political post in the faculty, and I made designs for him. He paid me with food when he won the election. Another guy who was running for a departmental post saw my designs and asked me to do some for him as well. He squeezed ₦200 into my hand as payment when he won.
The problem was, I wasn’t charging people for designs. Some other students also randomly came to me for designs, and I expected they’d compensate me. You’d think the ₦200 debacle would’ve given me sense and taught me how to charge for my skills. It didn’t.
It looks like the “make money in uni” plan wasn’t working
It wasn’t. To make things worse, I was surviving on a ₦1k weekly allowance. My parents had retired, and cash flow wasn’t as regular.
I didn’t care so much about money though; I was just hungry for knowledge and wanted to learn as many skills as possible. By the time I resumed 300 level, I’d learned to build web apps. I built a computer-based voting software for my department’s elections. With a friend’s help, the word got out, and a few other associations in school adopted the software for their elections. I got paid ₦20k for every association that used the software.
What was that like?
₦20k was a lot of money to me at the time. And I was just happy people were interacting with a project I created. My first big break came the following year.
It was 2018 — the year of Ponzi websites — and everyone was building one. I charged between ₦80k and ₦100k for each website and built four that year.
How does someone even get a gig to build a ponzi website?
MMM had just crashed, and people were pissed they didn’t make enough from the scheme. They’d either lost money or wanted to use the trend as an opportunity to take people’s money, too. So they looked for anyone who could write code and gave them the job on the spot. The website would crash in weeks, but no one cared. They just wanted to make their own money.
Me, I liked the money and enjoyed spending it. But I soon felt bad about being part of something that was scamming people of their hard-earned money, so I stopped after the four gigs.
My next stop was an internship at a design agency for IT. They paid me ₦5k/month for three months.
That’s a sharp drop
The sapa was strong. I’d also lost both of my parents earlier in 2017. It was tough.
I’m so sorry to hear that
Thank you. Luckily, my dad wrote a will before he passed and allocated about ₦5m to me. It took a year to process and access the money, but even then, I needed my elder brother as a signatory to make withdrawals. The money helped as it was what I relied on during IT and the rest of my time at school.
However, I didn’t want to be too dependent on my inheritance. So, I limited my withdrawals to only essential expenses and school fees. I didn’t want to create a too-comfortable life for myself with that money and then struggle to keep up when it’s exhausted.
By the second semester of 500 level, I stopped withdrawing from the account entirely and haven’t touched it since then. I still have about ₦3m now.
All of this meant I had to make my own money. Fortunately, I got a motion designer role soon after I stopped withdrawing from the account.
We didn’t even discuss a salary. But anytime I worked on a project, my boss would just squeeze ₦15k or ₦20k in my hands.
Not the “squeezing money” stage again
I worked on about six video projects in total during my two-month stint with him.
Then, someone else offered me another motion design gig. It was a lot of work, and I wanted to be sure I negotiated properly. So, I contacted a professional to ask how much he’d charge for the same project. The professional mentioned a couple of millions, so I divided the figure into two and charged one-half of the value. In my mind, I’d blown. Only for the guy to price me down to ₦50k.
Although we eventually agreed on ₦80k, the guy only paid me ₦60k when the project ended. I had a bit of a dry spell after that until NYSC in 2020. I survived on the ₦19,800 allowance plus ₦4,900 stipend from my PPA for a while.
A few web design gigs came here and there, where I made between ₦15k and ₦40k per gig. But I realised that I could make more if I was better at negotiating. So, I made it a point to upskill and read books to improve my negotiation skills.
I was prepared when the next gig came. I charged the client whom I’d worked with before ₦100k, and instead of just going “okay” after she priced it down to ₦50k, I asked her to clarify the components of the website. When she did, I focused on the complexities and used English to defend why the amount I quoted was the only option. Surprisingly, she agreed, and even returned later for another project. In my mind, I was like, “So it’s this English I didn’t know that’s been suffering me all this while?”
How often were the gigs coming generally?
Not often, but it was regular enough for me to put myself on a salary during the NYSC year. I didn’t want to finish service with nothing to fall back on. So, I kept everything I made from gigs in a separate account and only paid myself ₦20k/month.
What happened after your service year?
I returned home broke. I had to use most of the money to replace my laptop, which cost ₦120k. After removing the transport fare to return home, which was miles away from my PPA, I had just ₦10k left.
But I had a plan: move to Ibadan to look for work. I’d even paid a friend ₦20k to renew his rent so I could stay in his one-room apartment when he left for NYSC. Before that plan materialised, a company in Lagos I’d applied to intern with as a game developer invited me for an interview.
Also, someone from the design agency I’d previously interned with called and said they’d like to see me. The plan was to attend the interview and meet with the design agency during the same weekend. I ended up spending nine months in Lagos.
The design agency offered me a ₦120k/month job that included free accommodation. I didn’t even go for the other interview again.
What about your place in Ibadan?
I abandoned it. My job paid 4x what I spent on it, and I didn’t have to pay rent. I was in Lagos with just one shirt — remember I only planned to stay a weekend — but it didn’t matter because we soon entered the 2020 lockdown and worked remotely.
I moved back to Ibadan after the lockdown was lifted because remote work was now a thing. But this time, I rented a ₦250k/year three-bedroom apartment with two other friends. I also got a raise the following year, and my salary increased to ₦150k.
How were you feeling about your earnings?
It was good money. Plus, the agency also started a profit-sharing system where you could make extra money when you led a project. However, I wanted core programming and thought it was time to apply myself somewhere other than an agency.
What was that like?
I didn’t have time to take it in because I got a contract role with an international company almost at the same time. It was in dollars, and I can’t remember the figure now, but it was equivalent to ₦400k/week — what I was supposed to make in a month at the fintech company. But I wasn’t eager to take it.
I didn’t see career growth opportunities. Everyone I told thought I wasn’t okay. At the end of the day, I took both jobs. It was one of the most mentally draining periods of my life. I had to live with other members of the fintech’s team for a three-month hackathon, and still had to work in the evenings for the other company.
The work culture at the international company was terrible, and after three months, I decided I couldn’t do it again. So, I left. I didn’t touch the salary for the three months I worked, so I had the ₦6m in my account.
I also hardly spent the fintech’s salary because they accommodated and fed me during the three-month hackathon. This was an additional ₦1.2m in my savings.
You seem to have a thing for not touching money
I do. I’m very pro-savings. In January 2022, I got promoted to senior front-end engineer, and my salary doubled to ₦800k. The company allowed us to choose whether to receive the salary in naira or dollars, and I chose the latter. So, I started earning $1,500. I also began to leave all the money in my USD account because I still had over ₦6m in cash to spend. That’s what I spent for the whole of 2022.
What did you spend on?
I budgeted 20% monthly for tithe and offering, which was a recurring expense. Then I got a two-bedroom apartment for about ₦550k. I also got an inverter at ₦540k and a monitor at ₦80k. I was deliberate about keeping my expenses as low as possible.
My spending didn’t exactly increase with my earnings. When I was earning ₦150k, I’d be broke before the end of the month. But when my income increased, I noticed that I’d spend money, but the money wouldn’t finish.
I think that was the first time I realised I had money. I decided to take advantage of that by saving half of my salary. If I could survive on ₦150k, then I could surely survive on ₦200k.
What’s your perspective on money right now?
I don’t appear to have as much money as I do, and I think it’s a very good thing. I follow a principle with purchases: If an item costs close to 10% of my income, I start to seriously consider if it’s really worth it.
I read The Psychology of Money and The Millionaire Next Door recently, and they’ve further shaped how I think about money. I wanted an iPhone a while ago that cost ₦1m. In my mind, I’d saved up, and I deserved it. But when I was honest with myself, I realised it was just peer pressure to follow trends.
People who work in tech tend to have this problem the most. I watched a video of a designer asking how you could be earning ₦1m/month and also spending ₦1m/month. You’re already living above your means. Do you really need to change that laptop or phone? This position may also lead to you being stingy with yourself, but I’ve found the balance between the necessary and the unnecessary. For instance, I don’t play with my food. When I’m hungry, I buy food. I can’t be doing millionaire next door and starve.
Oh, I should mention. I got another raise in 2023, and my salary is now $2,500.
Impressive. Let me guess: you’re saving most of it
I am. I leave $1,500 in the account and convert $1k to naira, which is about ₦900k, to spend monthly. Most times, I don’t even finish it all.
What does that look like, broken down?
I randomly stopped using ride-hailing apps this year because the app can say ₦1,200, but the drivers want you to pay ₦3,500. Now, I just take bikes, reducing my transportation costs by over 50%.
Food is my major expense, and recently, I realised I spend an average of ₦5k ordering food daily. It just takes too long to cook.
How much do you currently have saved up?
I save in dollars, so based on the current exchange rate, it’s about ₦28.5m.
Have you thought about what you want to use it for?
I actually had a savings goal of ₦10m for 2023, and I’ve exceeded it. I’m considering going for a master’s abroad to boost my career chances. My girlfriend is also actively talking about japa, so a lot of that money might go into that.
How about investment options?
One of the lessons I’ve learnt from The Richest Man in Babylon is to not invest in something you don’t understand. Investments tend to look attractive, but I’m very sceptical about them.
I’ve experimented with investment platforms too. I put $350 in one of them, but now it’s down to $250. I’m just waiting for it to go back to $350 so I can remove my money.
I want to take a proper course on understanding investments before trying it again. I don’t want to invest just because everyone is doing it. I’ll just keep saving my money for now.
Why do you think you save so much?
Honestly, I have a fear of going broke. If I lose my job now, do I have enough money to help me stay afloat for six months or a year?
How much is “financially stable” money to you?
My goal is $100k/year. But my idea isn’t for it to make me financially stable. It’s to show me how much I’m worth as an individual. For me, earning $100k means I have value people are willing to pay that much for.
What’s a recent unplanned expense you made?
I visited Ghana a few months ago. It wasn’t part of my budget, and it cost around ₦300k – ₦400k. I’m really considering doing more random stuff like that.
I’m curious. Do you think about the ₦3m inheritance at all?
Not really. It’s been in a bank all these years. I might go check what’s left at the bank one of these days. I like to think of it as a safety net; the very last option if it ever comes to it.
How would you rate your financial happiness on a scale of 1-10?
5. I still have this lingering fear that all the money can just disappear, and I’d be back to ground zero. I also feel I’m inconveniencing myself because I’m trying to create a safety net. Nonetheless, I know I need to up my game. I’m only a front-end engineer now, but I need to gather skills that will make me a more robust professional.
If you’re interested in talking about your Naira Life story, this is a good place to start.
Find all the past Naira Life stories here.