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.
The woman in this Naira Life story is 32 and loves the finest comforts of life. Get to know her.
When was the first time you understood money?
Ah, I think it was that time when I realised that having the money for something is not the same as having the money for something – if that makes any sense.
It does. I’m listening.
My family was on vacation in the States, and my dad had this thing where everyone gets their own spending money, depending on your age.
So I still had some money, and I wanted to buy some cards – I think they were $1.70. It wasn’t the beginning of the vacation, so I’d almost run out of money. I got my money from my mum who used to help me hold on to it and went into the shop like, take my money.
The attendant said, “That’ll be $2.12,” and I said, “No no, it says $1.70.” And she was like, “Oh yeah, plus tax.”
Then I thought, if I take this $2.12, I can buy this card, but what else can I buy after that? In the end I said to myself, I have the money, but can I afford it? So yeah, that’s my first memory of knowing that you can pay for something doesn’t mean you should. I was 11 going on 12 at the time, in JSS1.
So what’s the first thing you ever did for money?
Does dancing at parties count? If it does, then dancing at all our family’s events it is – we used to have a lot! I’m not a good dancer, but we’d wait until the people who sprayed showed up on the dancefloor, and then we’d go and dance.
When you think about it, it’s like stripping, but without the actual stripping.
But the first time an actual gig paid me money would be when I graduated from secondary school. There was this company’s initiative to get teenagers to work on a magazine. They’d pay us ₦5k a week. 2003, 17, living in my father’s house, and earning ₦5k a week; catching cool fun, buying meat pie.
I went to school outside the country after and all of a sudden, I was in school with the children of some of the richest people.
Interesting. When you were in Nigeria, you were a rich kid. But here you were, abroad, realising that money pass money.
One of the babes in my class was the daughter of one of the richest men in the country; another was the daughter to an ambassador.
The funniest thing about it – and maybe it’s part of why money still doesn’t faze me – is that your money and exposure aren’t the same.
I was getting $500 monthly, and that covered all my bills – they had black cards – but they were so much more childish. These babes got excited by the littlest things like alcohol.
It’s easy to say that they were childish in hindsight, but there were little things that made me think. For example, babes would just be like: “Oh okay it’s the weekend. I’m going to travel and stay in a hotel.”
And me, I’d be doing maths like: “Okay if I buy a ticket of $19, will I be able to pay for a hotel?”
These babes could buy anything they wanted in a store, while I’d be looking for the sales rack. I ate every meal in the cafeteria – I’m not spending my whole pocket money eating out with you people when my parents have already paid for food.
Oh no, I’m eating my tuition’s worth.
How much was your school fees at the time?
I can’t remember, but I think it was around $35-40k.
Did you do any work in uni?
I had a lot of random side hustles. 1st year, I was getting money from my parents. By the end of the first year, I failed uni woefully.
I had to get a job working at one of those storage locker places.
I remember the day I went to drop my resume; one of my flatmates used to work there. She was leaving, so she brought me in as her replacement.
The manager came in, and my resume was already on her table. She looked at it and tried to say my name. My resume had my full name, all of them in full glory and syllables. When she tried and tried to say the name, she just hissed and threw it in the trash. She didn’t realise it was me.
And then my friend introduced us, and it got kind of awkward.
If that happened now, I would have fought, but back then, my mindset was ‘epp me’. I lasted a month or two at the job; they fired me.
Multiple reasons. I wasn’t a bad employee, but I wasn’t a model employee either. The main moment came when a white couple said they couldn’t be comfortable with me around their stuff.
An obvious racist scenario. It was also my first personal incident.
The next time I came late, they were like, “Eh ehnnnn, you’re late.” And I’m just there thinking, it’s been only five minutes bitch.
I think I called in to make a complaint with reference to the white couple incident, probably said I was going to sue. They told me to come and take an extra month’s pay as severance, and that was that.
I wasn’t going to sue of course, who has that kind of time?
After that I learned how to braid hair – my customers were mostly guys, because guys then didn’t like to go to the salon. I think they liked the idea of going to a woman’s house to get braided, but no dear, I’m going to charge you still. To be honest, it was cheap – maybe $40.
I went back to school for my second year and for some reason, I asked my parents to stop giving me pocket money. I think I felt bad that I’d failed. They were still giving me rent money, paying my fees, but no pocket money.
That’s when I started writing essays. People would give me their books – I loved and still love literature – and I’d write a book report, charging $25 a page for about 5 pages. I could bang out an essay in one hour.
That was good money. I added research to that too. I think I did that for a few years. After a while though, I was like, I don too suffer, send me pocket money abeg daddy.
Going into my 3rd year, I came back to Nigeria for a summer internship at a bank.
On the first day, my dad dropped me off at work with his SUV, and I became known as the rich intern. That’s how they didn’t pay me shit – as in not even transport money.
I was 19 at the time, but it was a proper job. Unlike other interns, I couldn’t be sent on errands.
One of the workers even used to send an intern to go to the market to buy stuff.
Because of this, I didn’t fight the rich intern tag.
At some point, I started doing tests for new employees. In fact, they started putting me on duty to go to interview people.
Then they put me on payroll, and that was when I knew there was money and there was money. I saw the MD’s salary and I thought, “My God! This is your clothing allowance? Why are you collecting clothing allowance monthly?”
There was furniture allowance, insurance for his kids, and all that. I had to sign off on it
How much was it?
This was in 2006 anyway.
Crazy. How much did interns earn?
Then I went back to school and got pregnant.
Slow down. You what?
I had my kid 2007 and dropped out of college. See, if I didn’t have my parents, I’d be dead by now. My parents supported me through everything. In fact, when my baby was born, my parents increased my allowance. Around that time, I went to beauty school and learned makeup. So I started making money from that.
How much did you charge?
About $150 per session. I did that for a while, then came back to Nigeria with my kid. This was in 2009, and I was about 23. Not too long after I got back, I got hired by a beauty company. How I got that job without a degree was wild.
I told them, “You know what, I can fix your business, I have these ideas. Give me a chance and I’ll help you do amazing things, put procedures in place etc.” I can have a sweet mouth when I need it. I got the job and I was like, ah, I dunno this work o.
Hahaha. Why do you think you got hired?
I got hired because I had an accent, let’s start from there.
But seriously though, I didn’t go in there planning to be useless. I had young blood and fresh eyes, so yes, I did make a difference. I like to think I was key to helping them transcend the one-man business mentality, by building processes.
This was about October 2009. I spent about 7 months there, and travelled out of the country to finish school. I was still doing random side jobs here and there. I eventually graduated the following year.
After school, I got a job selling vacuum cleaners door to door. No salaries, only commissions. That was tough.
After this, I got a job as a Telemarketer. Oh my God, I’ve never been abused like that in my life.
I lasted at that call centre for exactly one month. They paid $12.50 an hour. Someone abuses you on a call, but the next call, you have to be like “Hi, my name is Yen-yen, and I’m calling from – ” ugh.
I quit and got hired in a jewellery store in a Mall as an assistant manager. I did so well that in less than 3 months, I got promoted to Manager. We climbed from 15 to number 1 in about two months.
Eventually, I moved back to Nigeria.
An interesting thing, everyone is moving out, and here you were, moving back into the country.
Ah yes, the main reason I moved back was that I wanted my kid to be close to family. Also, the house I was living in was my dad’s; I couldn’t afford to maintain it.
It was a 5-bedroom house. The electricity bill was huge.
Anyway, I moved back to Nigeria and started doing make-up for brides and all. Then I started a kind of make-up business, training people.
That’s when I realised that setting up a school in Nigeria can’t be easy. Babes will show up late; they miss some days, and when they come, it kind of forces you to repeat the last session so everyone is moving at the same pace.
I’d actually paid to rent a space for a particular period, but because they were wasting time, our rent elapsed, and we had to go rent another space.
I did that for a while, then I rented a shop, and started a make-up studio, while also selling make-up supplies. Around that time, I got this opportunity to work for a production studio – it was to lead the Hair and Makeup department. The money was really good. It was ₦250k, but by the time I added one or two other allowances, it went up to ₦400k a month. Imagine earning this while living in my father’s house from 2013 to 2014.
I thought I’d be able to do that and manage the studio, but I couldn’t. So I started spending less time at my makeup business, and it was costing me money. I had a shop girl, and it was fine until the products started to disappear. And then one day, she disappeared herself.
Now you see her, now you don’t.
I panicked and was worried for her safety until I found out she eloped with her boyfriend. I shut down the studio and focused on my production job. The work was stressful, but the money was good.
I had no idea what to use the money for that time, I was just spending anyhow. If I could go back, I’d have saved more. I was just buying gifts left and right.
Anyway, I left that and decided I wanted to do stuff with food. I’d saved up a little, and the only reason I’d saved up at the time was that I didn’t know what to spend the money on again. I travelled again – to the Abroad. It was for short courses – 3 months of culinary school, and one month of film school.
Film and Food.
Yeah, I actually had some interest in working on a TV show, so I went to film school to get some experience. I believe in having range, instead of showing up and just talking. Then I came back to Nigeria, and that’s when my real suffering started.
Towards the end of the year, yes. I was 28. I moved back to Nigeria and tried to set up a food hustle. Ah, this entrepreneurship life is not for the weak. I learned this when I was doing the Beauty thing.
Did you have any contingency plans?
Thing is, I always have a safety net. I’m ridiculously privileged and I thank God for that. I never have money, but I still spend like I do. Anyway, I raised money to shoot a TV show.
Just like that. How much?
Let me run through it. I raised ₦10 million. Wanted to rent, then realised that it’s too expensive. Rented an apartment instead. Part of my problems started here – I didn’t separate the Church and State.
I already shot a pilot – thanks dad for that 1 million.
What happened to it? “No sound” was what the guy who shot it said. Imagine. Add shaky footage and bad lighting. My three-episode pilot only gave me a three-minute trailer in useful footage.
Later, I got new people. Those ones? Another three episodes of trash. They said they’d refund until they disappeared.
Another guy didn’t charge me at first. One mad week of shooting but when it was time to edit, he disappeared.
I cried, “Haba is it only me?”
I’d sunk money into equipment and rent, but I abandoned the show struggle for a while. Until someone introduced me to a bunch of people who wanted to do a show. I gave them my space, got some equity, but did they ever pay me for that season 1 I shot as host? Nope. Then I found out I’d been replaced.
After a while, my dad was like, what’s happening with this show? Anyway, he gave me another 3m. I knew we had to do this one right. Got a crew, shot 15 episodes.
Time to edit, the guy said I needed to pay his balance first. And I’m like, Oga that’s not what we agreed on na.
At some point, he just sent me the flash drives like, come and be going. Got another editor, and it took him over a year to edit, another disappearing act. The editing wasn’t really great too.
By 2018, I’d given up on it. Then some company stepped in to take over it – editing the content that is.
Almost 3 years. About ₦14 million. How did you get by?
I was making a living off my catering business all this time. It was a month to month grind. Here’s the thing: I’m very terrible with my finances. I can’t tell you how much I made last month. I can’t tell you what I made yesterday. I can’t project what I’ll earn tomorrow. There’s no rhyme or reason to my spending – I mean, I know I spend a lot of it on food for myself.
There are some factors in life that force you to have money. Like rent, like fees.
Let me confess something: every year, I have no idea how I’m going to pay rent, and every year I pay rent. Technically, I shouldn’t be living here – rent here is about ₦2.5 million with a ₦300k service charge. I should be living somewhere cheaper. My problem is that I’d rather die broke than be uncomfortable. Comfort is the one thing I’d die on the line for.
Another thing that requires consistency is child welfare, like school fees.
When she was in primary school, I didn’t pay her school fees, but now I do. I pay about half of it, or a little over half. To be honest, it’s very hard to plan – here, dad is somehow useless – I just set out to pay all of it.
Then after I’ve already paid, he sends me the money. So in my head, I’m like, “I’ve already paid, but I can use this one to Jollof.”
How much is her school fees?
South of 3 million yearly. That’s minus the random ₦10ks and ₦50ks for this and that.
Wild. You don’t know how much you earn, but what are the constant bills that must be paid monthly?
What are some constants in your life that you know you can’t afford?
My life. I can’t afford my lifestyle. Right now, I have less than ₦100k in my bank account, and I only have one bank account. I live way above my means and I know that.
– Okay, wait, now that I think about it, I can’t afford to fall sick. I can’t afford for my child to fall sick. If either of us falls sick now, we’ll be doing GoFundme on the Internet. There’s no other way.
So now, you don’t have any Health Insurance?
I used to, but it expired and I didn’t have the money to pay for it. I don’t have any insurance. I have considered other forms of insurance; if someone comes to do all of this for me in my house, I’d happily do it.
I might be poor, but I have rich people mentality.
Let’s say all your finances are in order, how much do you feel like you deserve every month?
For my skill level and work ethic, ₦700k monthly. Actually, that’s a lie. For my skill level and the way I work, ₦1.5 million monthly. But I would settle for ₦700k monthly if it gave me free time. ₦700k monthly can fund my lifestyle. My lifestyle isn’t that expensive. To be honest, if I managed my finances properly, I’d be able to easily afford this place.
Is there a world where you attempt to rip Church and State apart?
I’ve been procrastinating. I called someone that I was going to do it, but I haven’t called back. The person I spoke to asked me to put all my invoices together and I’m like, where am I going to find them abeg?
You know what? I might just close my eyes and do it next month. If there’s anything I can admit, it’s that I can’t do it myself. Part of being older is becoming very realistic about the things I can and can’t do.
I’m 32. I’ll get better, but I need someone to do that initial groundwork. I also need someone to pay me a salary, I’m not cut out for this entrepreneurship life.
That’s honest. Talking about financial literacy, what do you wish you learned when you were younger?
It’s a funny question because it almost implies that my parents failed somewhere. The one thing I’ll say is I don’t think they taught us the importance of money. It’s great in certain ways in that I don’t hold on to anything. If you need the money and I can afford it, you can have it.
I’ve seen my dad buy a brand new car, and someone came to the house and said they like it, Oga gave it to him. Yah.
The downside to this is that I didn’t appreciate how important it was to have structure around money.
I may not have a lot of it, I may not have enough of it, but I’m never truly lacking it.
Also if I’m not enjoying something, I’m not doing it, regardless of how much it pays. There’s some guy who was pursuing me for a job – ₦200k for an hour’s work. I hate him. I didn’t take the job.
I make quite a number of decisions that way.
There’s one planner that did me strong thing. I don’t care what the job is – even if she’s making food for Obama – I’m not picking up.
That is –
– That is a lie actually. I’ll pick up if it’s Obama. I might be somehow, but I’m not foolish.
There was a time last year that I was having anxiety attacks, I was getting more worried. But something I later learned is, I can’t come and kill myself. Sometimes, I tell myself, focus! But I no do. It’s quite bad.
There are two payments I need to make next week, over 100k, I don’t have the money now, but I can guarantee you that I’m going to pay it even though I don’t know where it’s coming from yet. Every month, we don’t have money for electricity, but somehow we pay.
We’ve talked about the past. Let’s talk about the future. Do you have plans to make sure your kid picks up some of these skills?
If I say what I want to say now, it’ll look as if I’m a bad mother. I’ll probably put her in a financial literacy course so she can understand it better than I do. But I also think – how do I put this without sounding somehow – we over-burden ourselves with these things. And it’s easy to say this when you’ve always had a safety net. If we focus on living fulfilling lives doing what we want, we may not earn as much, but then we’d be generally more fulfilled. I’ve never wanted a life of luxury, but my ideal scenario is earning enough for my comfort. Maybe enough to go on vacation once a year.
I’ve never thought of being a billionaire, I dunno what I’d do with billions. I wonder what I’d do to become a billionaire, I know I don’t want to do the work.
How much did your best gig ever pay?
There was one gig that paid me 1.4 million and I spent only 200k or so on groceries. And I prepped for it in only one night. Easiest money I’ve ever made – of course, they paid in instalments.
Imagine a world where that came monthly.
I won’t be angry. That’d be a good world, to be honest, I just haven’t put in the work.
What do you mean you haven’t put in the work?
Not physical work. The smart work. I work hard, everyone knows I work hard, but I don’t know how to sell my market. Do you get?
Most annoying miscellaneous?
There’s one ₦22k that I spent last weekend that is paining me. And I don’t know why it is paining me. Car trouble.
My problem is, I don’t plan. Take for example, I’m supposed to save north up 6 million for a travel project scheduled for December. Ask me how much of 6 million I have?
Let me check my account balance… I have exactly ₦62,750. That is all the money I have in this world. I might not execute with 6 million, but I’ll probably go with ₦2-3 million. I dunno how Imma do it. But Imma do it.
First of all, if I sell everything in my house, I should raise good money – wait how much will you pay for my couch?
Hahaha. We’ll get to that. How much did you make last month?
What? I can’t even tell you what I made last week. You know what? Let me check my bank account and let’s track everything from last week, Monday to Sunday.
Okay… Done. How much do you think it is?
…Wow. So it makes no sense that my account balance is now at ₦62k. I’ve spent over ₦400k this week, on what?
Tracking your debits, it means you spent ₦100k more than you made.
I should do this more often.
On a scale of 1-10, Financial Happiness.
I want to say a 4, but I also want to say I’m lying because I don’t stress out about it. Let’s say 4 – I should say 2 because I shouldn’t be happy at all. But let’s stick with 4. I’m not earning enough – well, from that number you just rolled out, I’m probably not managing enough. So spend wiser, earn more.
Imagine this, what will a life without all your safety nets look like for you?
God forbid it.
Okay, let’s pretend it’s a movie, and you’re the Protagonist, and suddenly, there are no safety nets.
I would have a salary paying job. I’d be living somewhere significantly cheaper. I’d have less furniture. I’d then be forced to get some insurance.
I can do this hustle thing, because I know I won’t die.
So your hustle now is more self-actualisation than actual survival.
Hmmm. I think that minimises my hustle a little bit. It’s definitely survival, it’s doing what I enjoy that matters.
I loved having this conversation so much.
Is there something you wish I’d asked that I didn’t?
Probably about when I was about my most broke, my rock bottom. I’ve been there twice. When I was at the vacuum company. I went into this store, and they had some lunch packs on sale – synthetic food you shouldn’t feed to kids. They were about to expire and they were selling them cheap. I used my last $4 to buy as many packs as it could pay for, and that’s what I fed my child for almost 3 days. When my child had diarrhoea, I was like Godddd. I was eating rice with nothing, just plain white. One time, fuel finished, and I had to gather all my coins. I bought a little fuel in a bottle, poured it, and then drove home.
I invested in an event project this year, invested over ₦1.5 million into it. It was supposed to fetch $14,000. It was a bust. The ₦1.5 million was an investment but it was also all of my money. It involved international travel too. In fact, I got stranded in another country because there was a mistake on my ticket and I couldn’t afford to get another one to bring me home.
This is where safety nets come in, because I called my parents, and they paid for a ticket to bring me home.
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