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Money & Me: The Kibandaski & Other Nairobi Money Saving Hacks
Money & Me: The Kibandaski & Other Nairobi Money Saving Hacks
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Money and Me

Money & Me: The Kibandaski & Other Nairobi Money Saving Hacks

Kibaki Muthamia
July 5, 2023

I absolutely love eating at roadside food eateries. Many, many reasons. If you want to experience local culture and cuisine in its most authentic form - visit a Kibandaski. Street food and food shacks offer traditional, local dishes prepared using age-old recipes and techniques for a more immersive culinary experience.

In Westlands, for instance - there are lots of shacks, often culture based. We have Vibandaski serving indescribably delicious Biriani and other coastal dishes. Next door, world-class chefs in flip flops serving fresh Tilapia cooked with bitter herbs and veggies locally found along Lake Nyanza.

Fresh food. Some restaurants can and often microwave leftover food. I have a sensitive belly. Oh, at pocket-friendly prices.

Then, an easy camaraderie in a Kibandaski makes it a networking hotspot. You’ll meet top cream CEOs and executives grabbing the fish-stained DIY salt shaker over your plate of Pilau garnished with pepper sauce, and …. You get it.

A man will sell a zero-mileage BMW sedan in the morning for Ksh10M - and, he’ll be calling for ‘Ugali saucer’ at the Kibandaski at lunchtime, necktie tucked in his pants! All this while, he’s locked in a heated argument with a stranger on the implications of the Bottom-up Economic Model on the price of something obscure - say, Layer’s Mash? He keeps poultry. 

Lastly - unpretentious crowds. No one will ask why you are in battling a humongous plate of Ugali/Chapati/Githeri Mix with Goat-head Soup at eight in the morning. Yes, most have main dishes ready by eight!

The Things You Discover in This Economy & Hacks

Life in college gave me some crucial financial hacks, other than a little-used Botany degree. A comrade’s budget, for instance, does not need an exaggerated allocation for meat. Every comrade knew that two fried eggs are the nutritional equivalent of a quarter kilo of beef - at a fraction of the cost.

We focused on the main meal, not the stews and salads. We lived for longer, on less.

The harsh economy is making me rediscover and adapt a system we laughed off as a comrade’s lifestyle. We scrounged so much, I’d say we only graduated by the benevolent prayers of our mothers. 

It made financial sense then, it is making financial sense now! The oft-recited phrase ‘Power to Read’ is actually ‘Power to Re-invent’.

There’s a whole litany of college life hacks I’m using to save every penny I can spare, and still live decently.

Fiona, No Samosa Today….

I won’t bow to pressure at the office brought by a Swahili girl in Accounts, Fiona. She was born and brought up on Lamu Island. Now, Lamu has a week-long festival that showcases the best of Swahili foods and dishes. Fiona uses a bit of this food witchcraft to bewitch the entire office.

Every day at 10 am, she opens her box to flood the office with the smell of Samosa. If heaven doesn’t smell that way, well…

Peering at you above the rim of her glasses, Fiona says, “Poor you, eat up. You can always pay me later when you can….”

That’s how you demolish five Samosa. That’s a cool Ksh150, at tea break. End of the month, Fiona is waiting to see your Ksh3700 payment notification.

No, I refuse the pressure.

I saw two kinds of comrades in college. The well-oiled lot that dined high and low, quite few. That lot would change often depending on opening, closing, and student loan days. The parable of comrades feasting on chicken, then chicken products (eggs), and later turn to chicken feed (Githeri) is actually a comrade’s financial meter. 

We had a well-thought-out eating routine. My housemate and I would cook a super-heavy breakfast, say, Ugali and Omelette stew. We’d go to class full and drowsy as hell. No other meal till dinner. 

Sometimes, we’d pack a few lumps of Ugali, or cakes in a lunch box. Then we’d only have to buy some runny tea. 

Hello, Foot’Subishi 

I get mixed feelings when friends share screenshots of their little fitness trackers. I’m a little dismayed that walking has been elevated to a flex on social media.

Dude wakes up at 6 am. He takes a ‘brisk exercise walk’ for half an hour. Later, a screenshot appears on Facebook variously tagged as ‘incredible’, ‘unbelievable’, and similarly superfluous words. Like, it is 3,000 steps walked over a 2.5km stretch. The gadgets are super intelligent. If he can make 100 more steps tomorrow, he earns a star.

It’s hilarious, but understandable. Not for me, though.

I grew up in the village. The local primary school was the exact 2.5km run. We’d run to school in the morning, break for lunch. We’d run home, gobble up the previous night’s leftover meal - and, run back to school. We’d later break for the evening walk. Daily basis, we’d do the stretch four times. 

I never saw an obese kid in primary school. That appeared in high school, boarding. 

Then, Dear Lord, came campus. We walked. Everyone walked. To hostels. To classes. If you do not know, most colleges have expansive grounds, with lecture halls on alternate sides of the compass. If we had fitness trackers in those days, we’d have insane statistics and merit stars!

That’s what has influenced my decision, now.

If I walked to class - I can walk to work.

If I have to take the bus - timing is key. Fare is half-price before 6 am and after 8 pm.

So Long, Mama Fua...

My caretaker has a side hustle in the basement - a washing machine. The charges are Ksh300, for a 10kg load of laundry. I’ve been a regular client but, man - this relationship has died. That figure is easy to brush off. Annually, it’s a significant boost to my emergency savings kitty! Other than the occasional duvet or carpet wash - I’ll be handwashing, 

Plus, hand washing clothes is therapeutic. Nothing is more calming on a Saturday morning than blasting Bongo and Reggae as you tackle the weekly load on the balcony.

I’ve also moonlighted with laundry ladies a few times. Well, Mama Fua option worked well in college when my entire wardrobe was mostly denim, hoodies, and sweat pants. Now, I have some delicate fabrics. They always seem to be in a rush to bag other clients. They miss stains, mix, and ruin colours. 

The classic Mama Fua is also a friend, a chatty source of the latest in the hood’s grapevine. That means constant snacking. A few times, she has offered to cook our lunch! That option becomes costlier. 

Exit, Exotic Grooming…

The survival days in college made practical lessons. A minimalist lifestyle based more on functionality saves a ton of money.

Read Also: Save a Ton of Money: Your 2023 Frugal Living Guide

A bar of laundry soap still works just as fine at a fractional cost as the toilet soap. The luxury is stretched on packaging, a bit of misleading fragrance, and fastidious marketing. The basics are the same, other than the glaring cost difference.

In college, a piece of bar soap would clean clothes, take a shower and later scrub the utensils. I used to keep the scraps, later break them up and stuff them into a bottle - add water. The classic Do-It-Yourself liquid detergent. Life moves on.

Presently, am not shopping on the detergents aisle at the supermarket. In any case, a one-foot bar of laundry soap costs way higher than a basic wash basin!

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Kibaki Muthamia is a creative non-fiction writer with over three years in narrative-style content writing, SEO, digital marketing and social media copywriting. Away from writing, if you don't find him volunteering with St John's Ambulance, he's weaving spoken word and poetry at the Kenya National Theatre. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.

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