It's often said that God manifests Himself through angels. It could be true. My guardian angel is undoubtedly, my better half - Matilda. I hate to imagine what my life would be like in this city, if she wasn't in my corner. For adulting in Nairobi, with life so fast on the lane - is an extreme sport.
Matilda is a queen in our little bedsitter kingdom. She runs the show. She's got a business acumen that cuts across her modest grocery business in the neighborhood - to how this household runs. She handles finances. She's quick to refer to a nasty experience on our first anniversary, oftentimes I try to be obstinate.
In our first year together, I had taken Matilda to my rural home upcountry - December. I had quite a tidy sum saved up. I had plans to also visit her parents, two counties further North. I hadn't foreseen stuff. Visiting in-laws is not a mere match strike to an unlit candle.
I ended up spending way above my budget. Early January, we travel back to the city, arrive late on a chilly evening, to find a double-locked door.
The unapologetic caretaker had locked my bedsitter. I had spent my rent upcountry.
The second December comes along. Matilda is pregnant. Her grocery business is still in its infancy - hardly afloat. She'd been on my neck on the state of my finances. What are our savings? Can we afford an upcountry trip? I'd danced around that issue. Toxic masculinity frowned upon wives not letting men be men.
"Hey, Dec is my off-month!" That was my comeback.
In my bovinely short-sighted logic, I had conveniently forgotten the many months it had taken us to recover from the budget excesses of the previous December.
"Hey, I've got it figured out, my Jaber...." I'd try to play it cool.
She saw right through the facade. A day before the journey to shaggs, Matilda had gone to an hardware outlet. She had purchased an enormous padlock, reinforced steel. Her logic was simple, yet ingenious. Once we locked the bedsitter, the huge padlock took up all the space in the slot. It left no space for the caretaker to slip in an additional padlock!
Matilda didn't trust me at all.
I don't blame her, though. That second December? All went sideways. We had returned to the city, broke, and in debt. Oh, the caretaker was fuming! He'd tried to lock our bedsitter - unsuccessfully. Matilda had been a genius!
My wife, heavily pregnant - issued an ultimatum. It's either she runs the family finances, or she leaves. That's how I lost the throne. The kingdom had a new ruler.
Today, it's the fifth year. We have a 3-year-old daughter. It's been smooth sailing, under Matilda's financial management.
As it is, I work with an uptown insurance firm, uptown with a flexible salary. My contract has a commission-based remuneration system. It's hard figuring out an exact monthly figure. Matilda has mastered fail proof techniques to run a fluctuating income.
She employs an uncanny 50:30:20 system. Apparently, 50% is meant for basics. 30% for wants. And, 20% for savings.
Matilda is a city thoroughbred. She hardly understands the fanatical urge to spend every December upcountry, but she tolerates it. To that end, she demanded that the household start a 'Dec Holiday Fund' (DHF) - basically, setting aside an amount every month whose usage is factored for the family's annual holiday month.
Point to note: The DHF is completely free of the obligations demanded by the superior 50:30:20 system that governs the family's budget. I had no other option, but slot it under the 30% - wants. I had to cut down on my wants. That has meant fewer Friday nights out with the boys. Less trips with the Wanderlust Club. So much for travel hashtags on Facebook.
This December, I'm horrified by a domestic internal memo. Matilda insists the DHF shall also be governed by the 50:30:20 rule. What? Excuse a few unprintables - but, how many sacrifices does it take to keep a marriage running?
Matilda rules with an iron fist. Her decrees are precise, and well-thought out.
The DHF is broken down thus: 50% goes to the holiday month's essentials - own food, and extended family's, wages and stipends for chores and errands in the homestead, toiletries and such needs, et al.
The 30% is allocated for our wants for the entire December holiday month. Do the kids need new clothes? Perhaps, new shoes for a niece or nephew? A new blanket for your granny? Yours truly is also slotted here. The drunken forays into village dances? Here. Treating childhood cronies and classmates to drinks? Here.
The last 20% is savings - holiday savings. Purely for emergencies that may arise over this month.
"What savings? We already have savings, Matilda!" For drama purposes, I tactfully skid a fork across the coffee table.
She knew I'd decry this. She calmly picks the fork, and hands it to me. I feel like am on set for a sequel to the 1972 thriller, Godfather. Except, instead of Al Pacino, my wife, Matilda is starring as Don Corleone - the Mafia Boss!
"Mister, eat your spaghetti and eggs. What if - God forbids - Tracy sprains an ankle skipping rope with her cousins, how do you handle it? Borrow from your dad?"
She's right. She has the cool confidence of a warlord matching to war on the right side of history. I don't give up, though.
"Every man needs to hang out with classmates and former girlfriends at the local...come on!" I say, digging into my spaghetti.
"You'll factor your pub budget into the 30%. Wants. It should be enough to treat your ex-girlfriends. Na kwani ni wangapi?....." If you are a man, ignore that question.
"What do I do with these relatives? I always do their Christmas shopping!"
Now, this is a genuine concern. It's tradition, that at the very least - bring some good tidings to the village after missing for a whole year. It's usually some basic shopping - wheat flour, cooking oil, sugar, et al - but, it racks up the budget. Relatives are so many. It's also badspeak to visit some, and ignore some.
"Listen, Eric - and, listen good." Matilda says. It's never a good thing when she uses my baptism name. I shut up and listen. The last time she'd used Eric, I had missed my kid's baptism ceremony.
"This year, Eric, we are not doing any visits to the relatives. It's our turn. Let them come. In any case, we pay annual tuition fees for your nieces - Rachel, and Leah. We also pay Kimson well.... We don't need to incur more expenses for them...."
Kimson is my unemployed step-brother. Rachel and Leah are his daughters. With my wife's help, we pay their tuition fees. We also pay Kimson monthly, to keep our rural home habitable - trimming hedges, checking for termites and looking after a few Kienyeji chicken. He makes extra from egg sales. Matilda is right. While philanthropy is right, it shouldn't eat into our budget.
Begrudgingly, both Matilda's plans seem credible. She deserves the 2021 Ballon d'or.
The superior 50:30:20 rule for the household budget, and the DHF. The 50:30:20 rule is especially hard for the DHF, but, hey, it works!
Problem is, so far, no one in the village has called me 'Kiongozi', 'Mkubwa' or 'Bazenga'. If you keep turning down pint requests at the local, no one cares to massage your ego. It's painful - I'd sweat tears and blood for an entire year in the city for a week's worth of village platitudes.
My first December weekend has been boring! Thank you Matilda!
As you head into the December holiday, remember January beckons. And, it's a ruthless month - school fees, rent, health and automotive insurance subscriptions - list is endless. It's prudent to keep in mind that your first priority is you and your family. As long as they are comfortable, keep away from unnecessary spending, especially in societal philanthropy - that eats into your budgets.
Make a holiday budget, and stick to it. Avoid supplicating relatives. Avoid deliberate guilt trips by manipulative friends and relatives seeking cash handouts. It helps to recite Shakespeare: "Neither a lender, nor a borrower be...." You'll lose both - the money and the relative's friendship.
Have a fantabulous December holiday.