It’s Friday, but I visibly flinch at the Thank-God-it’s-Friday phrase. It’s only the 3rd of March but I’m dead broke! I have a decent Ksh60k salary which came in on 25th of last month. My salary does not act like it wants to be my salary. Does it come with wings? Gone by the 3rd? Jeez.
Everyone in the office seems to have fun Friday plans. Of course, it’s end month. Everyone is loaded. A couple of lads have bunched up to hire a car for a road trip. The ladies seem to have party clothes to change into after work. No one bothers to invite me along anymore.
Office banter has classified me as a grounded family man or a sour indoor type. They are wrong. I want to party sometime. I’d like to hit the road and do stupid stuff in Naks-Vegas. But I cannot. My bank account is in the red.
By the 10th of most months, I’m usually surviving on Novenas and God’s Mercies. I’m even afraid to call my folks upcountry, lest they say this-or-that cow has fallen ill and needs a vet.
The salary matrix is more confusing because, by the time I got a permanent job half a decade ago, I had already been weaned off the ‘new-money-craze’ that often befalls fresh employees. That ka-excitement that comes with the first salary hit on a new bank account.
After college, I had joined throngs of my peers hustling at a quarry in my neighbourhood as I sent out hundreds of job applications. A lot of people have never been to a quarry. It is dusty, obnoxiously loud, sun-baked, and filled with vulgar men reeking of sweat and booze. But, the filth and the drudgery churns out hundreds of thousands of shillings on a daily basis.
The quarry holds a lot of casual workers. Stone loaders, stone trimmers, yard sweepers, et al. There is money to be made, depending on your age, skills and affinity for strenuous hard work. On alternate days, I would make an average Ksh1,000 daily. Sometimes, we would hit the jackpot - even Ksh5,000!
I already had considerable exposure to money before I landed an entry-level job with a pharmaceutical company. In any case, I had accepted a salary offer that in comparison was considerably less than my average monthly figure hustling at the quarry.
My entry-level salary offer was Ksh20,000. I had landed the job partly due to my proximity to a new branch the company had opened in Ruiru, my hometown. That was a third less, from the average Ksh30,000 I made at the quarry. I would be living at home.
First off, I was sick of all the dust and sweat at the quarry. I wanted a ‘decent’ job image. Not everyone wants to wake up at the crack of dawn, grab a harried breakfast of hot black tea, and overnight Ugali before sprinting to the bus stop and clock into work. But I did.
I also wanted my money ‘in a bunch’. We made lots of money at the quarry but it was a mirage, sort of. No one hardly ever bought a new pair of shoes. No one splashed on a scented bathing soap, and neither did their families.
I did not want my kids to get new clothes only on Christmas Day. I had dreams. Apparently, there are lots of financial lessons I had to learn.
Plus, I had folks to please! Over the years, that quarry had snuffed many dreams. Too many promising young men had come home with degrees that had been ‘swallowed’ by the quarry. The easy money came with a lot of vices like illicit liquor, weed, and cheap sex.
Poor mother would reverse-call me randomly throughout the day, and ask: Baba, umepewa pombe leo?
She was beside herself with joy. She had had women in her church group praying for me to get a job offer. Mothers being mothers, yes. It’s my father, though - whose word still lives rent-free in my mind for over a decade. Perhaps, it’s one of the pieces in my salary jigsaw puzzle.
My old man handed me a brand new blazer on my first morning, and asked to walk me to work. It was walking distance from home.
Immediately we left our gate, father tapped my shoulder and said, “Look, mister. You have to take a loan as soon as you can and do something. That’s the main advantage of a job.”
I just nodded. I was too excited, plus I understood him. Father was then in the final years of a long teaching career. He was weirdly proud of an outstanding ‘loan-servicing’ record on which he had done many, proud things. Like:
I took a loan and built this house and the cows you see.
I applied for a Sacco loan, married your mother, and bought her that Shamba.
As a civil servant in his era, perhaps it made sense enough to ask me to follow in his footsteps.
I started my job with little expenses. I lived rent-free at home, no food or transport expenses. It was slow at first at the new office, but I gradually helped get more clients. Each new client signed up came with a Ksh5,000 commission. That first month, I signed up four new clients. My 20k salary was boosted with a similar figure.
I joined my mother’s poultry project by injecting Ksh20,000. Investments in farming are long-term, so I did not start getting any returns on that. I also realised that I could take a loan, and survive on commissions.
I had an annual contract, so any loan had to be repayable in a year. I qualified for a six-month loan of Ksh45,000. I would pay Ksh7,500 every month, according to the two-thirds lending guidelines. I also joined a local Sacco, with a Ksh5,000 monthly contribution.
I bought a dairy heifer. She joined the family herd. it would be a few years before that investment would pay off. Meanwhile, I grew more aggressive in seeking clients. I saved half of my commission as shares in the Sacco, and the other half to spoil myself.
The hard work paid off after seven months. The company bumped me up to a supervisory role with double the salary. I was transferred to an office in Ngara, Nairobi. I had to move from home. I took a bedsitter at Roysambu.
For the first time, I was paying rent and had transport costs to meet. I had already serviced my loan at this time, and though I no longer earned much commission - I was still comfortable. After three months, the company offered me a five-year contract.
I qualified for a five-year loan. I took a Ksh800,000 loan, paying Ksh13,000 for five years. I bought half an acre of land in my village for Ksh500,000 which my father had me plant avocado and macadamia trees. This investment had a 3-4 year turnaround period. I used Ksh100,000 to get connected to the water grid.
I used Ksh100,000 to ‘self-upgrade’ to a one-bedroom house in Roy Sambu at ksh10,000 rent, and furnishing. I had a fiancee studying at Kenyatta University. She moved in.
At the time, the boda boda business was booming across the country. I bought a brand new bike. Other than the daily management challenges with boda boda being a euphemism for a murky business filled with miscreants. It was good for a few weeks but ended badly with the bike’s operator in crutches and the bike’s wreckage in custody of the police.
Suddenly, I only had Ksh12,000 net salary to live on after all the deductions. I had to scale down Sacco contribution from Ksh5,000 to Ksh1,000 to factor in the mandatory tax and medical insurance contribution.
I had to plan my monthly expenses to within Ksh12,000. On occasions, I earn commission but not often enough to plan around.
I found out soon enough, that financial ghosts from the quarry had followed me.
The quarry is also filled with traders, besides the workers. There are women and girls peddling porridge, cakes, tea - and of course, makeshift sheds selling food at lunch time. As soon as you reported for work, you would start eating this or drinking that. Then, you would pick your favourite food kibanda. For the entire day, no one would pay.
We had daily payments in the evenings, or weekly payments on Saturdays. That’s payday for the traders.
Porridge at Ksh20 per mug is quite cheap, right? Wait till it accumulates to a weekly tally of three mugs daily. That daily Ksh1,000 earning isn’t so much now, right?
This is replicating, and taking slices of my new salary. Uuurgh!
Once my salary got in, the mandatory slashing began. This means loan and Sacco premiums, medical insurance and what’s owed to Caesar goes to Caesar. I started a payment spree, for a couple of places and traders.
In Nairobi, rent is a big deal. Pay rent and utilities like power, water and the garbage people first. Then, a shopkeeper on the ground floor, and a grocer on the pavement downstairs. I have a boda boda guy billing for the entire month.
I have to find ways to generate additional income. This salary is not enough for me!