The late American actor Chadwick Boseman, who played the superhero Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, once said: “I think the most stressful time of my life was when I was in New York, and I didn’t have money to pay my rent.”
Maye Musk, another iconic personality, once said: “For most of my adult life, I always had this pain in my gut, but because I had to survive, and I had to pay the rent, I needed a roof over our head and food for us to eat and some clothes…”
Musk, 73, is a Canadian-South African model and dietitian. She is also the mother of world’s richest man, Elon Musk, whose net worth as of Friday, October 1, stood at $199.8 billion (Ksh22 trillion), according to Forbes Real-Time Billionaires List.
From the quotes above, both Boseman and Maye agree that house rent is what gives most people a headache in their daily lives, especially those domiciled in the major cities.
The big question, however, is: how much should one spend on house rent, and still live comfortably?
Most economists agree that the 50-30-20 strategy helps in guiding one to allocate funds for different expenses at the household level.
This principle simply means, 50 per cent of your net income should go toward things that you need. These include rent, mortgage payments, food, health insurance, household shopping, bus fare, debt payments, school fees, car expenses, among others.
Twenty (20) per cent of your net pay should go toward savings and investments. These include emergency fund, retirement savings and any other investments.
Finally, 30 per cent of your savings should go toward things you want. These include luxury upgrades, holidays, alcohol (if you drink), dates, entertainment, among others.
It’s good to recognise that there is no one size-fits-all approach to money management, but the 50-30-20 plan can be a good place to start.
Financial advisor William Ramogi and policy expert Duncan Otieno both agree that the 50-30-20 rule can be applied successfully in Kenyan households.
Economists advise that rent should take up 15 to 30 per cent of the money allocated to needs.
Remember, needs, as per the 50-30-20 rule, should take up 50 per cent of your net income. For instance, a Kenyan earning a net income of Sh50,000 monthly, should set aside Sh25,000 (50 per cent) toward needs (rent, food, clothes, necessary travel and (maybe) school fees).
We, however, understand that there are many other factors that affect one’s spending. This might include family dependence, number of children, loved ones' health, past financial decisions, among others.
Salary ranges, and rent suggestions
A December 2020 report by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics revealed that 84,907 Kenyans earn at least Sh100,000 and above every month. This group accounted for 2.9 per cent of the 2.93 million Kenyans who were under formal employment in the country.
Nearly half of the 2.93 million Kenyan formal workers captured in the KRA database earned below Sh30,000 monthly.
A 2018 report by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics indicated that three-quarters of Kenyans in formal employment earned a monthly salary of Sh50,000 and below at the time.
Kenyans paid between Sh20,000 and Sh29,999 every month, as of 2018, stood at 964,943.
Those, who were being paid between Sh50,001 and Sh99,999 were 601,507.
Guided by the figures above, interviews with economists and the 50-30-20 principle, The Standard analyses the amount of money you should be paying, in ideal scenarios, if you’re in the outlined salary ranges.
Economist William Ramogi advises Kenyans who’re earning a net monthly salary in the borders of Sh30,000 to spend at least Sh4,500 on rent, to a maximum of Sh9,000. He, however, advises that one should only go for the maximum suggestion if he or she does not have many other needs that eat into the disposable income. He says Sh15,000 of the Sh30,000 should go toward rent, food, clothing, bus fare and other expenses, combined.
“Depending on the number of expenses that require your attention, you would decide whether to settle for the lowest suggested rent or the highest,” he said.
He advises a person earning Sh30,000 monthly in net pay to save Sh6,000 (20 per cent) and use a maximum of Sh9,000 (30 per cent) on wants (leisure and entertainment). However, one can minimise on wants and transfer the budget to basic needs if he or she feels overwhelmed.
For a person earning Sh50,000, he or she should set aside Sh7,500 for the minimum rent and Sh15,000 for the maximum rent, according to economist Ramogi. Sh25,000 (50 per cent of the net income) should be spent on needs, including the rent. This person, ideally, should save Sh10,000 (20 per cent of the net income), and use a maximum of Sh15,000 (30 per cent) on wants, including travel, leisure and entertainment.
A Kenyan earning a net salary of Sh75,000 every month, can spend between Sh11,000 and Sh22,500 on rent, says Ramogi. He or she saves Sh15,000 (20 per cent) and leaves a maximum of Sh22,500 (30 per cent) for wants, including leisure. The bottom line, according to Ramogi, is that half the net pay, in this case Sh37,500, should go toward basic needs, which include rent, inevitable travel, food and shopping.
“People should live where they can afford and avoid unnecessary leisure to have a disposable income that would allow them to save more,” he said.
If you are among the 2.9 per cent of Kenyans in formal employment earning at least Sh100,000, then you have at least Sh15,000 and Sh30,000 to spend on rent. Sh50,000 of your pay should be used on basic needs, comprising rent, food, necessary travel, shopping and clothing. You can save Sh20,000 and set aside up to Sh30,000 for wants.
Ramogi, however, advises one to transfer monies from the wants budget if he or she feels that he’s already depleted the money that was set aside for basic needs.
If earning a net income of Sh150,000, experts recommend that you spend between Sh22,500 and Sh45,000 on house rent. Sh75,000 of your disposable pay should be used on basic needs, including shelter, food, travel, shopping, education, among others. You should save at least Sh30,000 and use a maximum of Sh45,000 on wants.
Generally, one should be guided by the 50-30-20 rule, said the economist.
“What is needed for now, is financial management and literacy lessons at the family level,” said Ramogi, adding: “You cannot dictate to one how he or she should spend his income, but when he or she is equipped with financial literacy, then you can be sure that he or she will spend the money properly.”
He advises Kenyans to embrace the culture of saving.
“When you receive your salary, ensure the money set aside for savings is rerouted to the savings account before you even land your hands on the funds. You can do that by opening a fixed savings account, which you won’t easily access from time to time,” he said.
Prof. Halimu Shauri, a sociologist and lecturer at Pwani University, observes that the 50-30-20 principle might be difficult to strictly follow in the African context, particularly Kenya, because of the dependency culture.
Dependency culture refers to a system of social welfare that encourages people to stay on benefits rather than work. In Kenya, many families depend on their children or elder siblings, who are working or doing well financially. Prof. Shauri refers to this as a “communistic” culture.
“In the Western countries, one is brought up to become independent at a certain age. In the African context, due to limited job and business opportunities, it becomes difficult for one to be fully independent upon reaching adulthood.
“Most communities value family members, consequently forcing one to dip into their pockets to help a relative here or there. That, in turn, reduces one’s disposable income, thus affecting how he will save or budget for his basic needs or wants,” he said.
The sociologist observes that it would take long for the dependency culture to decrease significantly in Africa.
Government to blame
Policy expert Duncan Otieno says the high taxes imposed by the Government on nearly all basic goods have pushed up the cost of living, making it hard for Kenyans to save enough and still live in decent houses.
“The annual State budgets have been unrealistic. This has forced the Government to raise taxes to bridge the budget deficit. They are now taxing nearly everything and anything. What does that mean? The ordinary Kenyan’s disposable income is raided,” said Otieno.
“When all money is spent on the extra taxes, when do you expect the average Kenyan to save; and if he does, how much [money] will he or she save? An insignificant amount.”