As a child, my parents taught me the importance of thrift, a lesson that I never took seriously. Throughout my childhood, I was a heedless spendthrift and fool who parted with his money as fast as it came my way.
At school, I would squander my pocket money by mid-term, only to end up begging for bus fare on closing day.
This myopic lavishness financial impunity trailed me into my first job.
I lived from paycheque to paycheque, blowing up each salary in a week or less. My personal finance was perennially in a shambles and I wound up in debt, with nothing but happy memories and an anaemic bank account to show for my toil.
Today, I have embraced frugality. I buy only what I need, minimise wastage and squeeze the most out of the little I have. I also scout for ingenious ways of scrimping.
My friend Odhiambo says that Nairobians have fallen victim to a massive wave of imprudent spending, fuelled by media and advertising. We buy things that we do not need, using money we that we barely have, to impress people we do not even like.
“Let’s face it: we are hopeless consumerists,” he once told me over a drink. Last month, I stumbled upon a prominent website made up of self-professed penny hoarders, misers and cheapskates.
Take up bargain shopping, it says. Learn to haggle, avoid restaurant bills by carrying packed lunch, and eat raw fruits and vegetables to save energy.
Drinking tap water will not kill you. You should switch off lights whenever you leave a room, shower as few times as possible and re-use “slightly” dirty utensils to save on water. “We wear clothing at least twice before washing. This helps us save on water, soap and time,” confesses a woman on one of the sites. She also hand-knits her family’s clothing, blankets and tablecloths.
She toilet-trained her children at a tender age to save on diapers, and she even admits to recycling her tea bags. Her son walks from home to school daily, skips lunch to save money and gatecrashes parties for the free food!
A similar wave of thrift is creeping in my neighbourhood, with people adapting shrewd ways of saving money. For instance, my neighbour, Mama Saimo, says she quit buying kienyeji eggs and embraced the cheaper, but equally healthy, broiler variety. “An egg is an egg, Baba Jim, so long as it came from a chicken,” she confided.
Coming to alcohol, people are downgrading their tastes and going for cheaper — yet equally potent — concoctions. Others have taken to carpooling to save on fuel, time and parking charges.
Elsewhere, people are openly shunning newer passenger vehicles and boarding the older ones which charge less fare.
These and other ideas have left me feeling like head of the most ostentatious family in the entire Great Lakes Region. As a household, we waste too much money on entertainment, transport, bills, health and food.
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Thus, I have vowed to be as tight-fisted as I possibly can. Back in my hacienda, a few things may need to be substituted and others recycled. For instance, we must stop spending on home décor, trips and parties.
“These expenses will soon drive us to bankruptcy,” I told Mama Jimmy on Friday evening. Also, her trips to the hair salon will stop or be spaced further apart.
And to save on airtime bills, we will limit our phone conversations to “essential matters”. In short, we will tighten the belt and live within our means.
Year 2015 will be characterised by thrift, fiscal fasting and massive budget cuts. From experience, I have learned that financial discipline is the key to success.