It is that festive season once again when you are allowed to bare the social animal in you to celebrate Christmas and New Year holidays. It is a season where proper celebrations for the privileged are audited on grounds of mountains of junk food cleared, volumes of alcohol taken, cash spent on travelling, buying of new clothes and ‘murdering’ hens, goats and cows.
Even those who are confirmed to the legions of the majority poor will be in the league of carefree spenders, only to eventually end up cutting the image of sick cows in January, descending so low as to sell off their smartphones at throw-away prices just to raise fare to get back to their workstations, or to get their way around recouping their economic selves. It is one of the rare moments when every other person is in need of no prompting to burn some cash.
Personal finance coach Wanjumbi Mwangi chides: “Come January, all office accountants will be receiving distress calls from their colleagues that they should hurry back to the office to attend to emergency loan applications. Even bachelors and childless employees will be filling those forms requesting school fees loans.”
But it can be avoided, he says. “Just take it easy. It is not a criminal offence not to join the fray of celebrating. These are challenging times of valueless cash. Don’t just spend so as to be seen to be competing with others. You cannot compete with those who have robbed the economy billions of liquid cash. Give way and survive the financial misery,” he says.
As the Kenyan economy remains in tatters where inflation has hit many families hard, the season this time round could not have been any worse ill-timed. As if the calendar has conspired with fate to torture Kenyans, this festive season has 10 long days.
December 25 is on a Wednesday, Thurdsay 26 is Boxing Day while Friday, being ‘members day’, means the social animals will have a long weekend up to Sunday 29 to riot. January 1 is also on a Wednesday and the following weekend runs to January 5, 2020.
Former Maragua MP Elias Mbau, who is an economist warns: “There is no big deal in December. It depends on your spending discipline. We only have Christmas and New Year as the hallmarks of December festivities. Those other days are a creation of spendthrifts.”
He specifically points out to alcoholics that “you are the lot that makes December holidays appear risky for our personal finances. You spend a lot of cash, which you do not have in the first place, to buy lots of things, which you do not need; and entertaining so many friends, who you never needed around you anyway”.
He cautions: “Live within your means. Buy that which you can afford. Celebrate cautiously and do not engage in those carefree lifestyles that bring us gory stories of suffering in the festive seasons.” Bomet Police County Commander Naomi Ichami says there are those Kenyans who in the name of celebrating believe alcohol is the key catalyst to a happy soul.
“In the process, the poor who cannot afford ‘decent’ alcoholic drinks go to any length of getting a toxic drink in their hands. Some unscrupulous business men seize the moment to distill any potent stuff their illiterate minds on matters chemistry can think of,” she says.
But Kenyans are a resilient lot and they have weathered many a storm in the past, such that even at this, the survival mettle in them will resurface.
And January is school fees season for parents with secondary school children. Even after the government promised them “free secondary education”, the ‘free’ after all has been adjusted to mean ‘subsidised’.
This makes Fred Wafula, a guard in Thika town to lament: “I will be hard pressed to budget my Sh7,000 monthly pay to cater for family celebrations and spare some for my son’s Form One admission. I wish the small boys who had dug a tunnel into a bank here in Thika had incorporated me.”
He says he will have to devise a way of travelling home on December 23 where his fare to Chavakali in Kakamega County will cost him Sh2,000.
“At home, I will have to part with Sh5,000 to finance new clothes for my two daughters and a son as well as buying niceties to flavour our diet for the Christmas and New Year celebrations. My boy attained 376 marks,” he says.
Mr Wafula says he has already started strategising on how he will get Sh100,000 for his immediate budget.
“My employer has assured me that I qualify for a Sh50,000 loan. My wife, through her village chama, is guaranteed Sh5,000. I still have a gaping hole of Sh45,000. I am open for advice on how to go about it — including the option of selling off one of my two kidneys!”
Interesting that Wafula admits that women long time ago discovered the importance of group savings schemes and his wife can easily get Sh5,000 within short notice.
If Wafula and other men were to get themselves in such schemes, it appears their economic burdens would ease.
Come January, the rude shocks of the imprudent merry decisions ‘come into the head to roost,’ ushering in depressed minds.
“To avoid ushering in next year in financial misery, the time to draw your festive budget is now,” cautions Janet Simiyu, a financial coach with Generations Finance Adventures in Thika.
While many employees will perhaps entertain the ‘fancy’ thought of procuring instant loans and salary advances for the celebrations, Ms Simiyu dissuades you from “entertaining such a foul thought”.
“Who said celebrations mean lots of cash in your hands? If your salary savings will not be enough, then you better celebrate silently,” she says.
She reminds you that there is no need to procure a loan for the celebrations, only to end up surrendering chunks of your next salaries to servicing it plus accrued interest.
“Let us be passionate about this: Think of saving as the priority, not spending it with celebrative instinct,” she cautions.
Again, most likely you will be in the countryside where “every other villager thinks urbanites coming home are moneybags”.
This is where those villagers will be expecting you to treat them to a drink — and also dish out some loose cash.
Former National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada) boss John Mututho warns that “the cost of beer is currently higher than a litre of petrol, meaning treating a legion of villagers to alcohol is tantamount to fuelling a fleet of fuel guzzlers”. He urges “utmost responsibility” in all that you will be up to in beer joints. “Your January will be demanding its share of expenses,” he pleads.
For your safety, the police department warns you that the country needs your well-being once these celebrations are over. Former Nyumba Kumi Director Joseph Kaguthi cautions that “above all, you need your health both for the celebrations and next year’s nation building activities”.
“It sounds monotonous but there is no harm in repeating it: If you drink, don’t drive,” says Mr Kaguthi.
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