Breaking the Hand to Mouth Culture
I quit my job last year in August. I was exhausted, and I was tired and thought that I’d die if I worked for one more day. Everyone said that I was insane to quit my job with no obvious plan (from where they were standing), and maybe I was. It felt like a great idea in the beginning; sleeping while it rained all those mornings, watching everything I ever wanted to watch, taking naps to rest after eating and watching because a girl needs a break, basically chilling.
I was blessed to have family and friends to not only throw money my way but cover my expenses at parties and hang outs. The last thing I wanted was not to party like a mad woman. P.S: I did NOT party like a mad woman. Turns out that if you are relaxed, happy and broke, you’re happy not partying every other day or weekend.
As the months went by, the number of job adverts sent my way became a very clear hint that people were getting tired of supporting me, and even though that hurt, especially because an open conversation would have been nicer, I never honestly expected anyone to help indefinitely. I was amused though by how unselective the adverts were; I think if there was an animal slaughtering job available, I might have received that advert. You know, to have something to do in the meantime that provided money. (No, this is not about the status of an animal slaughtering job; it is about the fact that slaughtering animals has no connection to my interests in a job)
But that’s not even what this post is about. This is not about my hurt feelings so I will leave them out of it.
One of the reasons I quit my job was because of my salary. It was so bad that I was ashamed of saying it out loud. In fact, if you know my salary from my previous job, there is a higher chance that you found out about it from the accountant there or the bank where it was deposited than that I told you. Some will say your salary doesn’t say anything/a lot about you, and I am happy for those people. I am of the school of thought that working for free as an intern or volunteer is better than some of the ridiculous salaries being paid in this our Kampala. But that is definitely a story for another day.
Now that I think about it, what I did is similar to saying: ‘My salary is so little, how about I leave it and move to a zero salary? Yaaaaay’
The most amusing and confusing thing happened to me while I was unemployed; people asked me to lend them money. Yes, said people knew that I was out of a job, so I am guessing I was their ‘It doesn’t hurt to try’ person. Although I had the ability to lend them all, I was only willing to lend 2 out of the 5 that asked (Obviously it wasn’t at the same time since I am not a money lending tycoon).
When you are out of full time employment and the assured monthly payment it comes with, you are very careful with the money that comes your way because there is no certainty on when the next will come. I free-lanced on projects; some paid when they paid, even though that was a month after the agreed time. It is expensive to chase someone around for payment, so you sit, pray and wait. Sometimes they pay, other times they don’t. There are some that haven’t paid to date, so I understood the scarcity of money and acted accordingly.
4 out of the 5 people that asked me to lend them money are employed in full time positions. Of the 4, 3 work in organizations that pay at the end of the month, like clockwork, without fail. But for some reason, they found themselves with more month than money hence the need to borrow to get through the remaining month and clear the debt as soon as they were paid.
I used to be one of those people. LOL, I say that like I am completely free. Seriously though, I used to live from hand to mouth. Granted my salary situation didn’t help but it could have been avoided. The reason why people who are employed and paid on time don’t have enough money to carry them through the month is because a lot of us live from hand to mouth – you get your salary, find ways to spend it, spend it, and then wait for your next salary (as you have one meal a day for the last week yet you were blasting in week one and two).
To the people that just rolled your eyes, calm down. I am not trying to be a party pooper, blasting is all well and good but isn’t it better to blast knowing you will not starve for the rest of the month? This hand to mouth culture will continue if we don’t take deliberate action to improve our financial situation. Here are some ways to begin;
- Get an accountant/book keeper: This might seem like an extra expense that you don’t need but it will pay off in the long run. You should look into the option of barter trading this service with a skill that you can offer in return. A lot of people might not want relatives or friends in their ‘business’, but if you have a sibling or friend willing to do it for free, even for a short period, you should take the deal.
- Budget your income: Different budgeting approaches are used by different people, so you should read a bit and can even customize in order to find one that works for you. The two that I recommend are the 10/10/10 plan where 10% is for investment, 10% goes to savings and 10% is for tithing or charity, and the 70% rule where 70% of your income covers expenses, 20% to savings and 10% is for tithing or charity.
- Keep track of your expenses: The point of this is to assess and re-evaluate your expenses, and to make sure that the percentage of income you set aside is sufficient to cover these expenses. It is important to stick to your budgeting approach therefore expenses should be cut until they are at or below the set limit. Do whatever it takes to fit within your limit; sell your car, give up bodas and Ubers, give up TV subscriptions, get a second and third job. It is key to note that if you fit your expenses within your set range, you are growing savings and or investments. Basically, all the sacrifices that you are making are only temporary.
- Clear all your debts: Don’t be that person who is known for not clearing debts. Also one of the ways to grow financially is by not having debts. You might have little money, but at least it all belongs to you. Just clear your debts because well, you know, it’s not your money.
- Don’t borrow money: Whenever you borrow money, it is an indicator that you are living beyond your means. Unless it is unavoidable, once in a while circumstances like delay in money transfers, bounced cheques, and only do so if you are completely out. However situations like this can be covered by the savings fund which might initially be your emergency fund until your finances stabilize.
It might seem like a lot, but choose one thing and start there. Take baby steps, and start your journey to a more financially stable life.