The day I spent my maid’s money

Just this last month, I went out with my children for a month-end treat. The boys love pizza so much. But being the economist that I am, I decided I would only buy pizza once a fortnight or once a month depending on how they behave. Meanwhile, I have been going round looking for a pizza recipe book so we could be doing the pizzas at home and save money.

While out to buy the pizza, I passed by a bank auto-teller to get wage money for our house maid. Soon thereafter, we went to buy pizza. But then we met a family friend who had a child with a toy-gun in one hand and ice cream in the other. One of my sons started crying asking for the same and to avoid embarrassing myself I complied. I bought some toys and ice cream. Zoti ndalama ndizokalipilira wantchito ndayiwala (I forgot why I withdrew the money—to pay my house maid).

We then drove home. I called the house maid, pen in hand. ‘Tasayinani apa ndikupatseni malipiro anu (sign here as I get your wage money). After counting the bank notes out, I discovered I was short by a significant amount. I didn’t know what to tell the house maid.

Realising I did not have enough money, the maid said ‘basi bwana mundipatsa mawa zimachitika (never mind you will give me tomorrow. You can’t have enough money all the time,’ I never responded, I just walked away in shame.

This whole thing reminded me of the need to plan ahead in our spending. Spending spontaneously without giving much thought can lead to undesired expenditures.

Experience has shown, however, that it is easy to apply the principle of planning ahead every time you spend for the big purchases. For most of us, saving and planning for houses and cars and vacations is completely normal and reasonable. But the problem comes when the purchases get smaller. Toys for kids, underwear, a shoe or neck tie for yourself or spouse. These things add up to huge amounts.

Quite often, these ‘small’ items are bought quickly with almost no forethought. Sure, it can be fun to do something spontaneously, but that spontaneity can drown you.

The worrisome side of it comes later. You go home, look through your list of things that need money, and realise that the few Kwachas you spent have completely tapped you out. You haven’t got enough money to pay the maid or cover the month’s electricity bill.

Instead, plan ahead a little for those spontaneous moments. Each day, put say K500 in your wallet and let that be your “spontaneous” money for the day. You can do whatever you want with it and it is fine because you planned for that amount.

Obviously, you can adjust that amount to whatever you would like—more in some situations, less in others depending on need. The reason for doing it is simple: it allows you to be spontaneous without being destructively chaotic with your finances.

You might find that by taking a real look at your spontaneous spending, you’re doing things that you don’t really find valuable. The real key is this: every action you take is worthy of a bit of thought, either beforehand, in the moment, or afterwards. A bit of reflection often tells you whether that choice was right or wrong for you—whether it adds value to your life.

Then, taking the conscious steps to reduce those things that don’t add much value becomes easy—you just eliminate the negative and by default the positive in your life is accentuated.

Share This Post