A friend of mine, summarizing the financial atmosphere prevalent now, said that the kid gloves have been pulled off and everyone is getting down to serious business. We are all getting more intentional about our earnings and how to get the income to cover our expenses. For many, it has become very necessary to get some rudimentary financial skills in order to be able to stretch the paycheque to its optimum elasticity.  The cliché about ‘take home’ no longer taking anyone past the closest street is a reality to quite a number of Nigerians, so it requires a lot of joggling and smart skills to meet needs.

Stretching your monthly paycheque requires careful planning, budgeting, flexibility and ability to make smart financial decisions. I would share a few tips that should be helpful in maximising your income and making the most of your earnings.

  1. Create a budget and stick to it: Start by tracking your income and expenses to understand where your money is coming from and where it is going. This is especially helpful for those that are into business and who have more than one source of income. Track what you put into each business and what comes out and keep a spreadsheet about your expenses. Create a detailed budget that allocates specific amounts for necessities like rent, property maintenance, utilities, groceries, grooming and transportation. There are numerous apps and YouTube videos that help individuals to apportion their money appropriately every month. Check out for the one that best suits you. There are many people and organisations that already have the habit of budgeting but the real struggle is keeping to that budget; making sure you do not pile up debts or eat up what you had saved. Be intentional about keeping strictly to the budget and make it a habit.
  2. Cut out unnecessary expenses: When there are many items vying for attention on your expenditure side of the budget, then it is time to get a pair of scissors and begin to trim. Review your budget and identify areas where you can cut back. Random outings with friends and family to high end restaurants or lounges may give your week a perk but when it threatens the elasticity of your budget, cut it off. The same goes for ordering takeouts and expensive snacks. There’s no need to treat your colleagues, staff or subordinates to anything really, for a job well done. A simple ‘thank you,’ pat on the back and ‘good job’ should suffice for now. Also, impulsive purchases and retail therapy should be totally expunged from your calendar; those things only run you into debts.
  3. Waste-proof your home: In many homes, household disposable items and groceries are bought in bulk. However, this sometimes encourages wastage especially when you leave the management of the purchased items to untrained personnel. Keep a tight store and a tighter usage plan. Let your children and domestic assistants understand that wastage would mean cutting off some popular items from the menu. Let your family and members of staff know that there is a new sheriff in town and his code is PRUDENCE. Lower utility bills by turning off lights and appliances when not in use and consider energy-efficient light bulbs and appliances. All these items add up eventually so be careful with the little things that seem to cost very little. Where you can handle some mini repairs around your home by yourself, do so promptly; it can be a form of recreation and would reduce expenses.
  4. Careful coordination and collaborations are necessary: Major items in any budget now are transportation, fuelling, power-generating set consumables and every other thing that needs petroleum products to function. The days of careless movements are over because there’s no one with a limitless budget. Movements are carefully plotted now and where there is need and opportunity, movements are merged to reduce cost. Car pooling is back in vogue for colleagues living in same neighbourhood and parents with school kids. There are many organisations providing shuttle services for workers. It may be important to survey various options and assess their workability for you to reduce commuting costs. There are organisations that are choosing days in the week when workers work from home; you may want to offer this option to your staff just to help their transportation issues (this option works best where there are clear measurable deliverables per day).
  5. Shop smart: There are some avoidable debts that come dressed with desirable credit extension options. Avoid taking on products and services that have you paying for months and years especially when they are not very important. If you can do without any product or service, please let go and instead plug it into a month when your income has the capacity to accommodate it. Learn the art of negotiation; you would be surprised at how much you will save simply by seeking better rates. Look for sales, discounts and bargains before making any significant purchases. Compare prices online and go for the best and cheapest even if it means waiting in line a bit. Find free or low-cost entertainment to enjoy with friends and family.
  6. Maintain a healthy savings habit: The general thought is always to cut off savings when the income is barely able to meet existing needs. However, financial experts tell us to regard Savings as a vital item on our budget right up there with the things we consider super essential like food and transportation. If you don’t work in an organisation that pays you a housing grant that adequately covers your housing needs, then you should also save for rent every month. This is different from the savings that helps you to put money aside as capital for a profitable investment. You can also set aside an emergency fund so that unplanned needs don’t floor you completely. Avoid picking up extra debts especially loans taken to tide you through till the next income; this soon becomes a cycle. If you have existing debt, focus on paying it off as quickly as possible.
  7. Create extra income streams: There is a deluge of information online about possible avenues of making extra income. Carefully assess some of these options for the ones that fit your schedule and lifestyle. If you want to invest into some existing business, check their records and if possible, visit apps like Glassdoor that publish reviews about organisations and real life testimonies of investors and staff. This should help you to take a smart decision.

If you implement the above steps and you are still struggling to manage your monthly finances, consider seeking expert advice from a financial coach who can create a personalised plan for you.

Nothing will work if you do not commit to it. You have to be diligent to track all the items that you spend money on and fit them into your budget before carefully trimming off the ones that are too bogus or inconsequential. The key to stretching your paycheque is to be disciplined with your spending and prioritize your needs over wants.

Fatherhood with Ibe

Stepdads Also Cry

Dear Sir,

I would be very happy if you can publish this story in your column. It might not be the most interesting tale but I believe that it would help one or two people as we navigate this parenting waters.

My name is Nathaniel. I got married in my late twenties to a young pretty lady who lived with her parents in my neighbourhood. We enjoyed a blissful marriage for over five years during which time we had two sons. My job was going so well that I asked my wife to resign from her own job as a nurse and stay at home to take care of the children. She resisted the idea vehemently and that is how our problem started.

The truth is that she had just finished her nursing training before we married and straight away we started having children. She did not like the idea of sitting at home so she found a job as a nurse in the sick bay of a secondary school. It wasn’t a fantastic job because the pay was poor but I didn’t have any problem with it because the work hours were fair, she was busy and was also allowed to keep the kids with her. However, once the second child started school, my wife resigned from her work in the school and took a job in a big hospital. I was willing to cooperate with her initially but the ‘shift’ regime of her profession was affecting our home life. I didn’t like the idea of the children being on their own some nights or even days. My wife’s 13 years old nephew who was staying with us did not seem like an adequate enough care giver to two boisterous boys. I had to ask my wife to resign from her job.

For over a year, my wife stuck stubbornly to her job. She had many reasons why she could not leave her job. To teach her a lesson, I stopped giving her money to run the house, infact, I started staying away from the house. I told her that since the job was so important to her, I hoped it would solve all her problems.  We were like hostile strangers sharing a space. To my shame, I was so offended that I also took out my anger on the children. I can’t recall the countless times my wife Rosalind tried to ask me to help with food for the kids or clothes or even school fees. My reply was standard; “the salary from your nursing job should cover that.” Her family came to the house to talk with me a number of times but I did not even sit down to hear them out. I always told them that I had important errands to run and would leave them in my sitting room.

The final straw was just a little issue. I’d taken interest in a young widow who worked as a junior officer in my company. She had two little children too and always cried when she talked about the stress of combining a fulltime job with raising her children. I encouraged and supported her to start a small retail business and soon our relationship blossomed. I did not fall hopelessly in love with this widow; we had a relationship that I was confident that I could get out of easily, as soon as I wanted to.  But daily, I got more involved with this new family and more estranged from my own family.

One day Rosalind called me on the phone and after repeated calls, I picked. She asked me to please pick up our boys from the school. She said she was ill and had been admitted in the hospital. I didn’t believe her so I did not go to the school. I later understood that the gateman of the school escorted my sons to the hospital to meet their very sick mother. She was in hospital for days and I did not notice. I did not even know that my own children were not sleeping in the house either. It was over a week before I realised that I was all alone in the house.

My wife had gone and she’d taken the boys with her.

This development should have been enough to jolt me out of my anger cocoon but it didn’t. I was even more enraged. I swiftly sent a message to my in-laws telling them to return my children or face my wrath. My wife replied through a lawyer telling me that she was surprised that I remembered that I had children. She said that she had been a single parent to those kids for over two years and she elaborated the different times that she asked me to help with the children’s needs and I turned her down. She even mentioned the widow and her children and deduced that I seemed to have another family. She concluded the document by telling me that the children were with her and I could come and see them whenever I chose.

She added an address.

I did not like the fact that she had involved a lawyer. Truly, I was hoping to intimidate her and her family and force them to come pleading. I hadn’t expected Rosalind’s stubbornness to be so immense. I shared my anger with the widow and she agreed with me totally. She called Rosalind names and said that she was stupid to act carelessly with a ‘catch’ like me. It was just what I needed to hear. She advised me not to respond to Rosalind.

“She wants you to confront her and that will give her the opportunity to beg you. She is embarrassed and is looking for a way to return home.” She told me and I believed her. She advised me to call Rosalind’s bluff. I did.

At that particular time, the widow had a problem with her accommodation and with two little children, I couldn’t leave her stranded so I invited her to come take a room in my house until I could get another apartment for them.

That was the beginning of my travails.


(To be continued)