• In times of crisis, one can no longer rely on their salary or normal revenue streams
• One needs to adapt to cushion themselves from the impact on their lives and families
To translate a famous Swahili saying, life is a journey that crosses mountains and valleys. The analogy describes the path of our finances because each of us will experience both financial successes and failures.
It, therefore, makes sense to make the most of the good times that come our way so we are better prepared for the inevitable financial crises. One such crisis is the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Many people are suffering financially as workers are sent home, markets are closed and governments impose restrictions on normal business activity.
The loss of earnings calls for changes in household spending because none of us knows when normal business will resume. The world has experienced many economic downturns in history and it is a sure bet there will be unforeseen crises in future that will require people to adapt. The ongoing economic crisis caused by Covid-19 is already forcing people to take up new roles to feed their families.
“I am hawking school books,” says Isaac Mwalili* (real name disguised on request), a teacher at a private school at the Coast. Isaac says his employer has not paid teachers’ salaries since the government closed all schools in March. “I get the books from a wholesaler then I sell them for a profit in the estate,” he says.
As a teacher, Isaac knows many parents, and his contacts are proving useful in his new trade. He has created a WhatsApp group, through which he advertises whenever he gets new books. His customers are parents eager to keep their children busy learning at home.
“I also do holiday tuition classes for parents willing to pay,” Isaac says. Though the Ministry of Education frowns on tuition outside of official school hours, Isaac feels he has no choice. “I need the cash and, besides, parents don’t want the children to be idle, and that is why they call me for private lessons,” he says.
The income from tuition and selling books is helping Isaac feed his wife and children, but the income is not yet enough for house rent. He remains optimistic that he will soon get his salary, despite the delay from the employer.
Isaac took a very important step in dealing with a personal financial crisis: he came to terms with his situation and found an alternative source of income.
Not everyone is lucky enough to find a side hustle that matches their profession. Elizabeth*, also a private school teacher, is hawking bananas for a living since schools were closed.
“I started selling bananas because I don’t know when I will be paid,” she said. Luckily, Elizabeth lives in a family home and does not pay rent, but she needs the money to take care of household expenses and for the teacher training course that’s also been postponed.
When business is quiet, Elizabeth can be seen seated in the shade, revising for her course. She says she is preparing for exams that might be called as soon as the education system reopens.
The current crisis will not last forever. Eventually, it will be nothing more than a bad memory. However, there are tactics people can adopt to get through this challenging time.
1. Talk about the situation: Marriage counsellors warn that financial challenges are the biggest threat to marriages, but this can be avoided by openly discussing the state of finances. Isaac the teacher had a frank discussion with his wife regarding delayed salaries, and they jointly worked out a realistic budget based on the reduced cash flow.
2. Cut down unnecessary expenses: Nobody knows when economic conditions will improve. Your savings should last as long as possible. Spend only on basic needs such as food, rent, water, electricity bills and medical treatment. If you can work from home, minimise your movements to cut spending on bus fare or fuel for the car. If you have two cars, consider selling one. It might be necessary to move to a cheaper house to cut spending on rent.
3. Negotiate: If you know you will have difficulties paying rent, it’s best to contact your landlord before you miss a payment so they are aware of the situation. If you have loans, talk to your creditors before you miss a payment so they know you are keeping track and working on the situation.
4. Plan ahead: Prepare a budget that will take you through the hard times. The budget will be determined by how much savings you have and how much you should be spending on basic needs for your family. Noting down in a diary your daily spending helps in keeping track of expenses.
5. Find income-earning opportunities: Now that you already cut down your spending, think about how best to increase your income. Getting a higher-paying job is the ideal way of getting a steady income, but it could be months before a job offer comes along. Like the two teachers we read about at the beginning of this article, consider starting a business that does not require a huge investment. Go to the Internet and look for online jobs you can do from home.
6. Take care of yourself: Our personal identities are tied to finances. We are happy when we can take care of basic needs and much happier when we afford luxury items. Lack of money is emotionally distressing, resulting in depression, headaches, anxiety and general physical discomfort. Maintain body fitness through nutritious eating (remember junk food is an unnecessary expense) and physical exercises.
7. Open up: Rather than isolating oneself with problems, it is advisable to reach out to other people willing to share experiences. A problem shared is a problem half solved.
Edited by T Jalio