How much exactly is my disposable income?
Sometime ago, I was broke. Yes, very broke. Savings exhausted and no job in sight. I simply lived on the grace of God expressed in the occasional airtime or hand-me-downs that I got from those who suspected they were God-sent to my specific need. Operating on this platform, it took almost 4 months to save up enough to change my hairstyle. Then, one day, I went in search of a hairdresser (not my regular) to braid my hair. And, that’s where the drama began.
This Hairdresser found a space under the staircase of a block of shops and her task began. About 30 minutes into her work, I made the mistake of saying, “Well done, Ma” and the exchange afterwards is what has inspired this article.
“Thank you, Aunty. But, the money you gave us is too small, o. You have to add something to it.”
I didn’t respond immediately. I hesitated about 10 seconds to watch the replay of my life up to that point. I had been very prudent with money. My friends could attest to that fact. And, I went the extra mile to save 30% of my income while I worked. When I stopped working and had exhausted my savings, I still disciplined myself to save some money from gifts I received. Then, after 4 months, I finally had the N2,500 (less than $10) with which I could braid my hair….a hairstyle that I settled for because I could wear it for a few more months….and this young lady thinks I haven’t done enough?
I considered the fact that the young woman in question had probably been working in the last 10 years I had spent studying. I figured she probably only had passed through a Primary School or, a Secondary School at best. I had been to a tertiary institution, had worked full-time and part-time, had volunteered or interned in several organisations and had taken several online courses all the while – to increase my earning power, in addition to all the other benefits that come with acquiring and applying knowledge.
Of what use will this information be to her, if I shared? Will she inwardly thank God she didn’t bother with seeking further education? Will she go on to share this information with her family at home, discouraging those who might only have managed to stay in school? I really couldn’t be sure how she will react. One thing was sure, though: no matter how much she empathized with my condition at the time, she will not out of pity or whatever other emotion there is, absolve me of the responsibility of paying for her services.
So, I simply said: “Madam, just pray for me to get a job, alright?”
I said it with so flat a voice, that she and another lady beside her said: “Amen!” and went on to say some other prayers for a befitting job and very soon, too. They must’ve felt an emotion I had thought my response too simple to evoke.
Now, where am I going with this story? Know thyself! Be very clear-headed. Don’t quarrel with people who make demands of your money; but don’t get carried away by those demands either. One would ordinarily have expected me to:
  1. Break down in tears of self-pity because she expected a tip from me which I couldn’t give. Or;
  2. Lash out at her for belittling my 4-months’ savings of $10. Or;
  3. Attempt to cover my shame by giving her a tip which could well have been my transport fare home or bought me a drink to calm my nerves, after absorbing such pressure from the hair-braiding process.
How many times have you gone with Option 3? How many times have you spent more money than you planned because you were trying to cover-up an emotion? Was it shame? Low self-esteem?
Despite all my opportunities at education, this Hairdresser could afford things I couldn’t at the time. She momentarily had a greater earning power, in that her hair-making skills could earn her up to N10,000 ( about $40) in one day, if she got up to 4 customers. The N2,500 ($10) I needed 4 months to save up was probably her disposable income. It probably was what was left after settling all her obligations – transporting herself to Ikeja from Mowe, feeding her children, saving some in her cooperative society’s purse as a contribution against future borrowing, etc. If I had allowed her (possibly innocent) public request influence my decision, rather than the realities of my situation at the time, I would’ve gone home not just broke and hungry, but unhappy and maybe angry, too.
The bottom line, therefore, is this: calculate how much your disposable income is. Let this figure guide your spending decisions.
That you earn the same salary with your colleague does not mean you have the same disposable income. If he is unmarried, still living with his parents and has rich siblings, you must get a 2nd job or work overtime to be able to afford the things he can. Consider your wife and kids and be encouraged to give them the best.
And, if you are the only one amongst your colleagues without a side-business, consider going to the movies every fortnight rather than every week.
Or, shop in the open market rather than at the mall. You do not have the same disposable income.
At every decision point, ask yourself: “How much exactly is my disposable income?”
Olubunmi Samuel-Adeyemi
LIMER™ Personal Finance Coach