Let’s face it. Is it really possible to save in Malawi, especially given the huge ‘black tax’ (as the South Africans call it) that our extended families impose on our incomes above those by the Malawi Revenue Authority?
Actually, a couple of years ago, I met somebody at Chitipa Inn then. He recognised my face and asked me for advice on how to save from his meager salary. My advice was simple but yet punchy: spend less than you earn! But his reaction was instant and loud ‘akulu mukuyowoya nthena chifukwa mukupokera ndalama zinandi. Pala ningamuphalirani izo nkhupokera ine mbwenu mulirenge misozi. Ndalama zane zikumala pambeli nindapokere, sono zakuwika padera nizitorenge nkhu?’ (you are advising me to spend less than I earn because you have a fat salary—you would cry if I revealed mine. There is no way I can cut spending and save.’
But listen. Saving is about being disciplined. You can do it if you are determined regardless of what you earn. The first step to saving is minding your spending habits. Here are some five, but not exhaustive, ways to get started. First, go through every monthly required bill. Ask yourself if you really need that service or item at all. Do you really need the expensive foreign herbal tea or local tea brands would do? Do you really use your two cell phones much at all, or you could just maintain one hand-set and cut down on phone credit? Do you really need to drink the premium beer brand every day of the month or an ordinary beer would provide the same satisfaction—or better still quitting all together? (Lest am excommunicated in my church, I am not encouraging anybody to drink beer but am just talking reality). Do you really need to subscribe to a full DSTV package when all you do is watch Aljazeera News which you can get on MBC TV? Simply put, go through each bill and see if there are any optional services you can eliminate.
Second, keep diligent track of your spending. Keep a notebook in your pocket and write down every expense you have. Sounds theoretical but I did apply it with a high degree of success – you just have to do it for a couple of months. The simple process of doing this will make you think twice about unnecessary expenses. When you do have a month’s worth of expenses written down, take a careful look at them. Ask yourself whether or not each of these expenses actually contributed to the value and sustainable joy of your life. That process will offer a lot of insight for you as to where your spending is going to waste.
Third, look carefully at your routines. Watch what you do every day (or most days). Are there things you do each day that cost money like passing by the Bottle Store every day on your way back from work? Those things are the most powerful ones to adjust, as trimming just one bottle of Hunters Dry worthy K1 000 from your daily spending saves you K365 000 a year (just to assure my pastor that I don’t know the actual price of a Hunters Dry). If you have to stop at a saloon every couple of days, why not buy your own hair blower and do it at home? Do you eat out every day? Perhaps you can start packing a container from home (brown bagging) a few days a week. Simply put, scrutinise every regular expense you make.
By the way, my Chitipa friend didn’t seem to like the advice when I was telling him. But just a month down the line, he called sounding so excited ‘akulu mulikunovwira chomene. Mwizengeso pawuli nizakamulongosolerani vyose?’ (thanks my brother for the advice you gave me. When are you back in Chitipa, I need to tell you my whole story).’
A blessed week-end to you and yours as you plan to act! The rewards are enormous.