Not long ago, I went out with my two boys 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. Luckily, my wife has now found a pizza recipe book so we will make pizzas at home and save money.
While out to buy the pizza, I passed by a bank automated teller machine (ATM) 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 asking for the same and to avoid embarrassing myself (tisanyozeke pa tawuni), I complied accordingly. I bought some toys and ice cream. Zoti ndalama ndizokalipilira wantchito ndayiwala! (I forgot why I withdrew the money—to pay our house maid).
When we arrived 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, I discovered I was short by a significant amount. I did not know what to tell the house maid who had already signed off as having received the money. Realising I did not have enough money, the maid said: “Basi bwana mundipatsa mawa. Zimachitika (Never mind you will give me the money tomorrow.” You cannot have enough money all the time.’ I never responded – just walked away in shame.
This whole thing reminded me about 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 but we hardly plan for the small items. For most of us, saving and planning for houses and cars and vacations is completely normal and reasonable behaviour. But the problem comes when the purchases get smaller. Toys for kids, under-wear, 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 in the afternoon—previously unaccounted for—have now completely tapped you out. You haven’t got enough money to pay the maid or cover the month’s electricity bill.
Instead, plan ahead for those spontaneous moments. Each day, put say K1 000 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 (planned) without being destructively chaotic with your finances.
You might find that by taking a real look at your spontaneous spending that you are doing things that you don’t really find valuable. The real key is this, every action you take is worthy 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 actually adds value to your life. A blessed weekend to you and yours as you plan your expenditures ahead of time – no matter how small they seem!