The average Kenyan working woman loves to spend, and spend big. She loves it even more when she’s spending her own money. We were curious to find out the financial habits of working women of different ages amidst the rising cost of living and the obligations that come with personal growth, independence and parenting.
HOW WE DID IT
We analysed the spending habits of middle-class Kenyan women using data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics and household budgets of middle-class Kenyan women. The budgets show their spending, saving and investing habits. We used a snapshot of data from March 2008, March 2013 and March 2017. We also considered their marital status at each snapshot.
WHAT WE’RE WORKING WITH
Consumer Price Index (CPI)
We’re measuring expenditure and spending based on and against CPI
WHAT IS CPI?
CPI is the cost of necessities for the urban household. Think of CPI as a very large shopping basket full of goods and services on which you’d typically spend your money on every month, says the Bureau of Statistics. CPI changes month after month based on what people are generally buying, what their tastes and behaviour are, the political, weather and economic climate, global prices of commodities and among others.
An increase in CPI indicates a higher cost of living – it means you have to spend more this year to maintain the standard of living you had in the previous year. A decrease means a lower cost of living.
In 2009, KNBS changed the method of computing CPI. We have adjusted our 2008 CPI figure to reflect this; we have estimated it based on a conversion factor derived from CPI in previous years.
WHAT CPI INCLUDES IN THE BASKET
Cost of housing, electricity, gas, maize flour, wimbi flour, rice, sugar, coffee, milk, meat, bottled water, parking charges, lab and optician services, electricity, cell phone airtime, internet costs, purchasing computers and cell phones, school transport, clothes and a host of other household items that sit in your monthly budget. It also includes cash spent on recreational activities like drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and eating out. Basically, it’s what you buy with your money so that you and your people can survive.
WHAT CPI DOES NOT INCLUDE
Cash expenditure on savings, insurance, pension, loan repayments, consumption from your own production and cash spent on lotteries and gambling.
You are a middle class folk if – every month – the expenditure on your basket is between Sh 23,671 and Sh120,000. Lower and upper class fall, respectively, below and above these brackets. (24.12 per cent of the households in Nairobi are middle-class, 72.12 per cent are lower-class and 3.76 per cent are upper-class.)
It’s what is left of your income after taxes have been deducted – you can spend it, save or invest it as you wish.
WHAT THE DATA SUGGESTS
For the middle-class, net income increases at a higher rate that the cost of living. This suggests and underscores several pointers:
It underscores the fact that the middle-class is cushioned against the blows of the economy. The expenditure of the middle-class woman continues to increase year after year despite the cost of living. Take Wanjiru (see her budget above) whose expenditure increased by 106 per cent when CPI increased by 66 per cent over the same period. “My expenditure increased in 2013 because I was spending more on things like my hair and beauty, massage, facials, cosmetics, clothes, jewellery, bags, entertainment, events, concerts, eating out, subscription to websites, hiking and travelling.” She adds, “I spent more on ‘non-essential’ items in 2013 than I did in 2010. I have maintained the same habits and lifestyle until now.”
It could suggest that you will be more satisfied with the quality of your lifestyle if you earn more and can spend as much money as you want on the things you want. Conversely, it could suggest that you will be more dissatisfied, anxious and stressed if you can’t spend as you desire to. When you have a bigger disposable income, you have extra cash for your ‘little comforts’ like a daily doze of cappuccino, uncorking a bottle of fine wine as you gossip with your girls, going on an impromptu getaway with the family, splurging on that pair of designer or new line of makeup... It’s an indefinite list that’s tailored to every woman.
“Buying these expensive unnecessary items makes you feel that you are enjoying life and treating yourself well,” says Rita, a 33-year-old consultant. “It makes you feel that you are eating the sweet fruits of your hard labour, that you are working to do more than just pay bills.”
The data could suggest that our savings and investments are not growing at the same rate as our expenditure or as our income is. One of the telltale signs of middle-class is living an aspirational lifestyle; which is financed by your increase in disposable income. You will now spend more to eat out, binge drinking, go on vacations and splurge on ‘luxury items’ like fancy electronic gadgets and cars.
“I want people to see that I am doing better. How will they see that if my extra income is sitting as savings in the bank?” Poses Pauline, a 30-year-old marketer. Other people like Jane, one of the women that shared her earnings and expenditure, are sacrificing their spending now to get out of employment and the trap of a paycheck in the future. “I save more than I spend,” says Jane. “I am not saving particularly for my kids; I am saving so that I can run my own business one day. I don’t want to be employed for all my working life.”
It could suggest that should our incomes no longer sustain our current lifestyles, then we will not hesitate to borrow and live beyond our means. National data from the 2016 Economic Survey, says Mungai Kihanya, a financial analyst, shows the consumption rate was 102 per cent of income in 2013, 103 per cent in 2014 and 102 per cent in 2015. “When consumption goes above 100 per cent of income, it means that people are not saving any money but are spending what they had saved earlier or borrowing to make ends meet,” he says.
He adds, “The problem with borrowing and using savings for consumption is that unlike investment, consumption has no returns.” Kihanya is quick to add that this isn’t a blanket conclusion: there are some households that are not only living within their means but are also saving whatever little they can spare.
Miriam Wavinya, Head of Marketing at Zimele Asset Management Company, says the problem is that most people don’t know where to put their money. “People usually wait until they are earning before they think about investing in their financial knowledge,” she says, “so they waste the opportunity to start growing their investments while they are still young. It’s never too soon to think about your pension and getting old.”
The danger with spending too much now and not investing enough for the future is that you will not be able to sustain your lifestyle during your sunset years. Miriam explains, “If you are earning Sh60,000 now and investing it, you will have at least Sh6 million in pension to live off. The government currently gives Sh2,000
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