Every week, Zikoko seeks to understand how people move the Naira in and out of their lives. Some stories will be struggle-ish, others will be bougie. All the time, it’ll be revealing.
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The 28-year-old makeup artist in this #NairaLife has had multiple experiences with low-paying jobs. In 2020, she went in on a plan B and moved to a new city. She hasn’t figured everything out yet, but she’s also not where she was two years ago.
What’s your oldest memory of money?
The memory that comes to mind right now happened in 2007 when I was in secondary school. I found some ₦2k I had saved and forgotten about in a Danish butter cookies container. Unfortunately, the central bank had issued new designs of the naira, so the money I had was useless.
I feel a sharp pain, and it’s not even my money.
Do you get? It wasn’t much of a big deal though. Things were good at home at the time, so it was something I could let go without much fuss.
You’d think so. Things were really good for the most part when I was growing up. It wasn’t until 2008 or 2009 that things started to take a different turn.
Let’s just say that my dad had really big dreams and tasted money earlier on, but he wasn’t on top of his finances. He started out as a lawyer and went on to become a local government chairman in the south south. I think the idea of going back to being a lawyer and hustling for measly amounts of money didn’t appeal to him after his tenure ended. He thought he was going to get another big break and he hung onto that hope and forgot about everything else. This decision affected the family’s finances. Subsequently, most of the responsibilities fell solely to my mum, but there was only so much my mum could do with what she earned from teaching.
I got into university in 2008, and by my second year, things had gotten so bad that it was a struggle to get my parents to come through for anything I needed. The money always came late, and when it did, it was never enough to do anything. Being broke was my default setting.
Tough. So you had to figure things out yourself.
Pretty much. A part of figuring things out was realising that I may have to live off my friends in school. A couple of friends understood that I didn’t have much, and they did the best they could for me. The other part was living with the shame that came with it.
What was that like?
Not fun. I didn’t even want to ask my friends for help. I tried as much as possible to stretch whatever resources I had, but it simply wasn’t enough. Having friends who came through was good for a while, but it also affected our friendship dynamics. A couple of people switched up on me before we left school because I had become a bit of a burden, which was understandable.
My last year in school was the toughest ever. First, it was an extra year. I tried to get tuition and rent from my dad. When he eventually sent some money, it was not enough to sort out both. I tried to talk my landlady into giving me a deal, but she didn’t agree to it. I eventually squatted with a friend who was kind enough to take me in, but the arrangement deteriorated into something else before the year was over. I finished uni in 2014.
Nice. Well done.
The next thing was NYSC. I served in the south south and taught in a catholic secondary school. There was the ₦19,800 federal government allawee. The school where I worked paid ₦5k per month. There was also an extra ₦3k that came once every two months as compensation for the additional lesson hours I worked. The year wasn’t bad. The school provided free accommodation. Most of my monthly earnings went to feeding and travelling to a neighbouring state where my boyfriend at the time was serving.
I had no money saved up at the end of my service year in July 2015, though. I was pretty much winging it.
No more allawee. What did you do next?
Nothing for the first six months. I moved back home and got really antsy about finding work. My dad’s income was still non-existent, and he was taking my mum’s salary from her. When it didn’t seem like I was going to get a job, I asked my mum for help and she got me an interview at a school. I couldn’t mask my desperation during the interview, and the man who interviewed me took advantage of it. I don’t remember what he said word-for-word, but it was something along the lines of “Pay this small girl ₦15k.”
I took the job. It was better than nothing. I resumed work In January 2016.
I respect that.
The workload was crazy. I was teaching all six classes in the school — two subjects for each class. With every month that passed, I hoped that they would see how hard I worked and give me a raise. But nothing came. I sent in my resignation the moment the school went on third term break. This was July 2016.
Three months after I quit, a beauty queen, who was a friend to one of my sisters, was looking for a personal assistant.I applied for the job and got it. The salary was ₦20k per month but I didn’t get paid once, and I spent four months working for her. She covered some of the logistics, but at the end of each month, she complained that she hadn’t made money from “beauty-queening”.
My desperation was at an all-time high, and I made some ill-informed decisions and fell victim to one or two job scams. I knew something wasn’t right with the vacancies, but I went along because I was just looking for a means of survival.
After four months of working with the beauty queen, I quit. Let me even talk about the event that triggered this decision.
I needed money badly that month and asked for my salary. Again, she said she had no money. But she asked if I was interested in a “Thanks for coming” gig.
Thanks for what?
Thanks for coming. This is how it works: Party organisers invite girls to a party to light things up. At the end of the party, they pay each girl between ₦20k and ₦30k. Some got more than that too. It depends on the deal you get.
Oh, I see.
I didn’t even have clothes to wear because I was broke. The beauty queen gave me one of her dresses and did my hair and makeup. We got to the location where we would get cleared to go to the venue of the party. When it was my turn, the person who was assigned to clear me said I didn’t fit the bill of whom they were looking for and should return home.
It broke me. I had bills to pay and I clocked that I wouldn’t even have gone there if I was getting paid for my job. I texted her the next day and told her I was done.
MMM was the rave around this time and I put about ₦20k in it from the money I didn’t have. I made some money from it and it sustained me for a while before it crashed in 2017.
Fast forward to September 2017, an old friend whom I had just reconnected with reached out to me to ask if I was interested in a front desk secretary position that had opened in his brother’s office. I applied for the job and got it. They offered me ₦35k, promising to bump the salary to ₦50k after my appointment was confirmed. But I wasn’t sure if I wanted to accept it.
Was there a reason?
The job was in the heart of town and my parents were living on the outskirts. I had gotten another job at a school close to home. The basic salary was ₦20k but I could be earning up to ₦50k every month from after-school lessons.
A few days after the interview, my friend reached out again and asked me to take the job. The offer had been reviewed to ₦50k. So I took it.
Did you get a raise after?
No. But they gave me free accommodation after a couple of months with them. While I was at the job, I made more friends in the city and met one or two glucose guardians here and there, and this helped my finances a bit. My monthly earnings grew from ₦50k to ₦100k. In very good months, I got up to ₦150k. I had a bigger purchasing power. However, I couldn’t plan around the money so much because it wasn’t stable. The only money I could count on was my ₦50k salary.
I worked here till February 2019. I thought I was giving more value than they were willing to pay for. It was only when I told them that I was leaving they started talking about a raise. But my mind was already made up.
I tried looking for another job but nothing came up from the search. I was like, “It’s time to try something new.”
What was that?
I’d been looking at the possibility of moving to Lagos and trying my hand at being a makeup artist. I needed training and money for that, so it didn’t seem like it was going to happen until a friend offered to sponsor my training.
In March 2020, I moved to Lagos and enrolled at the school.
How much did this cost?
The tuition was ₦200k and I spent an extra ₦100k on buying the products I needed. My friend paid for this and also sent me a monthly stipend of ₦50k from March 2020 to December 2020.
I finished at the school in May 2020. Then came the question of what to do next again. I didn’t want to do the traditional beauty makeup where I’d have a studio and make people up for events. I wanted to do editorial and production makeup. The problem was, I didn’t have a portfolio. I did the next thing I could do.
What was that?
I started reaching out to editorial makeup artists on Instagram and offering to assist them on their projects. I slid into a lot of DMs. No reply. No call back. Thankfully, I was still receiving ₦50k from my friend so that got me through that period.
Someone eventually replied in June 2020.
I worked with her until September although she didn’t pay me. While I was still assisting her, another person reached out to me. She paid me ₦10k the first time we worked together.It wasn’t a lot but it was the first time I was making money off this thing, so I was convinced that it could actually work.
A big signal.
It was. My first big break came in May 2021 when a friend helped me get my first solo job on a movie set and I was paid ₦80k. Omo, I was so proud of myself, and very much relieved. I hadn’t made any money from January till March.
I’m mostly assisting people on their projects these days, and I get between ₦10k and ₦20k for each day I spend on a set with them.
How much do you make in a month now?
It’s tricky to put a handle on that. But anything between ₦50k and ₦100k seems accurate.
What’s been your best performing month so far?
June. I made about ₦100k from all the jobs I got. I’m not good at keeping track of all the money that comes in, so it may have been more than that. Also, I’ve earned more money in each of the past three months than I did at my 9-5 while doing lesser work. For context, working for four or five days in a month will fetch me more than ₦50k.
But the jobs don’t come in every time, do they?
No, they don’t. But this is peak season, so I’m enjoying it. I’ve made ₦65k so far this month. This is a big deal for me.
Let’s segue into your running costs every month.
I plan my expenses around ₦50k every month.
How much do you imagine will be enough money for you right now?
₦200-₦300k per month. I have a couple things I want to do right now but can’t afford. On top of the list is getting an apartment. I live with my sister and her boyfriend, and they’ve been super nice. I feel like it’s time to leave but I can’t and it’s killing me.
Also, I have black tax to worry about. My dad and I used to quarrel a lot about that because he thought I wasn’t doing enough. There was a time he said to me, “I put it to you that you’re stingy.” After that fight, I started sending between ₦2k and ₦5k home every month. But I’ve not been able to do that since I moved to Lagos.
I’m curious, how have your experiences shaped your perspective about money?
I’m still in a place where I obsess about money, although the intensity has reduced over time.I’m beginning to realise that it’s not a do or die affair. I suspect it’s because I’m currently making more money than ever. I have a laid back approach to finances now and am focusing on how to expand my streams of income.
Sounds like there’s a plan B.
Yes. I have friends who have digital skills and friends who work in tech. They’ve recommended courses I could take, and I spend my days off on these courses. I’m currently crazy about community management, and I think it will be the next thing I try my hands at.
Nice. So How much do you have in your bank account now?
I have ₦40k saved up. It’s something, and I’m proud of it. I don’t save a specific amount every month because of the structure of my finances. When I get paid for a job and can afford to save something from it, I do it.
What part of your finances do you think you could be better at?
I could do better at keeping track of what I currently earn and possibly saving more. I should be able to have a better grip on saving in a few months though. However, it’s almost impossible to be more prudent than I already am.
Tell me about the last thing you spent money on that made you feel good.
After I got paid for my first solo job in May, I spent ₦50k on a new set of makeup products, and man, the joy I felt! Recently, I spent ₦20k on a dress, a pair of shoes and a bag for a wedding I was invited to. I hadn’t bought anything for myself in a minute so that also felt really good.
On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your financial happiness?
4.5. People say that financial happiness is a state of mind, and I agree. I’ve been stressing over money all my life and I just want more out of this whole thing. I’m tired but I’m also happy about the progress I’ve made in the past couple months. Am I 100% content? No. But there are no regrets. My financial situation is still a work in progress, and I’m doing the best I can. That will do for now.
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