Miebi Kelly tries to put a portion of her salary into her savings account, even if it is only 5,000 naira. But most of the time, she has to reroute the cashback to afford her everyday needs. Miebi has less than 200 thousand naira in her savings account right now, yet, she is not as bothered about saving as she is about spending. “Everyone’s telling you to save money and invest, and I can’t do that because I have to survive first,” said Miebi, a social worker in a government organization, who makes about 1 million naira a year.

Young people who are just starting to get their footing as they enter adulthood are grappling with how to balance their incomes and spending priorities so they have money left over to save for emergencies and their future. This puts an invisible pressure on them especially considering they begin their careers at the bottom of their earning potential. For a lot of them, this pressure comes from an unvoiced culture to be financially responsible and find stability in their 20s. “I feel like the older generation is constantly pushing you to do stuff like they did when they were in their 20s, but it’s not even comparable to when they were in their 20s,” Miebi said.

In the last few years, the economy has gone through a lot of changes. 24 years ago, when Ebimie Victor, was starting in the civil service, her salary was 3,000 naira and the dollar rate was $1/21.89. Today, the minimum wage in Nigeria is 33,000 and the naira as of last week, closed at $1/₦743.07 against the dollar at the Investors’ and Exporters‘ window. In the space of three months, Nigeria has grappled with high-interest rates, said goodbye to its fuel subsidy, and declared a state of emergency on food due to the persistent increase in prices. Young people are feeling the pressure to save for their uncertain future now more than ever. However, saving is especially difficult right now because, on top of personal aspirations, the cost of living remains high.

Brookes Eti-yene, a 24-year-old tutor is juggling several part-time jobs while she prepares for her Ph.D. Brookes who lives in the outskirts of Lagos, in a place called Arepo, has been living alone since she moved from Akwa Ibom to Lagos for her NYSC two years ago. “I love living alone,” Brookes said. “But it doesn’t help me save money,” she says. Between her gigs working as a tutor, and running a small-scale ready-to-wear brand, Brookes earns N150,000 naira a month, though her income varies based on how much she works for the month. She does her best to save monthly though she said high food and transportation prices have made it harder to save recently. 

Tonbra George, a 29-year-old who lives in Abuja state with her husband, likes to think her savings plan is sending money to her family back home in Bayelsa state. Tonbra who is the first of eight children, has felt responsible for her family’s needs since she was in school. In the last two years, she has paid the school fees of three family members including her mum, who had stopped at the secondary school level before starting a family. Tonbra who runs a small retail clothing business that brings in an average of 200,000 in profit monthly, says it helps that most household needs are covered by her husband. “For now, I contribute about 20% to the house and a smaller percentage to a joint savings account but the majority of my income is spent on my family,” she said. “I like to see it as an investment for the future,” she said. “If they can complete their education and get decent jobs, there would be additional support for the family.”

Excel Oliva, a 25-year-old content writer and research analyst living in Port Harcourt, who has also prioritized taking care of his aging parents along with personal projects for the year, thinks young people are just advised to save wrongly. Excel whose exposure to financial responsibility came from his parents and also not having enough growing up, saves 50% of his monthly income, and saves in digital dollars using a non-custodial wallet and decentralized ledger. According to him, it is unrealistic to just save in this economy because the rising inflation is a worry as purchasing power reduces even for foreign income earners. “You have to save and invest in a ratio that does jeopardize providing for your basic needs,” he said. “Right now one of the things that worry me is that my industry doesn’t have job security and I usually worry about income diversification.”

Oluwatosin Olasiende, a financial adviser and founder of Money Africa, a financial literacy and investment edtech, suggested that young people focus on building long-term investment choices. “Contrary to some of the advice out there, most 20-somethings should worry more about having their money work for them and less about saving up,” she said. Oluwatosin said the time spent worrying about piling up the money could be better devoted to an investment plan. “While many financial advisers suggest having three to six months of expenses saved before making an investment, even 5,000 naira can make a huge difference,” she said. 

Such advice is why 25-year-old, Seun Akinwunmi has taken many of what she feels are the right financial steps; she has an emergency fund, started investing money 2 years ago, and has a side hustle. She even uses public transport and cooks at home to save money. According to Seun, she had sat down one day and said, “One day you’re going to need money and there would be no one to help out. Not because they don’t want to give you, but they genuinely do not have, and you’re going to be stranded.” Last year, Seun successfully saved 30- 50% of her monthly salary, sharing between emergency funds, investments, and safe lock funds, a discipline she likes to credit to the digital savings platform, Piggyvest “If not for them, I wouldn’t even think of having like I wouldn’t even have anything to show for almost two years or over two years of work,” she said. It also helped that she didn’t have to save for things like rent as she lived with her parents. 

In the last few months, her savings has dropped to 10%. A few weeks before the new government enacted new economic policies that disrupted the spending behavior of consumers, she decided to move out of her family house. A decision some may describe as wrong timing. Three months ago, living on your own would have cost 50% lesser than what it is today. For example, three months ago, Nigerians paid N189 per liter. Presently, they pay between N488 to N577 per liter due to the removal of fuel subsidy. As expected this has led to a hike in the prices of goods and services, including house rents. “I’m hoping that by the time I finish setting up my house, my savings will increase, maybe to 30%,” Seun said. Seun has had to double up on her side hustles to meet up her current priorities. “Over 3 years in the labor market, and I still feel like I am at stage one entry-level. Because making above 3 million last year is on the same level as making below 3 million this year. So it makes you feel like you’re poorer than you were.” She said. “I used to dream of retiring at like 35 and just traveling the world. But that’s all it is right now, a dream.”

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