The Bitter Pill of Saving

Nov 29 , 2020
By Kidist Yidnekachew

There is a debilitating habit that most of us have and that is spending money. On multiple occasions, I have sworn I would start saving more and spending less. But every time I get some cash in my hand, I get amnesia. All of a sudden, I am at a boutique purchasing the first thing that comes to my mind.

The only consolation might be that I am not the only one with this affliction. Even people with severe financial problems have it, probably as a result.

Take this old friend of mine. She is raising two children, and her husband is currently unemployed. She supports her family selling spices she makes at home. Whenever some money comes in, nonetheless, they savour it until the last cent.

“It is when there is meat in the refrigerator for three consecutive days that you know there is money,” she says teasingly.

She spends almost all the money she gets on food and clothes for the whole family, and when the time comes to pay rent or school fees for the children, they are in dire financial straits. That is when she reaches out to family and friends for a loan. She somehow manages to get by, but each month she has to pay back her loan, and on and on it goes.

It is a problem many of us can relate to. Every time my bank account begins to run out and when I look back at the ridiculous stuff I spent my money on, I question my sanity.

It is a guilt that can, to a certain extent, be justified with the consumer culture of our time. We hear stories of people who saved all their lives and passed away before they could enjoy the wealth they accumulated. We are told in movies and in pop music to "live in the moment."

Such a motto when it comes to our finances is a terrible idea, nonetheless. No doubt, we deserve to treat ourselves for our hard work and achievements, but we cannot go around buying everything we see and spending money every time we come across some cash. The stories about greed are true. Earning more money begets the temptation to want more money.

The more we have, the more we need; that is the paradox. The single-minded quest for money strips us of our content in life. I have met several people who have decent and chunky savings but who argue with a taxi assistant for a quarter of a Birr. It is true that four of those would make a Birr. But this will still not buy anything meaningful, even the lowest of taxi fares, these days. Sometimes, it is better to let go and relax.

The sweet spot seems to be striking a balance, and this has to do with the ability to delay gratification. Research shows people who tend to delay gratification become more successful in life than people who want the pleasure right then and there. Delaying gratification takes discipline, and without that, it is hard to be successful.

On the side, there are people like my housemaid who saved enough to own a house. She came to Addis Abeba eight years ago. She started selling coffee and made about 800 Br a day. She put away just less than half of her earnings into ikub, a traditional and informal saving and credit association, and took a loan later to buy a house. It was not fancy but rather a one-bedroom house that needed heavy renovation.

She also rented a ground floor on a condominium apartment and opened her own small eatery after that. But the Novel Coronavirus came, and business was bad. She figured she could make some money working in domestic service instead of “sitting at home all day.”

That is how she ended up working for me. She is humble and sweet. When she told me she owns a house, I felt delusional for paying a domestic servant when I still live in a rented house. It was supposed to be the other way around.

PUBLISHED ON Nov 29,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1074]

Kidist Yidnekachew has degrees in psychology and journalism and communications. She can be reached at

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