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What’s It Like Living Salary to Salary?

Living salary to salary is a reality for many, but few openly discuss the challenges faced in maintaining such a lifestyle. Ada’s journey from completing her NYSC to trying to set up her life in Lagos was full of sacrifices and tough decisions. 

In this interview, we talk about living life in Lagos on a tight budget in Nigeria’s high-inflation environment. By carefully planning her finances and leveraging the best financial tools available, Ada managed to navigate the challenges of living paycheck to paycheck.

 *The name and certain details have been changed for anonymity purposes.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m 25 years old and I work in Sales for a furniture company in Lagos State.

What’s it like living paycheck to paycheck?

So I moved to Lagos after completing my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in 2023. I was just 20 and I didn’t want to go back home. My parents had tried to get me to come back to Port Harcourt but all my friends were here and I really wanted to live by myself. When I got here though, I lived with a couple of my friends. I had saved my whole allowance from NYSC, so when I got here and found my first job; I added a few months’ salary and a salary advance to it, just so I could get a place to live. 

After much searching, I found a self-con that worked for my budget.  It wasn’t much, but it was mine.

What were those early days like?

Tough, to be honest. My mattress was on the floor for the first few months, and I didn’t have curtains. I had joked with my friends that I was the naked neighbor, but in truth, I had no money. I had to feed myself and get the essentials first; even those took time. I would come home from supermarkets and markets, cross-check my bill against my budget, and see if I overspent.

How did you manage your finances during this period?

Initially, I left the account that NYSC paid my allowance to lie fallow. Then when I started working, I relied heavily on savings apps. It helped me automate my savings, even if it was just a small amount each month. I also kept to a super strict budget. Every single naira was accounted for. There were times when I literally had no money left before the next salary. All my accounts were empty. 

That sounds incredibly challenging. How did you handle those moments when money was tight?

I had to be creative and resourceful. I don’t really like to cook and clean and do my laundry but I had no choice. Every Naira was mine to save. I avoided taking loans from my family, but I did borrow small amounts from friends – only what I knew I could repay quickly. I’m quite stubbornly independent, so asking for help wasn’t easy for me.

What were some of the toughest decisions you had to make?

Deciding what to spend on was always tough. I had to distinguish between wants and needs very clearly. For needs, I had to decide which ones were most pressing. For example, buying curtains had to wait because food and transportation were more immediate needs. Even small things like coffee or the occasional eating out were luxuries I couldn’t afford.

I missed many birthday dinners and seeing my friends because who was going to pay for all that? It got to the point where my friends would tell me straight up that they were going to pay for everything.  It was embarrassing. 

How did you cope with the emotional stress of living this way?

It wasn’t easy. I tried to stay positive and focus on my goals. I reminded myself that it was temporary and that I was working towards a more stable future. Having a clear budget and knowing exactly where my money was going gave me a sense of control.  I had to teach myself how to be content. 

Plus, celebrating small wins – like getting those curtains – helped keep me motivated.

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Looking back, what do you think was the key to managing your finances effectively?

Shame *laughing*… I’ll say discipline and planning. I had to be very disciplined about my spending and stick to my budget no matter what. Planning, even for small expenses, made a huge difference. And using savings apps helped me build a safety net, little by little.

What advice would you give to someone who is currently living paycheck to paycheck?

First, track every expense. Knowing where your money goes is crucial. Second, save what you can, even if it’s a tiny amount. It adds up over time. Third, don’t be afraid to ask for help, but only take what you can repay without burdening yourself further. Lastly, remember that it’s okay to prioritize your needs and delay some wants. It’s all part of the process of gaining financial stability.

Ada’s story is not just one of financial struggle but smart planning. Her disciplined approach to budgeting, saving, and managing priorities provides valuable lessons for anyone facing similar challenges.

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