In the African setting, there were key economic lessons our mothers tried to inculcate in us while growing up: the value of a shilling and the value of saving. Most were indirect but simple. We often failed to interpret the lessons and thought our mothers to be unreasonably hard on us.
First, I never understood nor saw the logic behind my mother sending me to different supermarkets to buy different products yet I could get all those products in one. Buy the rice in Mulembe supermarket, oil in Fair Price supermarket and batteries in Mama Peter’s shop. Buy this here buy that there, she would give the instructions.
I concluded that since she normally plucked me from the playing field, it was a ploy to deny me enough playing time by moving around in all those supermarkets to purchase the listed products.
Value of a shilling
Believing that I was crafty enough, the first days I would dash to one supermarket, purchase all the products then rush back, drop the products and hop back to the playing field. She would later reprimand me for not heeding her instructions. Of course, I denied without knowing that she knew the prices of each product in the different supermarkets.
The next time she sent me again with the same instructions and I repeated the same game. At the counter I realized I had seven shillings less, I returned one product to the shelves. She would later tell me should I have followed her instructions, I would have in fact remained with two shillings as change.
I still could not find it a big deal; I mean the variance in prices of the same product in different supermarkets seemed negligible; two shillings, five shillings was not reason enough to hope from shop to shop.
I never understood the value of a shilling.
No longer a child, no longer under her protective shell financially, I feel regretfully angry purchasing a product or an electronic at one place only to later pass by some other place and see the same product at a cheaper price. I have had to learn the art of surveying before purchase.
I cannot buy an egg at 11 shillings when I can get it at the next shop at 10 shillings; I cannot buy a drug at a chemist at 100 shillings when I can get it at the next chemist at 98 shillings. I cannot buy anything in open-market without proper bargaining; there must be a push and pull between the buyer and seller. When it is YOUR money, I have learned, every shilling matters.
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Secondly, mother would send me to the shop and just like most other kids, I would often return less change. At other times, I would stick with the full change gauging whether she would remember it or not. If three days lapsed without her asking for change, it was safe to imagine that her memory had failed her thus the money could now be spent.
For every change I returned her, she dropped into the pot, What I now came to learn as a home-bank.
Whenever she asked for her change before the three days elapsed, I would simply extract the money feigning forgetfulness. Rarely, unless she was having a bad day, would she administer a beating for lies regarding money. Often she would just be quiet about it as I wallowed in my little thievery.
However, what I thought to be a slip in her memory regarding her change was actually deliberate. Like a hawk, she would watch and wait for the right time to strike. At one time she called me and asked me to buy her 4kgs of flour, a sufuria and a basin without giving me any money. Expressing my shock of where she expected me to get the money, she expressed more shock that I did not have money.
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“But you have been saving for me, Dan!” She would add while unleashing an itemized list and a summation at the bottom plus the dates of each day she sent me to the shop and I never returned her change. Now I owed her Ksh200.
Even with the beating I received, I would go on with the habit of failing to return her change. She again remained quiet about it preparing to strike the final blow. When schools reopened at one time, she again unleashed a paper documenting dates and the change I never returned. “I believe you have been saving for yourself. Use, that as your pocket money,” she would tell me.
That was enough torture. Reformed, I religiously returned every shilling whenever she sent me. She maintained her usual silence. Two years later, just after I had completed my KCPE, she called me again, gave me a small pot saying it was my gift. In those few seconds I kept wondering: ”What’s wrong with my mother, other mothers are gifting their children bicycles and toys while she is gifting me a clay pot with a minute hole!’
My little home-bank
She then asked me to break it. In it was 1, 5, 10, 20 shilling coins and many 50 shillings notes summing to four thousand shillings. For every change I returned her, she dropped into the pot. What I now came to learn as a home-bank. It was quite a lot of money for me at that time, and I quite enjoyed the holiday anyway.
To this day, I keep a small metallic or clay home-bank in the house, under the bed, into which I often drop any little loose change. The little savings have come in handy in lots of times. I owe two phones and a date that earned me a Taita girlfriend to that little home-bank.