Sunday, January 7, 2018

Time to face the reality

A woman helps a girl try on a school uniform at

A woman helps a girl try on a school uniform at Buhongwa market in Mwanza in preparation for school. The new school term starts on Monday. 

By Mnaku Mbani

After the happy New Year electronic cards and messages we all received on our phones last week, WhatsApp is now awash with funny messages on tough January.

Discussions on WhatsApp groups seem to have taken a totally different direction this time around. The messages and discussions are now centred on the tough times many are going through after merry making during the holidays.

One popular message that did the rounds on the messaging App, especially towards the end of December and that is still trending is the one cautioning people to be careful in spending as January approaches.

“Do not spend all your money in December because January is around the corner,” reads the message.

As funny as it might have been taken in December, the reality is now here with us. Everyone’s mind is busy pondering on how they are going to survive the tough month. Everyone tends to spend a lot during the holidays and the fact that most people receive their December salaries well in advance makes matters worse. A majority of people had spent their last cent well before Christmas.

We all know that January has always been a tough month especially for those with school aged children. January becomes a challenging moment for those who did not spend carefully in December now that they have school fees to pay and uniforms and other necessities to buy.

December has always been such a busy month to many, both in rural and urban areas, with everyone trying to make the most of the holidays. Some people opt to travel to their homeland, while others decide to go for holidays far away from their homes.

It is evident that December really is a month when everyone tries to heal their body, soul and mind. It is a time when families and friends come together, eat and drink to celebrate the end of a year and usher in a new one. December is also a time when people celebrate their year-long achievements and make plans for the following year.

While some people opt to remain at home when others travel, they too do make plans on how to celebrate the holidays.

With the feeling of completing 12 months of the year, people always tend to postpone their year-long suffering for two weeks, others for a whole month until January when life resume to business as usual.

Those whose children go to boarding school use December to entertain their children with different treats such as taking them to big hotels to swim, amusement parks, trips away from home either to visit relatives or to tour national parks. Then comes Christmas when they buy them new clothes and shoes. All these are done to relieve the children from the six months of schooling.

Preparing in advance

Most people forget the responsibilities in January and spend like there is no tomorrow.

In developed countries, people always make savings for year end holidays as well as January financial commitments earlier, infact as soon as the New Year starts. This makes it easy for them to celebrate the end of year holidays stress-free.

It is different here. Most of us spend the December salary for the celebrations, yet we depend on the same salary to pay school fees and survive in the whole month of January.

“Everyone spends time looking forward to Christmas in the weeks leading up to it, and when it’s over, we can’t help but feel disgruntled that the short-lived fun and family bonding is over,” says Stanford Peter, a businessman and financial expert in Dar es Salaam.

“Sure, we might come home with gifts that may make our lives a little ‘easier,’ but in essence, we come home so liquid with more stuff to buy,” he adds.

Stanford believes the end of year holidays can be used as a time to forget one’s problems for a while, but it does not completely heal you from economic problems.

It is not only the pockets that get affected during the festivities. Most of us destroy our bodies with alcohol. Other people around the world start their year off being extremely hangover. The year starts off in a fog of mystery.

Psychologists assert that many people experience post-holiday depression in January. The majority, they say, will experience this during days following Christmas and New Year.

Interviewed doctors said January experiences higher than normal numbers of patients due to emotional issues.

Mariam Usi, believes that January is the most challenging month because people associate it with a lot of financial obligations.

“Many people struggle in January because they spend every cent in December,” she says.

January is when most people are faced with obligations such as paying school fees, paying rent and taxes. Mariam says people end up borrowing to settle the bills. The problem she says is that, many plan for things that are beyond their reach. They buy everything they come accross just to please their egos.

“When December comes, people do not think about January. The month seems to take them by surprise when it sets in while they had spent their last coin. She calls most of the spending in December unnecessary.

Dr Blandina Kilama, a seasoned economist based in Dar es Salaam, says those complaining about “bad” January are those who don’t prepare in advance for the month.

“January always comes after every 11 months and no one can deny this fact.

I think those who complain about January do not realise that they destroyed themselves in December,” she points out. Dr Blandina advises that planning ahead for the end of year festivities is the best way to avoid January blues.

“People should save money in the eleven months and spend some of the savings during yearend holidays, while retaining some for financial obligations that come up each January.”

The economist says during December cash businesses tend to grow. People start offering short term loans with exorbitant interests taking advantage of borrowers’ cash thirst.

“It takes people up to four months to cover up the financial gaps created during December,” says Dr Kilama.

Behaviour change is important to avoid stress in January.