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What I’ve Learnt From Writing About Money

Toheeb Lanlehin

After writing 100 essential, eye-opening episodes, Fu’ad Lawal handed over Naira Life, Zikoko’s much-beloved series about how Nigerians navigate money, to Toheeb Lanlehin. The 24-year-old editor has done an incredible job since receiving the baton 10 months ago, taking the already-great series to newer, bolder heights. (He has written some of my favourite episodes to date.)

Along with writing Naira Life, Lanlehin also leads Zikoko’s Money category, talking to Nigerians of different ages, genders and classes about topics like black tax, the cost of having kids and the struggle to pay rent. “Money can seem like a boring subject,” Lanlehin said. “So, I’ve been obsessed with making the topic interesting to Nigerians, and using storytelling has helped.”

Before starting both roles, Lanlehin admits to not being great with money. He struggled with differentiating his wants from his needs, buying anything that caught his eye even if the expense ended up affecting his quality of life. He is a lot more thoughtful now. “I give my purchases more scrutiny,” he said. “I ask myself, ‘Is this thing central to my existence?’ before buying it.” 


Here are eight other things Lanlehin’s learnt since he started writing about money.

1. Leverage your privilege

Some of the biggest determinants of how much someone earns or will earn is privilege and information, Lanlehin told me. “Head starts are really important,” he said. “The people I’ve interviewed who were given some kind of head start generally earn a lot more than those who weren’t.” 

As for the importance of quality information, Lanlehin notes that a lot of the most successful people he’s talked to got their life-changing opportunities by leveraging information they were fortunate to have. He thinks the story of the investment banker with multiple streams of income really drives home this point. 

2. Build your network

Since learning about the importance of quality information, Lanlehin has become big on talking to people and building his network. “Information resides in people,” he said. “If you don’t ask questions, build valuable relationships and make the right networks, you might never get the information that will change your life.”

3. Track your expenses

Lanlehin always asks his Naira Life subjects how much they spend in a month, and a lot of them admit to not tracking it. After taking out time to calculate their expenses, for the sake of the interview, they usually have the same reaction: “I should do this more often.” They typically realise they are spending too much on A and not enough on B. 

“A budget is not overrated,” Lanlehin said. While he admits that budgeting and tracking expenses can be hard to do, he reiterates the importance. “It will make a world of difference in your life,” he continued. “You’d be surprised to learn just how much you’re spending on unimportant things.”


4. Saving is not enough, but it’s important

Lanlehin’s attitude towards saving has probably been the most affected by his Naira Life journey. “It’s very hard to save your way into financial freedom if you’re not earning enough,” he noted, pushing for people to find multiple income streams if they can. “It’s easier to save more when you earn more.” 

Still, he advises people to build up their saving muscle in the meantime by pacing themselves. When your savings are not proportional to your earnings — i.e., you’re saving a lot when you’re barely scraping by — the temptation to dip into your savings at the slightest inconvenience is much higher. “It’s happened to me, too,” he admitted. “It’s counterproductive.”

5. Investing is king

People who’ve hacked investment opportunities generally have a better quality of life, Lanlehin said. While he notes that it’s much riskier than saving, he also points out that the reward can be worth it. “Saving can’t grow your money in the same way investments will,” he said.

“Research legitimate investment opportunities and go in,” he advised. Still, he reiterated how risky it can be, saying, “Don’t put all your money into anything, especially something you don’t fully understand.” He thinks this lawyer’s story is a great example of being intentional about investing.

6. Manage lifestyle creep

Lifestyle creep is what happens when someone’s standard of living goes way up as their earnings increase. “Things they used to see as luxuries now become necessities,” Lanlehin explained. While it’s only fair that your quality of life goes up when your income does, it should be a measured and thoughtful increase.


7. Be patient with your finances

“Your financial journey is a marathon, not a sprint,”  Lanlehin said, apologising for how cheesy he sounded. Still, he has a point. Financial growth doesn’t happen overnight, and talking to Nigerians about their financial journey from childhood to adulthood constantly reminds him of that.

“Nigerians aren’t the most patient people when it comes to making money, and that’s why so many fall for get-rich-quick schemes,” he continued. “We need to remember that financial freedom doesn’t happen in an instant; it takes years of consistency and hard work.” 

8. Start early

You’re never too young to start taking your finances seriously. For one of his favourite interviews, he talked to a woman who spent the entirety of her 20s making reckless money decisions but had a turnaround in her 30s once she began taking her finances more seriously. 

“Her story could have been a disastrous one, but she got lucky,” he said. While we all want to enjoy our youth — the YOLO mantra is an enticing one after all — it’s important to consider the future. “You might think you’ll have time to make smarter choices later, but that’s not always the case.”

You can follow Naira Life on Zikoko. It drops every Monday by 9 AM.

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