How Much Do You Spend on Food and Fuel?

The amount of money an ordinary city dweller spends outside the home
The amount of money an ordinary city dweller spends outside the home only adds to the pain of high rents. PHOTO | COURTESY 

How much do you spend to work? How much does it cost you to fuel your car to and from work, pay parking fees, buy tea-break snacks, lunch and after-work coffee or a drink if you are meeting a friend or business associate?

A number of Kenyans may be spending a huge chunk of their salaries or incomes on work, leaving little for retirement and emergencies.

Irene Wanjohi, a banker who lives in Nairobi's Utawala area, drives a Toyota Vitz to work daily. She spends about Sh1,400 on fuel and parking fees. Every day, she spends Sh500 on lunch and buys tea-break pastries for Sh100.

She moved from a rental house to her own home but it has not helped her save much although this was her initial plan.

“Good food especially if you work in CBD (Central Business District) is expensive,” she says.


According to Irene, after the coming-to-work expenses, she is usually left with little or nothing to save. However, she says she is lucky to have a health insurance cover which pays for her medical expenses and her husband chips in, easing her financial burden.

One of her biggest worries is unforeseen meetup costs.

“Sometimes I worry about being invited for a meeting after work at which you have to buy drinks or snacks,” she says.

Tony Otieno, who drives a Nissan X-Trail 2500cc to and from work every day from Sabaki near Athi-River to his office in Nairobi's Upperhill, says he is lucky that he does not have to pay for parking, save for a few instances when running errands in the CBD.

However, just like many employees who are not provided with free or subsidised lunch, he spends at least Sh800 on a mid-day meal.

He fuels his car daily for Sh2,000 or more depending on the number of trips he makes to meet clients.

“At the end of the month, you realise that your expenditure is more than the income. For some people who do 8am to 5pm office jobs, they end up taking loans or salary advances to fill the budget holes,” Tony says.

The amount of money an ordinary city dweller spends outside the home only adds to the pain of high rents.

Nairobi is one of the most expensive cities to live in, ranking sixth in Africa and 97th in the world, according to a Mercer Cost of Living 2019 report released in July.

“We are merely trying to survive and that is why most Kenyans are not saving for retirement. The cost of renting a good house in a secure and accessible neighbourhood is too high even to some well-paid individuals,” says Tony.

Buying a car

Whether it is possible to save by changing lifestyles in the prevailing economic environment or not is an issue of debate.

But what percentage of your income should you spend on transport, lunch and entertainment?

Martin Mathai, a business development manager, Pensions Group Business at Liberty Life says as much as transport, lunch and entertainment are daily costs, the last two are not needs.

“They are luxury items and can easily be avoided. Carry packed lunch. Go out on alternate weekends for a picnic or potluck party or game night which is cheaper than going to the newest entertainment joint,” he says. When buying a car, Martin says, pay at least 20 percent of the cost and never finance the car for more than four years. “Ideally, you should spend not more than 10 percent of your gross pay on transport costs (including taxis),” he adds.

Martin says, if you can save up Sh5,000 without increasing it annually you could easily confirm a retirement lump sum of Sh16 million or a pension equivalent to Sh160,000 per month for the rest of your life from the age of 60.

“That is more than enough to travel to exotic places in your retirement,” he says.

If you are paying mortgage, not more than 30 percent of your income should go to financing a home loan.

“For rent, limit it to 15 percent of your salary. Anything above this will definitely strain your disposable income. In fact about 50 percent of salary should be used for living expenses including housing and utilities,” says Martin.

Reginald Kadzutu, the chief investment officer at Amana Capital, says that there are key decisions that employees have to make to ease their financial burden.

“Public transport is not a pleasant ride but it's cheap and a huge cost saving. If you want to use a taxi then taxi pool. If you live in the same apartment block, talk to your neighbours so that instead of each one using a separate car, you take a taxi to cut costs,” says Reginald.

Looking rich

Regardless of a person’s income and expenditure, Reginald argues that everyone should save for the future.

“They are many ways to earn extra income outside your employment. Start an online shop for example, do farming or baking, or try a paying sport with weekend tournaments”.

Tony, for instance, has been able to initiate projects that guarantee him extra money to save and spend on discretionary items.

He says other people might not be so lucky because the extra revenue earner requires good capital that individuals, especially in entry-level jobs, may not have.

Reginald says the first step anyone should take to save is have a monthly budget.

A budget helps one review last month’s expenses and plan for the next month and limit impulsive expenditure.

“My advice is live within your means and don’t go broke trying to look rich, stay where you can afford, go out when you can afford and don’t try to keep up with the Joneses,” he says.