There are only two things you can do to increase the amount of money you have: make more or spend less. This week we're concerned with spending less.
A Cleaning Co-operative
Everyone hires domestic workers as though it is a must. As I showed last week although their cash pay might be low, their effective cost is probably much higher due to wastage.
If you don't have kids it's unlikely that you can make efficient use of a worker. Half the time there'll be nothing for them to do. To address this have you thought about forming a cleaning co-operative? Get together with three friends and share a worker. You will immediately slash the cost of domestic help by two-thirds.
Not having constant support will mean you and your husband have to do more cooking and dish-washing yourselves but honestly how long does that take? I work 10 to 12 hours a day and I still manage to do all my own cooking.
Two days of domestic support is sufficient to get all your cleaning, washing and ironing done.
This idea is not that radical. Such an arrangement can be set up in many different ways e.g. you can have someone round daily in the morning whilst they work at someone else's house during afternoons.
If you have young children that need constant attention this obviously wouldn't work but if you're single, newly married or if your kids have left home it's a great way to spend less.
One of my uncles has a single domestic worker who does all the jobs: inside and out. My uncle and aunt cook their own dinner and only have a light lunch for health purposes. The worker prepares ingredients for instance by chopping tomatoes and onions but my progressive 60 year-old uncle prefers to cook himself.
I went to boarding school and whenever I wanted to buy imported snacks my father told me to "support home industry". I support this view if the industry exists. Telling you to shop abroad doesn't go against this advice. Malawi does not produce clothing, cosmetics of a verifiable quality or any basic cleaning agents. All these good are imported and sold at a hefty premium.
So if you travel to South Africa or anywhere else once or twice a year take the opportunity to buy these things abroad to make significant savings. One of my best friends, an Economist like myself, does this and she saves a lot of money because of it. If you budget to spend a certain amount only when you travel it enforces financial discipline on you. You're less likely to shop on impulse and much more likely to think before you buy.
I think it's difficult to shop for cleaning materials abroad if you travel irregularly but it can certainly work for appliances and clothing.
As a child growing up my parents always bought things abroad when they had the opportunity to travel. I would never have asked them to buy something in Malawi because I was taught how much more expensive it was locally. I became cost-aware at a very young age. If you can relay the same awareness to your kids it will stave off feelings of guilt when they ask for stuff and you say no.
What do you think about co-operating with friends and relatives to share workers? Do you think shopping abroad could work for you?
For 2 years until early 2014 I wrote a weekly personal finance and business column for Malawi's leading media house, The Times Group. The target is middle-class, working African women.
This is a reproduction of the articles that appeared in the weekend edition of Malawi News.