How the lockdowns have produced forced savings

Friday August 13 2021
The pandemic has decimated a number of people's revenue streams

The pandemic has decimated a number of people's revenue streams. PHOTO | FILE


The Covid-19 pandemic has changed life as we know it. For some, it is a time to wean themselves of "bad" habits like senseless spending, indulgent drinking, a sedentary lifestyle, and generally living life on the fast lane.

But the most defining change in people’s lives is on the financial front. Economies have been brought to their knees as the virus shut down businesses leading to job losses, and households losing their sources of income.

It is worth noting the way in which people have had varying financial experiences during the pandemic.

Some lost their jobs, others lost their side incomes, but many who retained their salaried jobs ended up saving and even started businesses or acquired property because there were fewer places and things to spend on.

For years, Vivian Kabanyana, a human resource specialist working with recruitment firm NFT consult, was caught up in the endless vortex of expenditures, which distracted her from saving.

But as the pandemic slowed life down, with lockdowns keeping people at home and no social events, entertainment places and restaurants shut down, she found herself spending less and actually saving a good chunk of her salary after paying for her basic needs.


"I realised I used to spend a lot on hangouts and outdoor activities, wedding contributions, a lot of expenditure on social stuff almost every weekend, but now there's a limit to all that because of the pandemic. I ended up spending less than usual and ended up with more money," she said.

"I have used the savings to make other essential payments, and redirected my money to paying for school," she added.

Herman Musahara, an associate economics professor at the University of Rwanda, said the restrictions on movement and closure of entertainment places led to many retaining money.

"The lockdowns and related restrictions led to a reduction in conspicuous consumption as people spent more time in their homes.

"It led to saving, but it is really more of forced saving, driven by circumstances, however this might not necessarily lead to investment. The saving that leads to wealth creation is that which is done consciously and planned," he said.

Dr Musahara said he was also making a lot of unplanned spending. For instance when out to just buy a newspaper, he ended up impulse buying stuff for his children or himself, so the limited movement during the pandemic controlled his spending, and he saved on fuel.

The closing down of bars, hotels and restaurants, suspension of weddings, flights also made people save on lifestyle expenditures. Although people continued drinking alcohol in their homes, there was a stark difference in quantities and amount of money used to pay for alcohol in clubs and bars.

As the pandemic contracts livelihoods, many people have become more financially conscious as survival instincts kick in, becoming more rational before spending.

However, the pandemic has also decimated a number of people's revenue streams, hurting the gig economy especially.

Before the pandemic, salaried workers also ran side businesses, or small consultancies. But these ended with the lockdowns.

"I continued earning from my consultancy work because I switched to doing it virtually," said Dr Musahara.

The pandemic exposed the widening gap between the financially secure and insecure in the region and beyond, affecting people in all segments of the economy but especially women, youth, and the have-nots being disproportionately impacted.

There are people who did not question their financial stability pre-pandemic, but who are now experiencing significant shifts and know they are one pay cheque away from being broke.