The Star (Nairobi)

12 January 2013

Kenya: Annual Madness That Brings Us to Janu-Worry

opinion

I recently learnt a new way to write the word that we use for the first month of the year. Janu-worry. It still sounds like January, but for most of us, makes more sense. I think that after four decades of watching how the first month of every year causes all but the very well-off and thoroughly organised people fret, sweat and complain when the month of January comes around, I must agree with the radio talkshow presenter I heard coin the word, Janu-worry.

Like almost everyone I know, every year as I spend the first month of the year broke and full of regrets about my profligate spending during the month of December, especially that final week-and-a-half, I make a resolution that next year things will be different. Again, like most people with new year resolutions once the first couple of paychecks of the year are banked and any outstanding Janu-worry debts and other financial situations are all sorted out, the well-meaning money saving plans are quickly forgotten or replaced by more pressing matters.

If the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result, then I can safely say that most of the world is completely crazy. I say this because no matter where in the modern world people earn a salary for a living that you look, you will find this very same pattern repeating itself until you are sick.

Of course it is not always our fault that we spend money in December as if the end of the world was upon us. Almost everyone has had times when the road to the hell that is Janu-worry was paved with nothing but the best intentions but find that their plans are consigned to the rubbish bin by what Harold Macmillan might have termed, "Events, dear boy, events."

Sometimes these "events" are as a result of our own regrettable lack of foresight even though we are loathe to admit it. In this instance we are kind of like those couples who know that they are expecting a child in nine months time, but only start worrying about hospital costs, baby clothes, cots, food etc at the literal last minute.

I remember always wondering about such people when a colleague or a friend would show up and want a loan (usually they meant a grant as they hardly ever paid back) to help get their wives or girlfriend's through the whole childbirth in hospital thing. After I learnt to be cynical and hard-hearted and to just say no to most such cases, I would risk offending them, often quite seriously, by asking what they had been doing to save during the lead up to the happy event? Had their partners miraculously become pregnant overnight? or had they thought the Stork that flew in the baby would come with a fat wallet attached?

It is rather like driving around in a car that has no spare tyre or insurance because you have not yet been in a situation where you needed either, or in some extreme cases, both. However organised we might get in other areas of our lives we still find ourselves caught like an antelope in the headlights not knowing which way to jump and wishing we had made or stuck to our plans for precisely this moment.

Having spent all available cash and credit over Christmas we forgot there would be new school books needed or new school uniforms or even just petrol in the tank for the first month of the year.

We didn't want to think negative thoughts and insure against needing some extra cash to take care of a sudden illness or even death over the holiday period or in January and therefore when the situation arises we are completely unprepared for it. That I constantly forget this lesson I excuse myself with the cop out phrase "I'm only human."

This year of our Lord 2013, however, I swear things will be different and Janu-worry 2014 will find me not just prepared, but literally swimming in spare cash. Oh what the heck? A guy can dream can't he?

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