Overcoming debts: Anastacia Wangui Gitonga, a legal administrator and gospel artiste
“I began to travel down the road to debt in 2008. At the time, I was a newly employed legal administrator at a city law firm, earning Sh15, 000 a month. My salary was very little and could hardly sustain me through the month. Oftentimes, I found myself living from pay cheque to pay cheque. Small salary advances from work were a regular request.
“After about two months, I realised that I needed an extra income.
Since I was gifted in music, I decided to compose and record a music album. I hoped it would do well in the market and I would be able to make some extra money to meet my bills. In addition, I would have enough profits to save and invest in my own recording company. But there was a problem; I had no money to start me off.
“I couldn’t get a bank loan since my deficient bank account meant I was not creditworthy, so I approached a friend to whom I narrated my predicament and pitched my music idea.
She agreed to lend me Sh30, 000. We agreed that I would pay her back before the end of that year; however, the amount was not enough.
I approached another friend and borrowed an additional Sh15, 000.
Unfortunately, I had a respiratory problem that required frequent check-ups and expensive treatments.
In the village, my parents also needed support and since I am the firstborn in a family of six, I had no option but to give them a hand.
I redirected some of the money I got from the music project to my personal and family affairs, and took more debt to cushion the deficit! Unknown to me, this was the beginning of a long cycle in which I would struggle for seven years.
“Although I managed to record a music album, Kwa Mfano Wako, towards the end of 2008, it was a huge disappointment. It didn’t do well in the market because I had no money to market and supply it widely.
On top of my shattered musical dream, I was left with a debt of over Sh100, 000. But I wouldn’t give up on my dream.
I decided to borrow some more and record the second album. I would borrow small amounts of Sh10, 000 to Sh20, 000 from different friends and gradually, it became easier to borrow than to pay.
“In 2010, I applied for a Sh200, 000 loan at Equity Bank to offset some of my debts, and then start a small business to pay back the loan. By this time, my debts had accumulated to over Sh200, 000. The bank said I was an extremely high-risk borrower and rejected my application, but I didn’t give up; I was determined to get rid of my debts.
“I decamped to Cooperative Bank and in 2012, I applied for Sh100, 000 to consolidate some of the debts. Again, I was turned down.
Desolate, I returned to borrowing from friends. I borrowed Sh20, 000 from a family friend and started buying and selling kitenge clothes. In a month, the business crumbled. With what little money I had left, I bought hair pieces on wholesale basis and began to sell them from home; no one seemed willing to buy. Soon, I gave up!
“Ironically, I was not always flat broke. Sometimes I would get some money. But there always seemed to be a need begging me to spend on it whenever I got money.
I remember there were times I would go out and get Sh5, 000, but instead of repaying someone, I’d find myself buying a handbag or shoes or a dress.
“By the end of 2013, I had borrowed from 10 different friends. My relationships with them worsened. Those I’d borrowed from were chasing me to recoup their money.
Those I’d not borrowed from were avoiding me. It became very shameful for me. I had worked for seven years and had zero to show.
I couldn’t dare to welcome anyone to my house just to avoid incurring extra expenses. I feared that I had lost control of my life.
“Early last year, though, I realised that I would never get out of my vicious debt cycle unless I became tired of it. But before freeing the shackles of debt, I needed one more debt. I borrowed Sh40, 000 from a friend and started a network marketing business. I would make money by recommending products and asking consumers to buy directly from the company.
Within a few months, I was earning between 5 and 18 per cent of the products’ suggested retail prices for anyone who bought my recommendation, and between 30 and 43 per cent of the profits per product. The business picked up well and I made at least Sh20, 000 per month.
“There was no looking back. I had had enough of my debts, and I began to pay them one after the other.
All the money I made from this business went to paying debts. In March this year, I finally repaid my last debt. From the network marketing business, I make over Sh30, 000 in a good month and Sh20, 000 in a rough month. Perhaps I could have avoided some of the debt, but I have no regrets. I take the struggle as a lesson learned and today, I am now more careful about how I approach money.
“I have learned, also, that not all debts are bad debts, and that you can’t get out of any debt unless you get tired of it and start offsetting it with strict discipline!
Never wait for a lump sum of money to repay. Start with the little you get without diverting to impulse expenditures.
Although I still work at the same workstation, my salary has improved from Sh15, 000. I am also glad that my second album, Asante, is now in the market and doing well. I have not borrowed since then and I do not plan on borrowing.”