A Week In Nairobi, Kenya, On A $30,000 Salary

Photo: Getty Images.
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Today: a freelance photojournalist who makes $30,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on mangoes.
Editor's Note: All currency has been converted to USD.
Occupation: Freelance Photojournalist
Industry: Environmental Conservation/Communication
Age: 25
Location: Nairobi, Kenya
Salary: $30,000
Net Worth: ~$15,000 ($3,600 in a brokerage account, $5,000 in an intelligent portfolio, $5,800 in savings ($500 set aside for my #vanlife2022 fund), $5,300 in a Roth IRA, $575 in Acorns, and $500 in Coinbase minus $5,700 in student loans.)
Debt: $5,700 (student loans)
Paycheck Amount (1-5x a month): varies depending on assignment and publication (anywhere from $80-$1,500)
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: ~$317 (I live alone in my own studio.)
Student Loans: $0-$400 depending on the month to my parents to pay off my student loan (they paid it off ~$10,000 to limit interest)
Schwab Intelligent Portfolio: $200
Climbing Gym: $45.41 (paid in full for six months)
Acorns: $5
Cell Phone: I pay as I go and end up spending about $5 a month
Netflix/Apple Music: use my relatives' accounts
Health Insurance: on my parents'
Was there an expectation for you to attend higher education? Did you participate in any form of higher education? If yes, how did you pay for it?
Yes, for sure. My East Asian immigrant parents raised my brother and me in the U.S. so we could have a good education and plenty of opportunities. I attended a four-year college right after high school. I received a ton of federal financial aid, some state aid, and other scholarships; my parents very kindly paid their portion of the remaining tuition and I always held at least two jobs on campus to contribute.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
Nothing too nitty-gritty, but we talked about how to be frugal and never spending beyond one's means. My parents emphasized never spending over our credit card limits when we got them (around 19?) and treating them like debit cards.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
Probably at age 8, picking blueberries and selling them around the neighborhood. I would calculate how much the berries cost per pound at the farm and how much I should charge per pint to make a profit. Got it by putting up an ad in my neighborhood!
Did you worry about money growing up?
My brother and I did not necessarily worry about money, but we were acutely aware of it. In this sense, I am thankful for how my parents raised us to be on the conservative side with our spending and aware of the hard work that goes into making money. We had music and sports lessons but never went on any vacations, didn't really buy anything beyond what we needed.
Do you worry about money now?
Yes, all the time. Nearly impossible not to given that I am freelance.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
Probably around age 23 when I graduated from college, but it was a process that gradually happened throughout my studies. I have a financial safety net in that I know my family will always support me if anything were to happen.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.

Day One

8 a.m. — I wake up, make coffee in my moka pot, and add a little milk. Brush teeth and use some Rovectin Skin Essential treatment solution and Glossier sunscreen. I'm inconsistent with my skincare but am trying to be better. Start the day with checking emails, journaling, and doing some stretching. I got with this really cute guy I've been talking to last night and am definitely giddy about it. We'd gotten coffee a few times and I was surprised by his consistent effort in meeting up (very very unlike Nairobi, let me tell you). Around 10 I get a call, it's this avocado vase and tripod planter vase ($51.50) I ordered from a local shop. Definitely bougie for me, but I have finally gotten my own place after months of suboptimal apartment hopping and am working to gradually make it homey. Continue working. I receive a response from an editor saying he'll get revisions back to me within the week for a photo essay on cross-cultural dynamics in Nairobi. $51.50
11 a.m. — I go for a 5k run and then head up to the gym at my friend's apartment (the guards know me and are super amicable) for a quick strength-training workout. I broke my foot last summer in a climbing accident and have only just started running again this year. I'm super out of climbing shape as well, but this is the year I'm determined to consistently work to get better. Take a boda (a rideshare motorcycle) to the climbing gym. On my way back, I call my boda guy who is always around to take me back and pay via M-Pesa (mobile money through the local sim card). $5.02
3 p.m. — I eat some yogurt, mango, and beans and rice leftover from the other day. I love living alone, I can do as I want with minimal pants on and no one judging.
7 p.m. — After showering, I work more — making some final revisions to a piece about the circular e-waste economy with the backdrop of the global waste trade and sending it off to my editor. I then make and eat dinner (roasted green beans, rice, fried eggs), call a friend in the U.S., play around on my laptop, and read Fima by Amos Oz before passing out.
Daily Total: $56.52

Day Two

8 a.m. — Wake up, coffee, brush teeth, Drunk Elephant hydration and firming serum, and Hado Labo concentrated water serum. Work, chugging away at emails. For my work, I am responsible for the entire lifecycle of articles; from pitching to publications, research/fieldwork/interviews/photos, writing, and rounds of revisions with editors. It's quite the process and there's always something to do. When pieces are in, I just move on to new ideas. I buy a water filter so I no longer have to drink boiled water, yay! $36.33
11 a.m. — Head to a jewelry workshop in Kibera slums, not too far from where I live. I was on assignment shooting a story for a jewelry collective late last year and the guys at this workshop were so cool and welcoming. I used to make jewelry back in college at the student workshop and have been missing it ever since. They offered me their space to use and I brought some sterling silver back from the U.S. (sheet and wire) to play around with. Today is the first time I'm checking it out! I take a boda there and back, and I make some stud earrings and try reticulating...it's been a while and I'm hella rusty. Head to my friend's gym for a quick workout before going home. $2.72
6:15 p.m. — I grab some tomatoes and potatoes from the little stall near where I live to make some Malawian chicken curry along with carrots and zucchini that I already have. This batch will last me a few days. After dinner, I work a bit more, tweaking a film grant proposal. My neighbor comes to chat and chill for a few hours. I'm exhausted and wanted to get to sleep earlier, but lights out around 11:30 p.m. $1.63
Daily Total: $40.68

Day Three

7 a.m. — Coffee, brush teeth, work for a few hours, then head to the climbing gym by boda around 11. After bouldering a bit, I do some top rope route 16 times, and then another five times. I'm dead. Afterward, I ship some SD cards to my friend who just moved to Mombasa and her sister who's across town using a local delivery service ($7.26) and call my boda guy to take me home ($1.63). $8.89
6:30 p.m. — Have an interview morning EST time. Speak to a researcher who's been doing a long-running zebra tracking project in northern Kenya, and I'm writing a piece for a conservation mag based in Kenya about how this kind of tech is furthering conservation efforts on the ground. Turns out he knows my former TA, such a small world. Eat leftover curry, working some more, watch part of Adu on Netflix (but it's kinda intense), read Fima, and sleep around 11.
Daily Total: $8.89

Day Four

7 a.m. — Wake up, not feeling totally rested mehhh. It's okay, will just have to push through it. I'm envious of people who can sleep as much as they want. Wanted to go climbing outdoors today but my climbing partners are all occupied. Drink a ton of water and coffee, work on that zebra piece, and do some general life admin and journaling. Go for a 6k run or so, really trying to up my endurance. The area where I live is not ideal for running (I'm spoiled by the small town I grew up in), but definitely could be a lot worse. Head to the jewelry studio around 1 on a boda ($1.36) after eating some fried eggs, spinach, and avocado. $1.36
5 p.m. — Head home (on a boda), light stretches, shower, eat some mangos and yogurt, and more curry. Do some work then call my friend from home and hear about what she's been up to and discuss the ridiculousness of meme stocks. I've been trying to be a smarter investor without having it become a hobby/take over my life and I'm still trying to find a balance. Transfer $100 from my Schwab brokerage account to my new Coinbase account to buy some Bitcoin, figuring the hype is gonna last for a while longer. End up watching some Modern Family because it's familiar, read Fima, sleep around midnight. $1.36
Daily Total: $2.72

Day Five

7:15 a.m. — Wake up, lots of water, coffee, stretches, go for an early run. I'm doing headshots and group photos for a financing group whose office is within walking distance (Nairobi is proliferated by such NGOs). It really kills me how little I'm making, but gotta account for local prices (I'll be making $145.31 USD). I turn the photos around by late afternoon. Around 1, I am hungry and head to a kibanda (roadside restaurant) to have some beans and chapati ($1.36). $1.36
2 p.m. — At home, I work and chill for a bit (trying to not aimlessly be on screens all the time, I'm in a cycle of deleting Instagram and deactivating Facebook all the time). Listen to The Enormocast, Lexicon Valley, and This American Life podcasts as I edit photos. Walk over to a cute Italian restaurant around 6:30 and call my friend from home as I wait for the others — traffic is bad and people slide into "Africa Time" easily here (aka being indiscriminately late for everything). It's great seeing the crew. I order chicken and mushroom pasta with handmade tagliatelle and we split a bottle of red. One of the guys is off to a speed-dating event, kinda whack, and normally we'd be going out somewhere, but I peace. Go home, watch more Modern Family, read, and go to sleep around 11. $19.71
Daily Total: $21.07

Day Six

7:30 a.m. — Wake up a bit too early for the weekend. Coffee, do some work (when you're freelancing, it's hard to have an off day), and go on a quick run before I head to the climbing gym on a boda ($1.36). It's packed today, which makes me glad because business has been slow. I wonder if I'm gonna hang with that guy this weekend, hmmm. The trick is to never have too many expectations but it's advice that's hard to internalize. I need a lot of hand-holding for this kind of stuff sometimes. We flirt a bit but I don't think we're gonna hang this weekend. Grab a bag of four mangos from the side of the street on my way back via boda ($1.36), I try to bargain but just let it go even though I know I'm not paying the local price ($1.86). $3.22
2 p.m. — I bake some banana bread, eat fried eggs, cheese, tomato, avocado, and mango and yogurt, and read, journal, and do some life admin before heading to the arboretum to meet some friends around 5 ($2 for a boda). I have trouble finding them there — it's sooo dang crowded on the weekend, I always forget, but I am armed with my book. I finish reading Fima at last, and then finally find my friends. We drink some beers and then walk over to this girl's apartment (whom I just met) for what is basically her going-away party. Such are the lives of ex-pats. $2
7:45 p.m. — The gathering is pretty mehhh in my opinion. Really not feeling it this weekend, for some reason. No one's that interesting and the crew isn't all together this weekend. There's a 10 p.m. curfew and I'm definitely not doing an all-nighter until 5 a.m. although it appears that most people are. I get a boda around 9:43 and make it home. $2.72
Daily Total: $7.94

Day Seven

8 a.m. — Wake up for a work call (on a Sunday morning, I know). I'm tutoring a girl for some admissions prep to get some of that side hustle money (it's an inconsistent gig, hours vary wildly from month to month) and this one is actually super easy to work with. I walk over to a friend's place around 11 after showering — we have plans to check out a flea market. She drives us there, it's a bit too bougie for my taste, but I take some nice photos of her and buy a bar of bentonite soap. $3.16
1 p.m. — Head to another flea market. It's hard for me to not always want to be buying clothes and such, but luckily there's nothing here that appeals to me. I get a very mediocre strawberry smoothie and she drops me home after we both agree the club music on a Sunday morning is way too much. $3
2:30 p.m. — I scrounge around for some leftovers... I need to cook more next week. End up eating some passionfruit, cheese, and leftover oatmeal loaf I'd baked. Send money to my cleaning lady who comes once a week ($18.16). $18.16
5:40 p.m. — Walk over to the nearby supermarket to get some essentials and ingredients for the week — milk, lemons, tomato paste, broccoli, zucchini, almonds, sewing kit (to patch up a pair of pants), eggs, flour, paper towels, and yogurt. $23.45
6:35 p.m. — I was prepared to just cook and eat in for the night, but two of my Chinese friends call and invite me to this Cantonese restaurant I've been hearing about for ages! They convince me to go out. I was gonna do some yoga and eat at home but screw that. They pick me up, we order rice noodles, chow fun, char siu bao, braised eggplant, and milk teas. Really fun and relaxing just hanging with them. The restaurant is quite full (outdoor seating) but still has good vibes. They drop me off around 9. I read and organize a bit for the week ahead before going to sleep. $14.53
Daily Total: $62.30
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