Lesson on saving, from a Kigali restaurant waitress

An encounter with a restaurant waitress a few days ago inspired this commentary. But to help us build context, I will ask you a question; how many of you, white-collar jobholders, can afford and actually do, save Rwf10, 000 ($10) per-day off your salaries?

But this young restaurant lady, whose monthly salary is just Rwf90,000 (less than US$100) and her male colleague, have for the last few months been saving $10 daily, a tall order that they have subjected themselves to, voluntarily.


That you earn over Rwf800, 000, paid into your account every month but you are cash-broke a few days into the month and have to run to your bank for an advance, simply emphasizes the mantra that “it’s not how much you earn but how much you save that matters.”


Quite often, you hear someone saying; “if I made Rwf2m a month, I would have enough to save for sure.” But saving is about financial discipline and if you don’t have it, it won’t happen even with you earning double your current salary.


Instead, what is likely to happen with you earning more money, is the deepening of your conspicuous consumption lifestyle to which many of us suffer from.

Most white-collar job holders have the tendency to look at their personal self-worth in relation to what they consume and where (the so-called corporate class lifestyle). As a result, a bigger salary will get you thinking in the line of the apartment you rent, the car you drive, the furniture you sit on and the size of the TV-set you own.

Internally, that material accumulation gives you a false sense of success and externally, builds a false perception among people that ‘you have made it in life’ as the saying these days. Soon, the Rwf2million won’t be enough and you’ll be praying for Rwf3million.

Meanwhile, to fill the deficit, your bank will be happy to sell you consumer loan products that will help maintain your corporate lifestyle, at high-interest rates, a result of limited domestic savings, a result of people’s conspicuous consumption lifestyle…it is a cycle.

The American businessman John Rampton attributes his success to the cardinal rule that“budgeting and saving begin by paying yourself first.” Rampton believes that once your paycheck hits your account, you should first move some amount into savings even before you pay the bills.

What this means is that ‘saving is not what you keep after spending but what you save before spending.” Again, that takes discipline which few of us have.

So, you are probably asking, if one can’t save $10 off their hefty salary per day, how then does the restaurant waitress manage to do so of her less than US$100 salary?

It’s discipline. And you will be pleasantly surprised to learn that the restaurant waitress is a beneficiary of your corporate lifestyle.

When you, for instance, check-in at Camellia Restaurant with your colleagues from the bank, and you pay Rwf8000 each for your lunch, you often leave a service-tip for the girl or boy who served you to either appreciate exceptional service or to simply impress.

Unlike in some restaurants I have been to, tipping is not compulsory in most Kigali hangouts. Luckily, in many places, service is so bad that leaving a service-tip would appear like appreciating a bad customer experience.

But once in a while, you chance on some really great service where the waitress/waiters are naturally gifted when it comes to giving customers a great experience.

An effortless smile and a great attitude will often woo you into forgetting that you’re having a bad day at the office. A tip often follows such an experience. And modest as they might be, service-tips make a difference in the lives of waiters and waitresses.

“On a good day, I can earn more than Rwf15000 in client tips and it’s from such that I get money for our savings scheme; even when I don’t get any tips, I must find the money to contribute on a daily basis which can be quite a challenge sometimes but I am committed,” she told me.

They were four in the saving scheme but two colleagues dropped out. With just the two of them, they save six days a week collecting Rwf120, 000 between them; all the week’s savings are then paid out every Sunday to one person.

“It means in a month, I collect twice from the scheme, which translates to Rwf240, 000, in addition to my Rwf90,000 salary, I collectively earn Rwf330, 000 a month,” she told me.

With that, the 21-year old orphan is able to pay for her rent at Rwf100, 000 and university tuition of Rwf180, 000 a semester at Rwanda Tourism University College (RTUC). Meanwhile, her male colleague has used his savings to co-found a liquor store around Sonatube, all this progress, thanks to your service-tip.

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