What does the Nigerian consumer spend his money on? And how have these spending patterns evolved in recent times? Thinking comprehensively about consumer spending entails reflecting, in a broad-based manner, on the range of commitments to which income earners – and non-income earners (who, nonetheless, make expenditures) – are obliged, on account of what they receive periodically. The first-line obligation that income earners generally meet is tax, which, in the case of salaried workers in the formal sector of the economy, is often deducted at source. Certain categories of income earners in Nigeria pay some form of ‘taxes’ or dues out of their earnings to various non-state actors – an example being the dues paid by commercial road transport operators to representative unions like the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in Lagos. Some income earners maintain fidelity to institutions which levy them routinely or to which they make donations. Prominent examples among these are religious institutions – churches, mosques, etc. And yet, despite all of these commitments, some income earners set aside a portion of their incomes, whatever the frequency of their receipt, as savings. The foregoing helps us distinguish between the macroeconomic concept of disposable income (i.e. income less taxes) and the reality of commercially available disposable income, which is what is left to income earners in their wallets after a range of often routine and sometimes ironclad financial commitments have been met. It is out of this commercially available disposable income that households and consumers spend. Given that the aforementioned commitments do not apply to every individual income earner or income-earning household, including the possibility that some income earners do not pay taxes, it is possible for commercially available disposable income to equate total income. The patterns of spending arising out of Nigerian households’ commercially available income have been changing significantly over the past two decades. In 2003, Nigeria’s official consumer basket weighting structure (for the calculation of domestic price movements) indicated that household spending patterns were heavily skewed towards subsistence consumption. The weights assigned to the various items in the consumer basket available then indicated that the average Nigerian spent about 64.4% of his commercially available disposable income on Food and Non-Alcoholic Beverages. Spending items such as Communication (0.1%), Education (0.2%), and Health (1.4%) accounted for a small fraction of spending by that measure. By 2009, the implied proportion of spending by Nigerian households on Food and Non-Alcoholic Beverages, out of their commercially available disposable, income stood at 51.8%. Implied average spending on Communication had risen seven-fold to 0.7%; Education, nearly twenty-fold, to 3.9%; whilst Health more than doubled from about 1.4% to 3%. In light of these changes, the perception that spending patterns are increasingly moving away from subsistence could justifiably be formed, although the question of whether they were moving definitively towards lifestyle spending patterns might elicit a less certain response. The implied proportion of spending on Recreation and Culture tapered off a bit, to 0.7% from 0.9% six years earlier, as did spending on Restaurants and Hotels, to 1.2% from 1.3%.

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