Earning while studying: How we made money during the holidays

Picture of a makeup artist at work.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

What you need to know:

  • If you’re in school, it can be hard to find work that fits in around your schedule. But some students have found other ways to fund their lifestyle. 
  • It is no secret that life on campus is hard, and that students often find themselves living from hand to mouth due to limited sources of income and tight school schedules.
  • Consider these entrepreneurial ways to top up your bank account without interfering with classes and study

The holiday season is over, and lectures are back. Looking back, are you proud of how you spent your time? It is no secret that life on campus is hard, and that students often find themselves living from hand to mouth due to limited sources of income and tight school schedules. But did you know that there are young adults who are making money from their skills and talents even though they are still in school?

In this article, we explore some of the practical ways students can make money over the holidays, such as securing seasonal employment, freelancing and babysitting. Our interviewees, all of who engage in profitable part time hustles, also offer valuable tips on how they balance work and rest, and how to use the earnings wisely.

Happiness Wairimu, 21, manages quotations and finances in her family's hardware business.
Photo credit: Pool

Happiness Wairimu, 21 University of Nairobi
As a fourth-year student, I keep myself engaged during the holidays by helping out in my family’s hardware business. I handle quotations and finances and I’ve been doing this for seven months now.

Managing the business has provided me with valuable experience and enhanced my finance and problem solving skills. My role as a student and budding entrepreneur has been exciting and fulfilling.

I have encountered numerous challenges that have truly been great sources of learning and personal growth. Engaging in this venture has not only enabled me to gain a deep understanding of various companies and organisations, it has also provided me with valuable opportunities to interact with older, more experienced persons from whom I can gain insights on business management.

One of the recurring challenges I have faced is managing my time effectively, as my role involves significant financial responsibilities and demands my full presence and attention. Balancing this role with academic commitments such as attending classes has not been easy.

Furthermore, getting personal time has been quite challenging, given that our business operates six days a week. Nevertheless, by diligently confronting and surmounting these obstacles, I have achieved a sense of financial independence. This independence empowers me to meet my financial obligations and make significant strides towards accomplishing my goals.

As I delve further into the world of business, I am increasingly drawn by its potential and the invaluable knowledge I gain from my time at the hardware shop. The ability to exercise caution and make sound decisions is a crucial life skill that can only be acquired through keen observation and learning from the experiences of others. The abundance of online resources has proven to be beneficial since it helps in unravelling the complexities of entrepreneurial pursuits.

Surprisingly, my journey has taken me to the realm of the construction industry, where I have discovered a wealth of knowledge that I never anticipated. It is a field that has unfolded before me with surprising ease, allowing me to gain substantial insights and expertise in this fascinating domain. In my time at the shop, I have come to know about dependable places where one can buy construction materials at highly competitive prices.

Seeing these coveted items being swiftly purchased from store is thrilling, and I am greatly encouraged by the knowledge that if I were to embark on constructing my own home, I know where to get materials at a reasonable price.

These encounters have been truly enlightening, and have deepened my understanding of the business world.

Wicklife Odhiambo, 25, is a photographer and videographer.
Photo credit: Pool

Wicklife Odhiambo, 25, Maseno University
I am a fresh graduate from Maseno university with a Bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass media. During the holidays, I did photography as a part-time job. I started this photography venture when I was in my second year. I wanted to make some extra cash so I requested my older brother to help me get a camera. With his help I acquired a camera of my own which has helped me establish myself as a photographer.

Throughout my photography journey, I have participated in different fields. My friend, who runs an online TV station called Climax TV, sometimes invites me to help him with live coverage of events. This involves handling a video camera and taking photos for the social media platform. I also take photos for a fee at birthday and wedding events, as well as personal shoots.

From my earnings, I have managed to purchase new equipment to expand my business. I use part of the money I get to support myself financially and help my parents pay my school fees. I also save part of my earnings to avoid wasting my money on too much leisure.

Every good thing comes with some challenges that hold us back. One of my biggest challenge is payment pf clients. Some clients don’t appreciate the art of photography. They give false promises and pledges, and sometimes they refuse to pay completely. This is a huge set back because I have to pay for my fare to and from the venue, and cater for other expenses.

Another challenge I faced was the shift from holiday season back to lectures. I had already built a good client base, but I had to return to school and that affected my schedule. I could get calls during classes, with clients calling me to cover big events or ceremonies. Balancing the two isn’t easy. Nevertheless, I managed after reaching a compromise. I had to sacrifice some of my classes and turn down some of the projects I received.

I chose to do photography during my holidays because I had passion in it, plus it is part of the course I am taking at Maseno. It was a good opportunity to put into practise what I had learnt in school.

Now that I have my camera, I would rather spend my holidays hustling and developing my portfolio than staying at home and sleeping on my talent. As a media student, this venture helps me improve my fieldwork skills before I get an internship or job.

Faith Mueni, 22, is a make-up artist and founder of Glam by Imani.
Photo credit: Pool

Faith Mueni, 22 University of Nairobi
I am a fourth year student pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Literature and Communication. This was my dream course and I am glad that I got to do it. It motivates me to work hard every single day.

Since I was young, I had a great passion for beauty. Even when I was busy with my studies in school, I always looked for opportunities to convince my parents to let me enrol in a makeup academy. My dad was not keen on the idea at first. He thought I wanted to drop out of school and do something else. How could I ever quit school? I had to get my mother on board and I thank her for helping my father change his mind. That’s how I started a new chapter in my life – a beautiful part-time make up journey.

During the long holiday after my third academic year, I signed up for makeup classes and excelled so well that I was recognised as the best student. In three months, I had acquired many clients, and this was even before graduating. I was proud of my progress. I got my certificate and launched my business by the name ‘Glam by Imani’ on my social media handles. This was a huge achievement, from a mere hobby to a part time career.

My parents gifted me my first make up set and I was grateful for the growing clientele. I was new to the industry but I loved getting bridal makeup requests from different people. The experience has been really eye-opening for me. My family has been my backbone throughout.

I have faced challenges that made me want to quit, but I have always persevered. Sometimes a client shows up late and I miss another appointment. When this happens, I don’t scold them, I just try to appease the other client. I once had a wedding call in Bungoma, but the couple’s phones were both off. I waited for eight hours, stranded in a place I had never been to. I had to take a bus back to Nairobi having not accomplished the work I was called for.

I work during holidays because I love it and it keeps me busy. During school days, I rarely pick calls. My clients understand that I am a student and they prefer weekends for the services.

Makeup can be very lucrative if you are patient with your clients and your work is flawless. You can save a lot of money if you spend wisely and invest in quality products. I use my savings to cover some of my personal expenses, which reduces the financial burden on my parents. It has been a wonderful journey so far and I am eager to graduate from school and start my own makeup academy.

Fabish Magoya, 21, is a street pearl jeweller.
Photo credit: Pool

Fabish Magoya, 21,  Kisumu National Polytechnic
Before I joined campus, I often heard that college life is hard and requires a lot of sacrifice and commitment. That’s why I decided to start my own small business of making and decorating necklaces. I mainly work with pearl necklaces, anklets, and bracelets.

I call my business Street Pearls. I learnt how to make these ornaments at home from YouTube videos. Pearl necklaces are part of my cultural attire. I use traditional beads to make them.

I have been in the industry for about six months now. I started in June last year. When I first began making necklaces, people would tell me, “Bro, you are just wasting your time. I would rather buy a real chain than that traditional necklace.”

In our current era, people don’t appreciate cultural things. I had to work hard and be patient with my work. I did my best to make a positive impact in the society. A friend of mine invited me to a youth seminar that inspired and helped me accept myself and my work. I watched more trending videos to find more examples of how to make my necklaces look unique and charming.

I posted my samples on social media and people admired them. In my free time, I walked on the street to show people my art. It was exhausting at first as I walked long distances with the sun overhead at times. No one was buying anything but I trusted the process. One day I got a message from a thrift shop called YO7 clothing. They offered me a contract to make pearls and bracelets for them. I supplied them with my products and started receiving orders from different clients. This was the breakthrough I needed.

Some of the challenges I face include price increments. Today I can buy beads at Sh100, the next day the price might go up by Sh50. Another challenge is finding different types and materials such as emojis, smiley beads, and pendants. I have to order and wait for three days or more to get them.

By then, I might have lost some customers. Some customers are reluctant to pay after they receive their orders. Sometimes I end up not getting payment for my sales. I don’t get support from anyone, neither do I have a business partner. Sometimes it gets hard because I run out of stock and I don’t have enough funds to restock.

My earnings depend on the sales I make daily. In a good day I can make up to Sh1,000. And on a bad day I can make between Sh150 and Sh300. I thank God for the money I get. I usually save 15 per cent of the money I make for stock, and the rest helps me cover my daily expenses.

I not only work over the holidays but also during school periods because I love what I do and I am passionate about it. I can’t go a single day without making at least 20-30 necklaces. In my area, I am the only one who makes them, so I don’t have any competitors. I keep myself busy and avoid getting involved with drugs, because many young people have lost focus due to idleness.