The Family Financial Crisis: How Kazakh Households are Fighting a Global Slowdown

By Yerbolat Uatkhanov

tenge for econ storyThe devaluation of the national currency, the tenge, hurt many families in Kazakhstan. To deal with the devaluation, many people have overhauled their family budgets, a process now often discussed when family and friends meet over tea or beer. People are full of advice on how to save money, or when and how to get second or side jobs.

All these discussions make me think of two families I know. These two families differ in their consumption habits, despite having approximately equal incomes. The fathers in these two families had the same position in the same company, and, therefore, very similar salaries, but they lived very differently. I always compared them to two small states, where the wives were ministers of finance, spending family/state revenue so differently.

We’re going to delve into the reasons behind these differences, but first, I’d like to let some members of these families speak for themselves.

“I always wondered why my family, where only our father worked, lived better than many others that had two working parents and a higher total income. It was a really fascinating secret for me when I was a child. Many years later, when I had my own family and my own family budget, I learned the secret. To be more exact, I understood that our family never had any secret at all!” said Serik Rakhatov, a 30-year-old information technology expert from Ust-Kamenogorsk.

“Many years passed and my life changed a lot, and only after this did I understand that many people and many families spend their money in very different ways,” he continued.

“I wanted to be financially independent and I also wanted to be good in my personal finances. That is why I read a lot of good books. They helped me. But I was very surprised to know that my mom was even better than me in household economy and investment, despite the fact that she has never read such books,” Rakhatov said.

“Is she a genius? No, but she is very wise. My mom wanted to raise her children and enjoy every day with my sister and me. That is why she didn’t work. My father spent a lot of time at work. He took many business trips, especially in summer time, but all that work didn’t create a lot of money,” he added.

“But my mom was able to spend all the money my dad brought in so wisely that we had almost everything many wealthy families had. Now I have a family, and now I understand how wise she was. It is really amazing,” Rakhatov said.

I want to return to the story about two family-states. These families had different “ministers of finance,” who had equal budgets but used them in different ways.

I know these families well. From watching them, I learned that Family A preferred to cook at home, and eat healthy and delicious meals in their own dining room. The adults in Family B, on the other hand, bought ready-to-eat meals almost daily and spent all their money irrationally, without thinking.

The situation was the same with car repairs and shopping. As a result, the money-saving family was able to have a higher standard of living, and, thanks to some savings and their investments, the family became quite rich. By this I mean that their children learned how to save and invest money and now use the knowledge in their young families as well, creating a network of well-off family groups.

We see absolutely the opposite situation in Family B.

Every penny that was mindlessly spent in Family B was spent to buy high-quality products or use high-quality services in Family A, or was saved and invested in real estate in Family A. What is one penny or one salary? Nothing. But over decades, pennies and salaries add up. These families lived in different ways for years, and their choices enabled one family to pay for good universities for their children and to buy two apartments. Investments in education and real estate helped Family A’s children get good jobs and be able to live in their own apartments. The children are smart and invest their money in Kazakh, Russian and American securities.

Unfortunately, Family B hasn’t been able to pay for university for their children. The children of the family have to pay for rented apartments and their jobs are not so good. This story is simple and obvious, but still seems useful.


Damet Zhakupova, a 53-year-old housewife, saved and spent wisely over the years to help ensure a healthy lifestyle for her family.

Damet Zhakupova, a 53-year-old housewife, is sure that any woman, especially a housewife, can do a lot to save family money and to improve the living standards of her family.

“It is obvious, but a housewife can do a lot. A family is like a company, which needs to be supplied with high-quality foodstuffs, household chemicals, clothes, electronics and spare parts for the car. The father and mother are managers of the procurement department of the company, and if they are wise enough, they buy high-quality goods and services at a low price,” she said.

“After the procurement, the mother can cook delicious, healthy dishes and the father can help her and repair everything at home – and the car as well – rather than paying specialists. This is obvious, but many families don’t do this, because their members are too lazy or don’t want to think,” Zhakupova said.

“I got married when I was 22. My husband was a mechanic. We didn’t have our own apartment and had to live in a dormitory. It was terrible. Our room was so small for our family. We had to raise children in this small room without a bathroom. The bathroom was in a corridor and dozens of families used it. But I had a dream: I wanted my children to have a higher education and I wanted to buy apartments for them. Also, I wanted to live in big luxury house. All my dreams came true. I am happy. But nothing special happened. My husband never earned a lot of money. Instead, I did my best to spend his money correctly and save part of it. I wanted all my family to feel that we live well and have everything we need,” she said.

“I am amazed when I see how young people spend their money for crap and get credit in banks to buy some absolutely not useful, unnecessary things, even while they don’t have a home and a good job,” she added.

“My husband had two or three jobs and I took care of the children. We paid great attention to our children’s education and spent money on it. When my children started to work, they helped us,” Zhakupova said.

Now, young families that were used to an easier life than the ones their parents had as young people have had challenges their parents would recognize thrust upon them. Many may find the examples of their parents newly relevant.

“I am 29 years old and I am a sales manager in a trading company in Almaty. I have a child. The devaluation of the national currency in Kazakhstan is a hit for many families. My husband and I decided to maintain our living standard, so I got a second job. It is not easy, but I work at home while my husband takes care of our son. I am fluent in English, so I can translate texts from English to Russian or vice versa. This second job really helps my family. Of course, I often want to rest more. Sometimes I have to work at night and I don’t sleep well, but this is a good job and I want my family to live at the same standard we did before the devaluation of the Kazakh currency,” Yelena Kurmanalina said.

It is not only big guys in the government figuring out how to deal with the tough times. Every family does.

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