Personal finance editor Maya Fisher-French at the 2019 Money Makeover finale which took place at the Munro Boutique Hotel in Houghton, Johannesburg. Picture: Mpumelelo Buthelezi
The Money Makeover boot camp has come to an end. Although we had one casualty when our only male contestant, Bafo, exited the competition, the remaining five contestants have passed with flying colours. In just six months, they have settled short-term debt, built up emergency funds, created a financial plan and started on their savings goals. None of them achieved this because of a higher salary or winning the Lotto – they simply had a plan in place and stuck to it. They are proof that the power to change your financial circumstances lies within you and that you do not have to wait for some ‘miracle’ to achieve financial freedom.
In this final edition of Money Makeover, we recap our contestants’ journeys and hope that they inspire you to work towards your own financial freedom.
Samke, 2019 Absa/City Press Money Makeover winner.
The Goal: To be free of debt by 30 and to buy a car.
When Samke started the competition last year, she was 26 years old. As with many young South Africans, Samke is responsible for supporting her parents, as well as a young girl they have adopted.
Trying to juggle these needs with the youthful desire of living the “dream lifestyle”, Samke found herself taking on consumption debt.
“All those loan offers made me think I could afford the ‘new’ lifestyle I was living as I had been a student and money to me was a dream,” she said.
Samke entered the competition as she had just started a new job with a higher salary and wanted the opportunity to start making better financial decisions. She also wanted to buy a car.
She worked with Absa financial adviser Steve Williamson, who helped her draw up a proper budget and form a repayment plan.
Samke experienced a financial, physical and emotional transition. Within six months, she settled her short-term debt and built up an emergency fund. Her goal of being debt-free by 30 was fast-tracked to being debt-free at 27.
Samke also experienced a significant personal shift: “I am no longer depressed, and I am much happier and more open. Two weeks ago, my partner said: ‘There is something different about you; you are so alive and happy.’ That is how I feel every day. I now go to the gym and I have changed my look completely.”
Samke also laid down boundaries for her family commitments. She set an amount in her budget to support her family and learnt to say “no” to additional financial requests. She also reviewed the amount she was giving to her church. As someone who believes in giving, she came to realise that the only sustainable way to give is to make sure your own finances are stable – you cannot give to charity using your credit card. Because of her more robust budget, she was able to manage a financial setback without tapping into credit or her savings when her mother unexpectedly needed to be hospitalised.
In her financial journey, she calculated exactly how much a car would cost her each month and realised she was not yet ready to buy a new car. She is actively saving towards a deposit to reduce the monthly instalments.
Samke proved herself to be a Money Makeover ambassador by using the platform to educate her peers. Every Sunday, she bought copies of City Press and circulated them among friends. She engaged her friends on her WhatsApp group to share their money stories. She has been mentoring three colleagues who shared her Money Makeover journey.
>>Paid off four loans worth R26 000 – nearly double her salary;
>>Built up an emergency fund of R15 000;
>>Improved her credit score from average to favourable; and
>>Managed emergencies with her salary.
Selected because …
We selected Samke as she represented the average 20-something-year-old who had made the usual financial mistakes during their first job. Her story was an opportunity to show that the mistakes you make in your twenties don’t have to compound into your thirties – but only if you are prepared to take action now.
Amanda, runner-up of the 2019 Absa/City Press Money Makeover
The Goal: To make her paycheque last to the end of the month.
Amanda is in her late forties and lives in Paarl with her three children. A year before the competition, her husband died unexpectedly, leaving the family with no financial support or life policies.
Overnight, Amanda, an accountant, became the only breadwinner, providing for her children with her salary. Amanda needed to find a way to keep her family as stable as possible while staying afloat financially.
“I entered the competition to achieve financial freedom and the knowledge that this family of four is going to make it,” she said.
Her financial adviser Leola Visser had a tough task as Amanda had stretched her salary as far as possible. Yet, by assessing many of Amanda’s fixed costs, they were able to find that extra money, not only to reach month-end, but also to start creating a buffer fund for the family.
By downsizing her car and reviewing other expenses, Amanda found R2 500 extra each month. She used this to finally pay off her credit card and to build up some emergency savings. Amanda also shifted her focus and unsubscribed from “spending” newsletters, such as Takealot, Superbalist and Zando because she “didn’t want to be distracted by the so-called ‘deals’ and ‘specials’”.
Instead, she signed up for newsletters on money matters to educate herself and provide motivation. This inspired her to start her own DIY arts-and-craft blog, Wing It.
“The emphasis of this blog is that you don’t need much to be creative. Look at what is lying around in your home already and use that to make something. I believe that the sponsored posts and ads will eventually become part of the blog, but, for now, the emphasis is on creating content and growing organically.”
Amanda reviewed her life cover and estate planning to ensure that her children would be provided for should something happen to her.
>>Found R2 500 in her stretched budget;
>>Downsized her car;
>>Started to pay her credit card in full each month;
>>Built up an emergency fund; and
>>Did a full review of her estate planning.
Selected because …
Amanda’s story is a reality for many women who believe that their partner’s finances are in order but suddenly find they’re not. It provided readers with a lesson about how important it is to have those money conversations before it is too late. We also thought that Amanda’s journey would give hope and inspire women in a similar situation.
The Goal: To settle debt and put retirement back on track.
Thuli works for a nongovernmental organisation and was transferred from Cape Town to Pretoria three years ago. Despite both her and her husband earning relatively good salaries, she had acquired a lot of debt. She had investment properties that were supposed to provide additional income for retirement savings, but the rental income was instead used to help cover the bills. One of the financial challenges was that her husband had been unable to transfer to Pretoria and was still living in Cape Town with one of the couple’s four children.
“There is nothing I can really say I have achieved financially after 30 years of working. I would like to change this and be a mistress of my financial destiny,” she said.
Her Absa financial adviser Riette Visser worked with Thuli to separate her property income from her personal income and to set the goal of turning property into a retirement asset. This required Thuli to stick to a budget so that she and her husband could live on their salaries alone.
Thuli separated rental income from her salary income by opening a second cheque account for her rental income. Once she understood the true costs of her properties, Thuli realised she would have to sell one property.
Thuli and her husband drew up their first household budget together. “Previously, he was doing his own thing and I was doing mine. He was looking after the bond and I was responsible for everything else. This put me under a lot of stress emotionally and financially. We now work as a team.”
Thuli and her husband realised they could not continue to fund their children’s tertiary education with credit card debt. As they had no savings and were not prepared to tap into their retirement money, they agreed with their two younger children that they would take out student loans.
“I will help them with the interest on the loan, while they will take responsibility when they have completed their studies.”
>>Created proper accounting for her properties;
>>Built up an emergency fund;
>>Reviewed their risk cover and wills to provide for the children;
>>Increased her contribution to her retirement; and
>>Survived two vehicle accidents and a funeral without tapping into credit.
Selected because …
We selected Thuli as she is a high-income earner who still struggles with debt. This illustrates that your financial health is not determined by what you earn, but by how you spend your money. The need for her and her husband to talk about their finances and work together as team was a great example for other couples who might have been avoiding those financial discussions. We also felt her story about her property investments would provide readers interested in property with relevant information.
The Goal: To manage her finances better as a self-employed person.
Tamsin is a freelancer based in Cape Town and a mother to two girls. Although married, she and her husband have separate homes as they both have children from previous marriages. Tamsin’s challenge as a freelancer in the film industry was irregular lump-sum payments rather than a regular salary. She was also looking to build her web design business to provide a more regular income.
“The film industry has, for most of my career, dropped large and intermittent sums of money into my bank account, giving me the illusion of wealth and success. Although I have known this all along, and managed to ignore this, I live well above my means. If I wish to be truly wealthy and financially independent, I need to do everything I can to focus my energy on achieving this goal,” she said.
Her financial adviser, Leighanne Decker, worked with her to separate her business income from her personal income so that Tamsin could calculate how much she was spending each month and how much she actually needed to live on.
Tamsin has three streams of income, including turning a portion of her home into an Airbnb. She worked to separate the accounts and built up a contingency fund of five months’ salary. This allowed her to pay herself a monthly salary for the first time rather than draw from the businesses as and when she needed cash.
This was achieved despite a very heavy workload during the peak film industry season. She also revamped her web design business with the help of Absa business adviser Elton Govender.
“I began to see that, to be successful, really successful, takes hard work and dedication and it is not for the faint-hearted. Elton was quick to pick up many weaknesses and potential strengths in my web business, which is where we decided to focus our attention. In the gaps between everything else, I entirely rebuilt my website.”
>>Created a five-month salary fund;
>>Paid off R15 000 of debt;
>>Separated business and personal accounts, and worked hard at her web design business;
>>Stopped being an impulsive spender and stuck to a strict budget; and
>>Reviewed her risk cover, which is especially important when you cannot rely on a monthly salary from an employer.
Selected because …
Tamsin represents the growing self-employed sector. This often means managing multiple and variable incomes, which makes managing your finances even more challenging. We felt that Tamsin’s journey would provide readers with a better understanding of how to manage their finances when they work for themselves.
The Goal: Take control of property debt.
Nkosi is in her early forties and works for the environmental affairs department in Pretoria. She is not married, but has a 25-year-old son and is guardian to her late sister’s 18-year-old. When she started the competition, neither child was studying or working.
Nkosi had taken on a lot of debt, partly due to her lifestyle, but also to build up a property portfolio. Her five properties were pushing her to the edge financially and she needed to take stock about whether the properties were working for her. She also had to shift her mind-set to consolidate the properties she had before buying more.
“My aim was to settle all my debts and be financially free so I could start my own property investment business. I needed to find a solution for my son’s financial dependency,” she said.
Nkosi worked with Absa financial adviser Funi Nemanashi, who helped her understand her financial position regarding the properties, and to create a budget so that Nkosi could find the extra money to settle her short-term debt.
By sticking to a budget, Nkosi went from not having a spare cent at the end of the month to having R8 000 she could use to settle debt and boost her savings.
Nkosi made the decision not to spend money on a property course and to forgo buying another property.
“I didn’t have a cent to put towards an offer. Through that mist of confusion, this competition came in – suddenly my mind was changed and I decided not to buy another house.”
She spoke to her son and set boundaries on the extent to which she was prepared to help him.
“There comes a time when the parent has to draw a line between a child and an adult. That is the point I’ve reached. I had to draw a line for my son. He is now an adult and needs to stand on his own feet to start planning for his future.”
>>Settled R30 000 in credit card debt;
>>Built up an emergency fund;
>>Started an investment fund; and
>>Calculated her retirement needs.
Selected because …
We selected Nkosi as she represented many property investors who get caught up in the next property “deal” without consolidating their finances. Her journey with her adult son was also one that many parents struggle with – at what point have you as a parent done enough?