Financial freedom: an elusive goal for many women

To get into a habit of saving you just need to spend less money than you earn.
To get into a habit of saving you just need to spend less money than you earn.
Image: 123RF

South African women have reason to be angry. Many of us live in fear for our lives and the lives of our children.

"Woman shot dead by her VIP guard boyfriend"; "Dad hacks his three kids to death: man accused his wife of cheating"; "The tragic life of Khwezi relived" - all headlines in Monday's Sowetan. A day in the life of South African women.

So, when Women's Month rolls around, you can be forgiven for being less than impressed when companies use it to try to flog their products and services. Every year the financial services sector reminds us that women earn less than their male counterparts, live longer than men, and therefore need to save more than men; and that 46% of SA mothers consider themselves single mothers.

These messages highlight our vulnerability, but do they inspire us to invest or cover our risks? I doubt it.

Investing and insuring your life or your income are lofty goals when you don't know how to work with money. I know from experience. I didn't learn financial literacy in the home.

Today, my parents are financially dependent on my siblings and I, and while we support them, joyfully, all of us are also supporting children of our own - a reality for one-third of urban, working South Africans.

How are we to get ahead when we have so many dependents draining our finances?

When I was 30, I landed a job with a publication dedicated to teaching readers about personal finances. I was about to slide into a debt trap. I had three clothing accounts, an overdraft and a credit card. I thought I was so clever. But I had no idea what my debts were costing me in interest and fees each month, and nor did I realise that I was living a lifestyle I couldn't afford.

I soon got the message and closed my clothing accounts, paid off my overdraft and eventually asked the bank to close the overdraft facility.

It took me more than a year and a great deal of determination, but I had realised that credit was holding me back. Whatever you pay in interest you could have put to work for you - earning interest.

Eunice Sibiya, an independent financial coach, says: "We get so entrenched in our habits. If you've been working for two years, you've received 24 pay cheques."

And you may already have formed bad money habits. Each pay cheque is an opportunity to squander or save. It requires a mind shift for some to realise that saving is the ultimate reward. "Time is one of your best friends when you're investing," says Anelisa Mti, a financial planner at Citadel.

And inflation is one of your biggest enemies. "For this reason, you need to invest for a return of more than inflation. When you invest in the market [in shares through a unit trust fund, for example], it will give you above-inflation returns over time."

We tend to think we have so much time. But it's sobering to work out how many pay cheques you are away from retirement. Make a plan now to use each of them to save.

Wherever you are on your journey, take heart. You can change when you're committed to changing. Bad habits can be replaced with good ones. And you don't have to go it alone.

Mimicking the habits of people who are good at managing their money helped me. So did finding an independent financial planner who aims to help me reach my goals and not to sell me products.

I might not be where I want to be financially, but I'm better off than I was a year ago, and that's something for me to celebrate, on Women's Day and any other day.

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