How to turn black tax on its head

As a couple, you can't put your own financial health and monthly budget at risk by spending money you can't afford on family demands. / 123RF
As a couple, you can't put your own financial health and monthly budget at risk by spending money you can't afford on family demands. / 123RF

I am a black working professional woman who's never had to consciously think about "black tax" or the more than usual increase in spending on family over the festive season, until I met my husband.

Now, before you send me to the stake, let me explain.

By the time the apartheid curtain fell, my parents were young graduates with a little bit of experience and a huge commitment to hard work and financial discipline that helped earn them the black utopia of success - a house in the suburbs, two cars and children attending Model C schools.

My siblings and I developed the art of earning what we wanted from airtime to sneakers, as well as planning ahead and budgeting. Special occasions like Christmas and birthdays were hardly ever about parties or spending but opportunities to reflect and set goals.

I had a rude awakening when I met my now-husband 10 years ago, realising that although there is a common thread of shared values, we all have different backgrounds around how we handle money and family.

He is one of the first in his family to hold a university degree, so the pressure to give back has always been there - to show up and pay up at most family events.

The danger with this principle of ubuntu is that it can and has easily and often crossed over to a "black tax", where we find ourselves struggling to make it through January after splurging on the family over the holidays.

Money psychologist Winnie Kunene says about 10% of the people she's helped deal with debt list the financial demands of their in-laws as the source of their money troubles.

Break the cycle

Eventually, after years of pointless fights just before or after Christmas, I adopted a strategy in the hope of creating a healthy money relationship that works for everyone.

The first step was committing to our own financial security governed by a monthly budget. Once our expenses were taken care of, we could then work out a festive season budget that we share. "No one expects you to get this right from the beginning, it's a learning process that takes time," says Twitter user @MaBhusulaGc, whose thread on how to have a stress-free festive season with the in-laws trended back in August.

Once I realised how much power I had to have a real positive impact on my in-laws' financial wellbeing, it became easier to shift from seeing our financial responsibility to the family as a burden but as a responsibility, which means it can never be driven by guilt.

Other tips

Meet the family some of the way by finding out what is needed for a particular event and taking on tasks you can afford before they are assigned. Communicate what you will spend on and stick to it.

Attach positive conditions by demanding positive results. If you're asked to assist with school fees, demand good results at the end of the year.

Attaching positive results to your financial assistance empowers your family to do things for themselves and relieves some of the stress from you.

Avoid the outright NO even if the request is unreasonable and rather discuss the difference between "needs" and "wants".

Incentivise good money decisions. If an aunt that used to drink her pension away is now saving with a stokvel, maybe pay for one instalment. Or if a cousin is doing nails on the side, support her business and do your nails there.

Look for non-financial ways to help like exposing a cousin to opportunities he wouldn't otherwise have had access to or take a niece in matric to university open days.

It may seem like "soft" help, but exposing the younger generation to opportunities is an invaluable lesson that also builds long-term independence instead of temporary gratification.

Remind yourself to never confuse responsibility with guilt by putting your own financial growth at risk this Christmas, Black Friday or Auntie's 50th birthday bash.

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