Getting a head start doesn’t make you a saver, says financial education expert

Saving in a notice savings account is not the same as investing

Being a disciplined saver is a habit that has taken Dhashni Naidoo years to develop, but one that the manager of consumer education at FNB says has made her resilient. 

Dhashni Naidoo, manager of consumer education at First National Bank. Picture: SUPPLIED
Dhashni Naidoo, manager of consumer education at First National Bank. Picture: SUPPLIED

Being a disciplined saver has saved Dhashni Naidoo in difficult financial times like these. It’s a habit that has taken her years to develop, but one that the manager of consumer education at First National Bank says has made her resilient. 

Naidoo is responsible for implementing FNB’s consumer financial education strategy, which aims to provide financial education to vulnerable consumers.

The job is a natural fit for someone who has spent most of her career in the financial services sector, having worked for two of the country’s major banks. 

She has also worked for an international NGO that supports countries to improve levels of financial inclusion. 

Speaking to Money about how she manages her finances, Naidoo gives her late father credit for her savings habit. He took out a retirement annuity for her on her 16th birthday and paid the contributions until she started her first job. 

“From an early age, he taught us the importance of saving and planning for the future. He understood the importance of starting early. He didn’t have the same opportunities as my siblings and I, and so it was important for him to ensure we were striving for financial stability and independence,” she says. 

But being given such a head start doesn’t make you a saver. Naidoo admits that when she started her first job, she made the mistake of buying clothes on credit. 

“At the end of my first year of working, I didn’t have any savings and was living from salary to salary. I was living in the moment. Thankfully I realised my mistake and set about making changes. It took more than a year before I was able to be debt free and start saving.”

While saving is a great discipline, it’s not the same as investing and Naidoo counts her worst investment as a notice savings account. 

She was diligent about putting money in it monthly and would even transfer a big portion of any bonuses into this account. “But I didn’t think about other options. I didn’t understand saving and investment products or realise I could have earned a better return had I used a different product. 

“I also didn’t have the confidence to engage my bank about this. Due to lack of knowledge and confidence, I was not able to make a more informed decision about how best to grow my money.  Since then, I make sure I understand the different products and services available and I’m not afraid to ask questions,” she says.

Naidoo also admits to, on one occasion, cashing in her pension savings when moving jobs. “I will never repeat that mistake again! I’ve [since] had a few different jobs and each time, I transfer my pension savings to the new employer’s fund or a preservation fund.”

She says she is cautious with money and uses it carefully.  “I’m also conscious of the fact that I’m fortunate and have opportunities that others don’t. For this reason, it’s also important for me to do what I can to create opportunities for others. So, there is also a sense of responsibility that comes with having money,” she says.

If Naidoo has one indulgence, she says it’s travel. “I love travelling – discovering the world and its diverse people and cultures. I often joke that I work so that I can travel.  

“Part of my monthly savings is used for travel. This is something I’m passionate about. I don’t use credit to travel and I don’t spend on cars, or clothes or shoes. I would much rather create an experience through travel,” she says.

As a parent, Naidoo says there are two lessons she wants her daughter to learn about money. “She needs to understand that money is earned through hard work and that she won’t be able to access it just by asking. As she gets older, she will start to earn pocket money through various chores and responsibilities. And, I hope to be able to instil in her a sense of discipline about money – how we save and spend – through open conversations about money and by exposing her to the world of finance.”

When asked what South Africans struggle with the most when it comes to managing their money, Naidoo says financial literacy and the ability to manage money is a life skill. 

“Many South Africans don’t have the benefit of having early exposure to financial concepts, money and products and services. This impacts our decision-making as adults. We also lack the confidence to engage with these matters. If we can overcome these challenges, it will ensure more South Africans are financially capable to make more informed decisions about money.”