Crowd sourcing your mastery of money

Social media is awesome. Especially for a self-confessed voyeur like myself. I love checking out what folk are up to without the actual hassle of human engagement. All the stalking, with none of the small talk. Win-win really.

It’s also a fascinating window into people’s spending habits. From new sports gear and kick-ass shoes, to the endless parade of pretty coffees, social media tells the truth about where all the money goes.
And as for the hashtags. Lol.

#yolo #worthit #bling #swag #therapy #shoppingspree #need and, of course, my all time fav #girlswillbegirls (oh, sisters, you’ve drunk the kool-aid).

I think it’s time for a new #hashup. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could start humblebragging our money cunning. I can see the tweets now:






Jokes aside, one of the things I’ve absolutely loved about living in the digital age is the always-on access to other people’s smarts. Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and all the myriad others are awash with really cool ways to not only save money, but to really make it work. To think about it differently. To use it as a tool, not be owned by it. It’s also been a real eye-opener about how different people relate to money.

Social gives us access to serious, accelerated learning, or what Chris Anderson, curator at TED, calls Crowd Accelerated Innovation. That is, we can see how other people do things, learn from them and then try them ourselves. Multiplied exponentially by the size of the community of other experts and / or experimenters you’re tapped into.

Anderson references dance and TED talks and the upward spiral of improvement both experienced as people engaged with content online, and then adapted what they watched and learned with ideas of their own.

Personal finance is no different. It’s evident in the explosion of innovation in money-related services (think SnapScan, Kickstarter etc.). And it works on the individual level too. If you seek out interesting, money clever folk online, the learning by osmosis is almost inevitable. And social media gives you the quick in to some of the smartest minds in the industry.

This quickly googled list, for example, offers a range of experts on twitter who deal exclusively with the subject of money, from advice specifically for under 30s to accounts that facilitate chats on personal finance topics like debt reduction and savings. It’s a pretty North American list, but a lot of the links and stories and personal testimonials have application here at home too. Spend some time finding some local voices you respect, and pay attention.

But like all industries, there is good advice, and bad. So here are four thoughts to consider when you go social…

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The only people who get rich quick are lottery winners. And even they bought tickets for years. Every worthwhile success is built on a foundation of some good old graft. Don’t be caught in the next Ponzi or pyramid scheme. A healthy dose of scepticism is vital when sourcing info in the social web.

Look for the themes. You’ll start to get a strong sense of what’s worthwhile as opposed to what’s suspect by looking for key, consistent themes. If everyone is saying you need a budget, then do a damn budget. If everyone is saying don’t leave your spare cash under your mattress, then maybe it’s time to invest. That doesn’t mean that the outlier advice isn’t valuable. Just treat it with a little more care and don’t trust your whole financial stability on a lone voice.

Avoid information overload. There is SO much information out there that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. I’ve often been paralysed into indecision by reading one too many articles on the pros or the cons of a specific action. Usually then, I stop. Leave it a couple of days. And then go with my gut (or the advice of someone I really trust). Getting trapped in the indecision is not awesome. But not doing anything is not really an option either.

Don’t only trust the timeline. Looking to negotiate your salary? Want to invest some money? Want to save for your kids education? Sure, go online and research the heck out of it. Ask those online experts questions. But also, ask your folks, your friends, a financial advisor you trust. The internet can be a wonderful source of information, but as the old saying goes, don’t believe everything you read. Talk to people who’ve been where you are for some real life balance.

Originally written for 22seven

Retirement heebie jeebies

Retirement. Jeez. Just the word is enough to make me want to put my hands over my eyes and rock a little, muttering “No, no, no, no, no, no…”.

But actually, yes.

I’m fortymumble years old. Both my grandmothers lived well into their 90s. One is still trucking. In fact, she’s literally still driving. How’s that for another scary thought. I haven’t got nearly enough bad habits to anticipate I’ll die young(ish) and fabulous. No, I’m going to probably live for a long, looooong time.

Realistically, given our frankly ageist and sexist culture, I’ll be forced out of the working world at some point in my mid-60s. (Can we take a moment to talk about how ridiculous it is that buckets of SA companies STILL have different mandatory retirement ages for men and women – with women having to retire earlier, even though statistically they live longer? What?!)

That means I’ll have to consider potentially funding my life for a further 30 odd years with income I need to make now. Idly chatting to a mate of mine who knows these things, it appears that if I’d like to achieve an inflation-adjusted retirement income of roughly R35k, I need to be putting away R6k a month NOW. In fact, I should have been doing it since I was in my 20s. Which, obviously, I wasn’t. I was buying doc martins on credit in my 20s. I’m not even managing it today, and I’m in the minority amongst my freelance-y peers – I actually have an RA.

Honestly, it makes me want to pull the duvet over my head. You don’t even know what you’re saving for. Dog food a la mode in some dodgy flatlet with a moth-eaten blanket on your arthritic knees, or cruising the med with your boy toy and a penchant for baccarat? I honestly don’t know. Obviously, the latter would be nice, but what are the chances. Will I be riddled with stupid diseases? Will I be mobile? Will I be in relationship, or on my own? Will I need care or not? It’s all too overwhelming for speech.

It scares me witless. Because this is one of those things I just don’t understand. I don’t even really know what an “inflation adjusted income” is. I think I do, if I think hard about it, but I’m not really sure. And don’t even ask me to explain compound interest or tax incentives for retirement or the difference between RAs and other kinds of retirement savings, let alone how the risk portfolios work. And what about all those stories of people who saved, and saved, and saved, only to lose it all in a stock market crash or to the dodgy dealings of a financial advisor? Eeek!

What I do know is that I don’t want my boy child to have to have to take care of me. Or worse, choose my old age home. And I don’t want to have to rely on a state pension or the kindness of aged care non-profits. I want to be one of those old birds who’s full of crazy stories, with pockets filled with sweeties and shelves packed with photographs. Who shocks young ‘uns when she swears or tells them stories about saucy youthful rendezvous. I want to live gently and with love and compassion. I want to enjoy a couple of grandchillens, if they come. And I want to keep my teeth and pay my own way.

So I grit said teeth, and I:

  • Trust the financial advice I’ve received, and act, even though it’s terrifying
  • Squirrel away some cash into the RAs each month.
  • Pay a little more on my bond, in the hopes that I’ll actually pay it off before I retire.
  • Put a little extra away in those RAs when my financial guy tells me to come tax time.
  • Because even if it’s not enough, it’s something.

Originally written by 22seven

What’s the real value of what you value?

I had an economics profession back at University in 19mumblty6. He was a jaded old dude, who used to ask us the most impossible questions about how value works in the world. Questions like whether you should dump nuclear waste in developed or developing countries. Whaaat? Questions with no satisfactory answers and that were like a match to the tinder of our inflamed youthful idealism.

He once asked why a Bles Bridges CD would sell for so much less than a Nirvana CD (that should answer which mumblty decade I avoided in paragraph 1). We all answered pretty much the same: because Bles is kak and Nirvana is rad.

He challenged us again, pointing out that the CDs are made in the same factories, using the same materials and often the same labour. The artists, arguably, put in the same grunt work. And their backup singers and musicians the same.

The difference in price lay solely in the perceived value to the listener.

It was my first lesson in brand economics. That dance all businesses do between what it actually costs to produce their goods or services and what the market – you – is willing to pay.

Marketers work extremely hard at making sure you will pay the maximum for something you perceive to be worth the money.

Think Apple vs Samsung. Woolies vs Pick ‘n Pay. Nike vs Asics.

Think about the number of hours you’ve spent arguing the merits of your brands of choice. This kind of post-rationalising is all about convincing ourselves that our willingness to fork out half our salary on a gadget or a pair of shoes is worth it. Shit, one brand even TELLS you you’re worth it.

Marketers know that most of our purchasing decisions are rooted in one part rational decision making and one part emotional yearning. Even the neuroscience backs it up. Brands that can tap into that emotional wellpoint typically strike gold. If they can make you think you’ll feel happier, more confident, cooler, more streetsmart, more badass, less afraid, they know you’ll come back for more.

Ka’ching. Sith-lord level mind tricks, I tell you. And before you know it, you’ve spent three times what you budgeted for.

So what’s the average human to do? Here are three thoughts…

Do your research
BORING!! I know. But honestly, that’s what Google is for. Google “brand name / reviews” and “brand name / complaints”. Ask your most sensible friend for their opinion (and really listen to their answer). I once changed my opinion on the car I was going to buy because I read the ‘service experience’ reviews on Hello Peter. Enlightening, let me tell you. Even a little bit of research might help you realise that while brand A is amazeballs, brand B is actually just as good (it’s just maybe not going to come with the admiring glances at the water cooler).

Make a want vs need list
So you want to buy that new thing? Why? Now be honest. You might genuinely need it and have all sorts of reasons for needing it, but in your want column make sure you really have a frank conversation with yourself about why you’re angling for brand A. Is it because all the cool kids in your circle have one? Is it because it reminds you of your wild youth? Is it because you think expensive = better? Now I’m not saying that you can’t have your emotional needs met by a purchase if you can afford it. But if money is tight, being savvy to your want buttons can help save a few precious ronts. Also, if there is more in the want column than the need column, then you might want to rethink spending the dosh at all.

Wait a week. Or three. Or 52.
The impulse purchase is the average marketers’ glee point. That’s why supermarkets have the aisle of doom – retailers make more ‘extra’ purchase money off that aisle than anywhere else in the store. You know the old saying “sleep on it”? It’s true. Take your time. Even for little sweet treats, but especially on any item that is going to cost the GNP of a small island country. I once bought an MP3 player before MP3 players were even a thing. It was awesome. It looked like an old Walkman – huge and clunky. And it held 20 CDs worth of music. TWENTY dude! I was sooooo cool for about 3 months. Then the first iPod came out. DOH! Tech is notoriously bad for becoming obsolete quickly, so that’s where your want vs need exercise is going to help you make a purchase you can live with. The more time you can live without the thing you covet, the more time you have to think about whether you really need it.

Of course, all of this is irrelevant if you’re rolling in it. Buy what you want. But if you’re wondering where all your money goes, maybe it’s time to rethink what you value.

Originally written for 22seven

Take the “Ka-ching” out of Christmas

Oh holy baubles. Christmas. That endless frenzy of fattening food and fake festive cheer, all wrapped up in the biggest consumer scam this side of engagement rings.

It’s like a perfect storm of bank balance busting calamity. First, they pay you early. Way too early. Then you spend it all.  And some. And then there is the long, dry, wasteland of salticracks and January.

And a year that kicks off with debt. And 5 extra kgs. Nice.

Every single year I try and do a frugal Christmas. And invariably I fail. Miserably. Why? Because I have a family mass produced by unskilled labour. I have 22 immediate family. Twenty two! Even if I only spend R50 on each of them, that’s R1100 before you even get out the gate. Then you have to factor in the opportunity cost of the countless woman-hours it takes for me to find 22 cool or even vaguely interesting gifts for a measly 50 SA ronds a pop. And the wrapping paper. And the sodding, bloody gift tags.

So, I’m sorry close friends and extended family. I want to buy you gifts. I really do. But unless I win the lotto, a Christmas cuddle is all you’re getting.

No wonder I’m slowly turning into the Grinchiest of Christmas Grinches.

That said, I have, through years of bitter, credit card mashing experience, discovered 7 ways to make it a little more bearable.

  • Embrace the present drawer. My wonderful godmother started this tradition. She has a drawer filled with presents.  Whenever she sees a cool gift or a special, whatever the time of year, she’ll nab it and pop it in the present drawer. Come Christmas, all you do is raid the drawer and half the battle is won. And the cost is spread out over the whole year.
  • Make stuff. Yeah, yeah, I know. Who’s got time?  But one year, when I was seriously broke, I went out to those strawberry farms and bought my body weight in cheap strawberries.  And then I made pots and pots of jam. Little, cute pots of jam.  Which I wrapped in gingham paper with string. I’m telling you, strawberry jam is dead easy to make. And folk were impressed! And the unit price was suitably happy making. It went so well I did it again the next year. The third year I had bucks again so bought presents. Everyone wanted the jam. P.S. One up this and get your kids to make stuff.  Everyone wants a play dough ashtray. And if they don’t, that’s one less person on the list next year, right?! P.P.S. Pinterest is your friend.
  • Shop online. During insufferable meetings, preferably. Don’t tell your boss I said so. All the good retailers have apps or mobile friendly sites. And you save hours and hours of grey-hair inducing mall time. You also tend to make less “just get me out of here” last minute, impulse purchases. Watch out here though, because online is not always cheaper. It’s just easier, and especially easier to trawl for a good deal. And most of the sites will wrap stuff and deliver it for you too!
  • Double deal it. Don’t feel the need to buy two gifts for people who are a couple. Or people who live in the same house. Or sibling children. Your sodding, bloody gift card can spell it out that it’s a gift to share. There. I said it out loud. I’m a double dealer.
  • Make a donation. There are a bagillion people who need your Christmas contribution more than your turducken stuffed family. Choose an amount you would have spent in total, and donate it to a good cause. If you really want to get in the spirit of Christmas, you could “give” each person on your list an hour of your time, donated to a charity of your choice. Feel good and do good.
  • Secret Santa. I see more and more family or friend groups doing this. Cunning! Instead of buying eleventy separate gifts, everyone draws a name out of a hat and buys something for that person. It means you can spend more on the item, but considerably less than if you’d bought for the whole group.
  • Make it about the kids. Agree as a family that only the kids (under 18) get pressies. Get over the needless consumerism and give time-based gifts. 1 x trip to the park, 1 x hour playing monopoly. The kids might roll their eyes a little, but they will love it. Ungrateful little ankle biters.

The bottom line is that Christmas has gotten quite past itself. It’s a glorious, cheerful, happy, holiday time of year. But it’s not worth getting into hock for. Pace yourself, Rudolph.

Originally written for 22seven

Woman, know thy money self

It’s 2017. We’ve got the vote. We can drive cars. We’re allowed to go to university. We can order our own drinks in any bar in the country. And we’re in charge of 70% of buying decisions, according to Forbes. So why on the goddess’s green earth are so many women still wilfully ignorant about their finances?

No, seriously. I know far, far too many intelligent, successful women who have zero financial plan. Who don’t know what they spend and who have no idea how they’re going to fund their children’s education, let alone their own retirement.

Even worse (yes, worse), why are there still women out there who think that “a man” is a financial plan? Insert googly-eyed shocked face.

I mean, I’m not knocking anyone who can get someone else to pay for stuff for them. Look at Amanda Palmer. She’s rocking a whole career run on crowd funding. Go girl.

But really. If your retirement revolves around anything remotely resembling the words “marry a rich oke”, I’m going to need to smack you.

I’m not holding myself up as some paragon of financial virtue. Honestly, I’m not. I also know a ton of women who completely inspire me financially. Who run investment clubs instead of book clubs and who have investment properties and who dabble in the dark arts of the stock market. They understand hedge funds! The only hedge fund I have knowledge of is the money I spend at Starke Ayres.

Shrubbery aside, there is inestimable power and freedom in financial awareness. I think every woman should know where she stands financially. Even if a woman is not contributing financially to her household, she shouldn’t, by default, abdicate her financial knowledge. Know what is insured and how much that insurance costs. Know how much the bond repayments are. Know where all the financial admin is kept and who the family financial advisor is. Know what you and/or your children cost. Women are often utterly scuppered by a divorce or a death, left completely bewildered by the tsunami of financial responsibility that follows.

So, in a world according to me (who I acknowledge, is now sounding like a harpy) what are the 3 basic things every woman should have tucked under her financial belt?

  • A budget – what you think you spend each month, and what you actually spend each month.
  • A plan for her old age – we’re living longer and longer. Current estimations say we’ll need to fund an average of 20 years between when we retire and when we cork it. That’s a long time eating dog food or living on your daughter-in-law’s sufferance.
  • A handle on her debt – how much you owe, where, what the real cost of your loan/s are over the period they are due, and a plan to pay them off quicker.

There is absolutely no reason for a woman of any age not to be financially independent – and I don’t mean earning enough money to keep herself (although that’s always nice). I mean not reliant on someone else for their financial understanding or wilfully head-in-the-sand about her financial situation.

Give up responsibility for the laundry, being on trend, the nuances of foreign policy, by all means, but don’t give up your knowing what you’re worth.

Originally written for 22seven

Losing the house

Possibly one of the singularly sobering moments of my adult life was when I realised I’d rather lose my house than stay in a job I hated.

I’d been with Hell Inc. for about a year.  It was a kind of marketing and communications agency. I was new to the industry.  I worked like a dog.  I had an arm load of clients that I barely had time to service.  And a boss who swanned around in R6000 shoes, barking orders at her minions.

Every day, I cried behind the locked door of the bathroom.  Overwhelmed and inadequate. Huge, heaving, hiccoughing sobs that welled out of me like a tidal wave.  I’d let them come, quickly, hot and full of shame, before splashing cold water on my face and shallow breathing my way into the rest of the day.

It was unmitigated perdition.

I was overworked, under resourced, paid a pittance and glared at if I so much as squeaked.

I’d also just bought a house.  The Crowded House, as it was affectionately known.  Just a postage stamp of a townhouse with barely room to move in.  It was filled with books in plank-and-bricks bookshelves and second hand furniture and low lamps that filled its little rooms with a joyous light.  This house was my first house.  I was so very, very proud of myself. This little warm, cozy refuge that made me feel like a grownup and a good one.

Except it was also a shackle.  With the house came a bond.  And a levy.  And expenses.  And maintenance.  I no longer felt the to-hell-with-it freedom of my earlier years, where a job was just a job and never a means to an end.

So I left the house, worked and wept, and came home again. I drank, probably too much, wine. And I wondered if this was how all grownups felt.  Trapped in a cozy cage.

I lay in bed one night, unable to sleep. Desperate to imagine a way out.  And I remember a feeling of absolute clarity.  I’d rather lose my house than stay in my job.  I’d rather move back in with my parents, go back to waitressing, moonlight and freelance.  Do whatever it took.  I was also privileged enough to be educated and networked.  And I had no children to feed.  I would bounce back.

I quit the next day.  Begged a client to hire me (I was very cheap) and kicked off a decade long journey that completely changed the trajectory of my life. And I even managed to keep the house.

But the clarity of that moment has stayed with me.  I have more responsibilities now, a bigger bond, a child, expenses. .But I’m careful to make sure the work is worth it.  That the balance of what I give and what I get at least makes me content.  And that I never, ever again work for someone who values shoes over humans.

I got them January blues

Aaah, January, you little sneaky bastard. There you are, all full of vim and vigour, promising the shiny hope of a brand New Year. But behind that glossy façade is an ugly truth: you’re just another brutal month, filled with bills and credit card statements.

And February. Well February doesn’t offer much either, particularly for us freelancers. It sits there, all pretty with hearts and Valentines schmaltz, but the only good thing about it, is that it’s mostly 3 bloody days shorter than most months. Except this year. Leap year. Weep. Because why? Because clients phaff about in January. They swan in from holiday, catch up on emails and then finally get around to briefing the years’ work about the third or fourth week of Jan, which means lots of twiddled thumbs and panic for those of us who would love to bill a full month round about now.

These first few months of the year are killer, man. Reeling from Christmas, you’re also belted in the gob by the January sales. And all those annual payments that always seem to fall due round about now.

It doesn’t matter how much I plan for this, it still feels like I stagger around during January in a state of impending doom. I’m convinced no one will ever hire me again and that the carefully horded pennies will be gone before the invoices start rolling out again.

And I remember from my corporate years that it wasn’t much better for the gainfully employed. January is generally just a long, dry wait until bonus time.

No wonder everyone has turned Easter into such a chocolate fest – it’s relief eating!

So how the hell do you survive the post New-Year slump? These are my four, top “get-through-the-first-quarter” tips.

Be grateful you live in the southern hemisphere
The beach, the mountain, braais at mates, swimming pools – these things are (mostly) free. And they keep you out of the malls. Hide the cards and embrace the summer vibe. Just be easy on the aircon – damn, I’m chowing petrol in this heatwave. Tap into your childhood nostalgia and take chip butties, watermelon, bunny-licks or whatever floats your boat (and isn’t expensive) with you. Wear sunscreen. Get wet. It’s good for the soul.

Use the “new year new me” energy to tackle that cupboard, garage, store room. See what you can sell on through sites like Gumtree or your local neighbourhood Facebook re-sell site. Recycle what you can. And give away the rest to a worthy cause. Even pop down to a local car boot sale to flog your tat. Make a few bucks, feel good, make some space. It’s deeply satisfying. And you’d be amazed what you can make on those odds and ends gathering dust in your cupboard. And believe me, those who benefit from what you can’t sell, need it more than you do right now.

Come dine with me
If you and your mates are serial eater-outers, consider eating in for a change. Each take a night to host, and either all contribute one dish or the host is responsible for the meal. Keep it cheap and cheerful. Help each other washing up so that it doesn’t feel onerous. Cackle in the kitchen over reasonable wine and the chopping board. It’s awesome.

Grow something
Much to my grandmother’s eternal shame, I’m rubbish in the garden. But I’m giving it a go. There is something exceptionally glorious about picking your own herbs or your first crop of tomatoes. In fact, we got really fancy the other day. By accident. We accidentally bought brinjal (instead of basil), and planted it anyway. ZOMG! That first glimpse of a little knobble of purple goodness made me actually squee out loud. Now I’m on aubergine watch. CAN.NOT.WAIT. Now I’m not saying it’s going to save you your veggie bill, but I can confidently say that eating your own tomatoes on hot toast will rival any restaurant you can name.

And before you know it, it’ll be March and chocolate time.

Flippancy aside. January is rough. February is marginally better. This year particularly seems full of uncertainty and angst. The above might not save you from the financial peril, but they will make you feel a little more human.

Originally written for 22seven

I don’t want your money, honey

Valentines day. Sjo. What a racket.

If you’re shacked up with the human of your dreams… well… you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I don’t care how many times you tell your significant other “that stuff doesn’t matter to me, baby”, you’re still eyeing that chick in accounting’s epic flower delivery with just a smidge of the green-eyed monster.

And if you do agree to exchange love tokens, the minefield awaits. Pity the fool who buys lingerie that’s too small… or worse, too big. And how do you buy the perfect gift that that’s big enough to get you lucky, but not so big that it signals matrimony?

Even if you’re single, you’re hell bent on showing the world you’re just fine, dammit. Dinner with the girls. A vat of wine. Fancy chocolate for one. Oh, yes please.

I’m being glib. And just a little curmudgeonly. But seriously. Why? Why, why, why do we have to buy stuff to signal that we care about someone? And why, even when we GENUINELY don’t want to get on the hamster-wheel of over-commercialised holidays, do we STILL feel a little left out when there is no heart shaped box of chocolates waiting on a rose-petal covered four-poster bed? Ok, I’m saying we. But I mean me. I’m a sap.

The truth is complicated, I suspect. Made up holidays like Valentines and Mother’s Day are rooted in emotional giving. And in our hyper-commercial world, emotional giving translates to emotional spending. Retailers love this stuff – it’s why they pounced on these kinds of days in the first place – and do everything they can to coax you in to spending lots. “Show her how much you care”, “He only deserves the best” yada yada. They even have whole departments dedicated to special occasions. Little annual calendars of ways to get you to spend your pennies. Just look at how nicely Braai Day is doing for boerie and tjop sales, all the while tugging on those patriotic heart strings. Nice.

The other part is that emotional spending is a whole heap easier than emotional making or doing.

What do I mean? Well, if you buy someone something and they don’t like it, it’s not great, but it’s ok. If you spend time and effort making or doing something for someone, and they don’t like, well that sucks. But really, that’s where vulnerability and connection lie. That’s where the meat of days like these sits. In the thought, the time and effort.
So before you spend cash on your love this Valentines, ask yourself 3 questions:

  • What do they really want from me?
  • How can I really show I care?
  • What will this really cost me?

If the answer to any of the above is time, affection, focus – well then consider a gift that’s woven from those things.

If the answer is money (a.k.a stuff), then I can think of a few more questions you could be asking.
So what are the options, if the usual flowers and chocolate aren’t on the (credit) cards? I could tell you to write poetry or cook dinner in the nude, but we want a happy outcome here. So these are my top 3 ordinary romantic moments you could whip up at home with just a bit of time and effort.

  • Plan a picnic in the living room – a couple of candles and some pillows on the floor will romance the hell out of everyday spaghetti bolognaise
  • Set up the DVD player in the garden – watch Game of Thrones under the stars. Even George RR Martin seems like a soft touch when there is starlight involved.
  • Set up the tablet on the dashboard in the car – like a drive-in, only in your driveway. Don’t laugh.

Valentine’s Day and the back seats of cars have a long history together. Just saying.

Not that you have to do any of that. I’m not saying you shouldn’t spoil the object of your affection. I’m just questioning if you really need to prove your devotion in hard SA ronts.

Originally written for 22seven. 

Springbok genes

I am the black sheep of the maternal side of my family.  This bastion of South Africanness is tanned and lithe and sporty.  They braai with élan.  They know the difference between a ruck and a maul.  And they gather, like migratory birds, with reverence, at any sign of a sports game.

At the epicentre of my clan’s mythology sits my grandfather.  Sports savant. Double springbok.  Cricket and rugby. Turned down Wimbledon when it was still an invitational.  Liked a bit of soccer on the side.  You know.  And a gentleman’s player.  The last of the good sportsmen who played purely for the love of the game.

The family, understandably, now looks for the “springbok gene” in each successive generation.  The cousin who’s promising career was curtailed by an injury.  The gymnastics colours still praised by aunts around the dinner table.  The gleeful report that it looks like little Ricky might be bloody good at cricket (fingers crossed guys!).

And then there is me.  Bookish.  Using words like élan.  Horrible confused by googlies and half nelsons.  Completely unable to throw anything, let alone catch it.  Slightly alarmed at all those men putting their heads under each other’s bums. Who ARE these people?

I think my mum fervently hoped I’d find something I liked.  Hockey, maybe.  Netball?  Tennis set?  Some nice team sport where I could learn all kinds of valuable lessons about sportsmanship and teamwork and making sure you weren’t caught when you smashed Betty from Form B’s shins with your stokkie.

But no.  I was partial to swimming, if it wasn’t too cold.  Or I didn’t have to compete.  Or I could pretend to be a dolphin.  And horse riding.  But my German instructor was waaaaaaay too shouty.  And the fancy dressage lessons too complicated.  Actually, I just preferred to read.  And read, and read, and read.

I had made an uneasy peace with being this odd creature just left of my family’s centre.  I am sought out as a key member of any Trivial Pursuit game.  There is a common refrain of “ask Kate” if anyone needs some arcane quote referenced or a limerick written for a birthday speech. I’m now mostly off the hook for not being able to name the starting line-up of any upcoming fixture.  And I genuinely thought that was it. I’d escaped muddy fields and dawn warm ups for a nice passing knowledge that the chaps in white play cricket, while the odd shaped ball belongs to those rugby ones.

But, again, no.  The universe, with its infinite sense of humour, has seen fit to send me what appears to be a dextrous child.  Offspring with actual, proper hand eye coordination.  And the aunties are already circling, eyeing him up.  Speculating on his chubby, toddler thighs and whether they signal hooker or prop. And I wail…nooooo, away harpies.  I will none of it.  But the visions of early morning practice and endless mounds of smelly sports kit rise up and mock me with a chorus of “springbok genes, springbok genes”. And I wonder if anyone will notice if I bring my book to the pitch.

“I can’t help you if you don’t know what you spend.”

There I was, in my 30s. All full of vim and vigour. All ready to take my financial life in hand. You know, as an independent woman and all. I thought I should start to, um, invest and stuff.

I’d done the research. I’d found a respected independent financial advisor. I’d made the appointment. I was ready to be responsible. I was ready to have a “savings plan doodad” and a “retirement annuity thingiemebob” and an “investment portfolio whatsit”. I was ready to be impressively organised.

We sat down. I happily warbled on about how I had no debt. How I didn’t have any store cards. See, clever old me. Already half way there to being a financial genius.

He seemed unimpressed.

“Let me see your budget,” he said.

Um. Ja. About that. Who’s got time for budgets, man. I just want to know what I should be doing.

He raised a stern eyebrow at me and uttered some pretty heavy shit.

“I can’t help you if you don’t know what you spend.”

And then he sent me home!

I was smacked of gob. Surely this man was supposed to be selling me policies and planning my retirement fund?

Nope. He was giving me homework. I had to track my spending for 3 months before I was allowed to come back. Every cent, cash, credit card or otherwise, had to be entered into a little spreadsheet.

So I did. And it was the single most powerful financial exercise I’ve ever undertaken.

It was revealing and horrifying in equal measure. Not in a Kardashian kinda way. But more in that oh, god, do I REALLY spend that much on takeaways every month kinda way. All my unconscious spending right there in excel black and white. Every quick lunch, every ad hoc moment of retail therapy, every ridiculous kitchen gadget bought without thought. All adding up to some serious loola.

It gave me a hard, honest, unrelenting look at financial me. It was not a pretty sight. But it did open the door for a far more frank conversation about what I wanted to be spending my hard won dosh on. And what it was all going to mean for my ability to afford a bond, or buy a car or have a baby.

The added bonus? When the car finance or bond people give you an “income and expenditure form” – you can fill it in quick sticks. Or when your mate asks you if you know what you spend on average on groceries – hell yes, to the cent. Or when the school you have your eye on wants to do a budget check – no problemo. Makes me feel like SUCH a grown up!

I still do it, every single month (and it’s a bagillion times easier now that 22seven has been invented – go guys!). I’m still regularly horrified (I really should buy shares in Woolies. Or that little sushi place on Trill Street in Obs). But a decade on, I feel like that goal to be a little more financially responsible is on track. And at this rate, I’ll even be able to afford my little dude’s school fees. Winning!

Originally written for 22seven

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