Be more mindful about your money in the new year

Laura du Preez | 19 January 2022

Laura du Preez has been writing about personal finance topics for more than 20 years, including eight years as personal finance editor for two leading media houses. 

Being more mindful – aware of your circumstances and intentional in what you do – can reduce stress.

The same is true when it comes to money.

Taking time out to think whether your spending fits your goals, being honest about where you are and taking responsibility for how your financial decisions affect those closest to you are three ways you can be more mindful about money.

Slower, more mindful thinking can get you out of debt and help you take the first steps to achieving your financial goals, the testimonies of three women who work in financial services show.

Marnita Oppermann’s wake-up call was going into debt counselling – it cut off her credit. However, the accountant, who now also coaches people as the Mindful Money Coach, realised she had to deal with her mindless spending.

She used to do instant gratification, buy anything she wanted immediately. Now she only spends money she has and before every purchase she pauses for long enough to reflect.

“I still need to ask myself, am I spending because I need to? Is it really necessary to buy that item or can I let it go?”

Oppermann adds things to her online cart or leaves them in the shop, while she takes time – months or even a year - to reflect and even plan her purchases.

Sisandile Cikido, head of retail investments at Nedbank, says she was raised by a single mother and grew up with a loathing for the words “we need to tighten our belts”.

When she started earning her own money, a deep desire to spend led to “many silly mistakes”.

Cikido opened clothing store accounts, furniture store accounts, spent on credit cards and even took out a personal loan. After paying for two years on the personal loan, she realised she hadn’t paid off any of the principle debt – she had only serviced the interest. Read more: What does credit cost?

You can wait

“If I had to talk to my 20-year-old self – I would say you can wait for most things. Plan for them – save up and buy on sale,” Cikido says.

She doesn’t believe in being so frugal that you have no fun, but has realised you don’t need to spend wildly to enjoy yourself.

“Lockdown has been a good teacher – you can have fun at home,” she says.

Cikido also realised impulsive spending would lead to a life she didn’t want.

“I saw my mother repaying debt all her life. I have seen working people reach retirement with nothing because they didn’t make plans.”

Cikido’s goal is to reach early retirement with a debt free home and car and with the financial freedom to decide where and how she wants to work. Read more: How much do I need to save for retirement?

Working from home in 2020, enabled her to sell her car. She used the proceeds to kickstart her plans to pay off her short-term debt.

When the short-term debts are done, she plans to use the money she frees up to reduce her longer-term property debt. Read more: What can I do if I have a debt problem?

Goal focussed

Nelisiwe Mbara, a financial planner at Alexander Forbes, says having a child really focussed her mind.

“Getting married and having a child changed my mindset and how I save and invest money. Before I never had a specific goal,” she says.

“Now I have to make my budget work for my husband and my child – to meet household expenses, provide for emergencies and achieve our goals.” 

Empower yourself

Oppermann says you need to empower yourself to change your financial circumstances – you can’t wait for something to happen.

Don’t think you can only start saving when you have more money, she says.

“Six years ago while in debt, I could only find R100 to save and wondered if it would make a difference.

“Today that R100 saving has grown to saving 50% of my income. Even in debt, I had to start saving to change the script – to create a buffer or cushion against things life throws up - and stop using debt,” Oppermann says. Read more: How can I save when there more month than money?

Knowing your spend is key

Budgeting and knowing where your money goes is key.

“As sobering and uncool as budgeting is, you need a clear understanding of what you earn and what it costs to live. Most people do not know,” Cikido says.

Mbara says the pandemic should have created an urgency to manage money better, particularly for those who have had pay cuts or lost jobs.

Even if your income has been stable, the cost of living has increased and interest rate hikes may well up your home, car and debt repayments, Cikido says.

“It is time to stare down your budget – be frugal and naked and not an ostrich with your head in the sand,” Cikido says. Read more: How can I draw up a budget that works for me? and use the Smart About Money Budget Calculator

Be honest

Being mindful and knowing your spend also involves the need to be honest with yourself and those around you. Ask yourself questions like whether you need five different streaming video subscriptions, Cikido says.

If you were raised in a community, you may feel the need to help those around you, but it shouldn’t mean you are too embarrassed to say you can’t afford to help financially right now, Cikido says. You can help in other ways without money, she adds.

And when you are out with friends, be brave enough to decline the caviar and have a burger instead, she says.

Date your money

Oppermann has dates with her money - typically before pay day.

“A day or two days before pay day I plan my month’s spending. When the money comes in I have already given it a job,” she says.

“Otherwise it comes in and before you know it, it has gone,” she says.

Overwhelming mess

Thinking about tackling your finances can be overwhelming. Trying to tackle everything at once is too large a task. Oppermann suggests you choose one area of your money life – debt, budgeting or saving more - to focus on.

Be honest about where you are, where you want to be and the steps you can take to build yourself up, Mbara says. Set a timeline - so your goal is not floating in the wind, she suggests.

Think positive

Changing what you believe and how you interact with money will help you have a positive relationship with money and affirm your ability to manage it well, Mbara says.

Understanding triggers and hurdles can also help, Oppermann says.

Don’t speak about scarcity or being unable to afford things. Make an empowering shift by minding your language - refer instead to the priorities you have for your money, she says.

“Being grateful for what you do have, will also help you feel more empowered rather than feeling like a victim - hurt and stuck in the trap you are in,” she says.

Room for error

At times you may stumble - Cikido admits she has. She bought a sectional title property and mistakenly thought the levy covered her water bill.  A year later she received a R20 000 bill for water.

“It made me feel so despondent – but I realised I had to put my big-girl panties on and recalibrate. My goals are still my goals.”

Mbara admits having easy access to her savings in her bank account caused her to fail on her own goals.

“I created an environment with no easy access. I used a debit order to put money in unit trusts so it would require completing a withdrawal form to get access. Now just thinking about it puts me off accessing that money,” she says.

Cikido agrees you should not trust yourself with money – rather automate your savings because it is too easy to cheat yourself.

Mbara says anything worth having takes patience and hard work.

“If you fail – get up, dust yourself off, reflect on things and start again. Maybe you were not as honest as you should have been.

“But if you are alive, you can still make changes and do things that will be better for you the next day,” she says.