Is love enough to bridge a money gap?

Siobhan Cassidy | 14 February 2024

Siobhan Cassidy is a financial journalist who has worked at various newspapers in South Africa and the UK. She has also worked in a communications and marketing role in the investment management industry in Cape Town.

Bongani, 28, is a black, Xhosa-speaking financial services professional from the Eastern Cape. His wife, 27-year-old Antoinette, is a white, Afrikaans-speaking lawyer from Pretoria. They are a great example of a Rainbow Nation millennial couple building their own financial reality and dreams as they move around South Africa as digital nomads.

In their first year of marriage, Bongani says, they had to be “very intentional to align our finances, our budget and our goals”. They worked hard on the process again the next year and, by the third year, the wheels were in motion. “We only needed to tweak things here and there.”

Having the financial wheels turning steadily by the third year of marriage is a feat that most young couples would be proud of. Considering how different their life is from their parents’ lives, it is even more impressive.

Antoinette, one of two children, was raised in Waterkloof in Pretoria and remembers “enough money, although not an excess”. There was enough for the children to receive pocket money and she was, she says, a good saver from the start. She kept the money in a piggy bank, a habit that she continued after most people would have outgrown it.

Inflation lesson

In the early days of her relationship with Bongani, she sold her car. He asked her what she had done with the money and she told him it was in a drawer in her desk at home. What followed was the first of many personal finance 101 talks from her future husband.

He explained to her how inflation was eating her money, reducing its buying power by the day. She took his advice “because he wouldn’t let it go”, and put it in the bank. That decision paid off unexpectedly well when the family home burnt to the ground just a few weeks later.

It was a while before Bongani could persuade her to invest her money rather than just leave it in a bank account, where its value would be eroded over time. In her family, Antoinette says, investing had always been “a bit taboo”. The investing stories she heard when she was growing up were about people who ended up losing everything.

Buying a property for the family to live in was considered the only sensible investment to make, and almost an obligation. Antoinette’s mother was a full-time mom and her father a missionary. So, making more money “was never really on the table”.

Before she met Bongani she had been happy to keep her savings in cash or in the bank. Her biggest investment decision was how much to put into her 32-day call account.


Early investment lessons

Bongani, on the other hand, grew up with his mother, a single mum of four, trading stocks in her bedroom in the evening.

She had moved from the Eastern Cape to Cape Town for a better job. The children stayed with their grandparents in the Eastern Cape while she established herself in her job and bought a flat before they joined her. This early lesson in financial planning was to become a key pillar of Bongani’s approach to money.

Despite having no financial support from the children’s father, all four went to Model C schools. Bongani felt that money wasn’t a problem. “She gave us everything, but all spending had to be planned,” he says. “The school couldn’t just say, ‘There is a camp on Friday, bring R600’. It needed to be planned a little in advance, and then she could make it happen.”

It certainly wasn’t all plain sailing, though, especially after his mother was retrenched and had to accept a lower-paid position elsewhere. At that time, 14-year-old Bongani got some weekend work. He helped a friend of the family in the garden, walking the dog and doing other chores. The odd R100 or R150 he earned “went a long way to making sure there was bread and milk at home”.

So money was always tight but, “my mother has always been very wise with her money, from paying school fees in advance to secure a small discount to participating in a few early BEE transactions, where shares were made available to black South Africans at discounted rates”, Bongani says.

Bongani’s mother also educated herself about the markets and buying and selling stocks. “While we were doing homework and watching soapies, my mother was trading stocks.”

Bongani remembers her sitting in front of the computer transfixed by the red and green lines. He asked her what she was doing, and she told him she was trading penny stocks: “You buy a stock for 1c, the price increases to 2c, you sell it”. Wow, he thought, I want to do that.


Goals that adapt with the times

And so his love affair with the investment markets began. In his current role, he helps people to set financial goals and design investment strategies to achieve them.

As he has discovered in his own life, sometimes those goals need to be revisited. “I used to be very focused on that millennial dream of ‘fire’ (financial independence retire early) at 35. But now, with seven years to go, that is looking highly unlikely.”

To retire at 35, he says, he would have had to sacrifice too much. He and Antoinette don’t live too large, but they have really enjoyed their early years of marriage, he adds.

“Financial goals are important, but life (and love) is, too,” he says.

Antoinette agrees, adding that they still have the goal of retiring early, “not to sit on a beach”, but because they have “other plans and goals that a 9-5 doesn’t allow for”.

She is quick to acknowledge that achieving their goals will require more than careful budgeting and saving. Investing is key to their financial plan, including investing in rental and fractional ownership property.


Property investments

Their own property is on hold for now.  “My dad is always asking when we are going to buy a place saying ‘When we were your age …’ but we prefer to move around from one furnished rental place to another, not having the burden of being tied to one place,” Antoinette says.

Both work remotely so the nomadic lifestyle suits them. That might change when a child comes along, but we are enjoying the freedom for now, Bongani says. “Last year, for example, we lived in four different towns.”

As for having a foot on the property ladder, the holy grail of previous generations, the couple has bought a small rental property and are building a fractional ownership property share portfolio.

Antoinette is confident that this sort of investment, which “terrifies” her parents, is much better for them than being “weighed down” by the “potential trap” of a big, beautiful house. But, as this couple knows too well, things always change …