Nelisiwe Tshabalala: Don’t become a slave to debt

Nelisiwe Tshabala is currently the digital editor of Financial Mail. She's an experienced Social Media Manager with a demonstrated history of working in the marketing and advertising industry. Nelisiwe is passionate about entrepreneurship and she's the founder of  SlayNationSA, empowering young leaders to be better versions of themselves. She's an advocate for financial literacy. She loves beautiful, sophisticated fashion, good food and she's a total beach baby. In her spare time she enjoys reading, writing and going to the movies alone. In this interview she shares her money habits with us.

In this economic climate, have you downsized your lifestyle at all?

Not at all. I have always been very prudent with my finances and aware of everything I spend money on. The current economic climate has made me more so.

What do you now know now about personal finance which you wish you knew when you started working?

I started saving and investing when I starting working, but the one thing I would’ve maybe done differently is to invest in some more aggressive funds, which have higher returns, because I didn’t have as much to lose back then.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned through having the means to afford your lifestyle?

The importance of saving for a rainy day and not being a slave to debt. Also that you must pay yourself first (through investments) and then use what’s left, not the other way around.

How did your childhood influence your attitude towards money?

I was raised to be independent and we never received an allowance. If you needed money, you would have to justify why you needed it and you had to earn it somehow. It made me value hard work and earning your keep. No one owes you anything and there’s no such thing as a free lunch. My parents also bought things cash and we lived a comfortable but simple life. They would rather save for a long period, sacrifice certain things and buy them cash than live in debt. They paid their house off in 12 years! I’m also like that. I paid my car off in 2 years and I was able to buy my first property when I turned 26. I’m not into name brands and I can stretch a rand. I’m able to enjoy my money because I’m not afraid to stay in my lane. I don't not keep up with the Joneses which is exactly how my parents were and still are.

Do you think social media fuels the cycle of consumerism and skews what financial success looks like?

Yes absolutely! People buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have to impress people they don’t even know and like. Also, comparison is killing us. Instead of focusing on their own journey, people try so hard to save face even when they are drowning in debt. It doesn’t help that we live in a society which measures your success based on what material possessions you have accumulated.

What does financial success look like to you?

Being debt free. Owning property that is paid off. Being able to cloth and feed myself. Being adequately insured and financially independent.

How do you define financial independence?

Not having to depend on someone else to take care of me financially. Knowing that I have a good savings cushion for a rainy day, having investments in various investment vehicles, having a retirement fund and good medical cover and not being a slave to debt. By being financially savvy you’re also able to enjoy your money and not live hand to mouth.

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Nowadays, what do you value spending your money on?

Property, property, property. I’m also really into investing. I just love watching my money grow over the years. But my guilty pleasures are beautiful clothes and shoes, which I make sure I buy cash and not on account or credit! If not, I’d rather leave it. Travel is also something I don’t mind spending money on – the return on investment is priceless!

Have you ever been broke and how did you did deal with that period of your life?

To be honest broke to me means going below a certain threshold in my bank balance. I’ve always had savings, even as a student (from working part-time). I’m terrified of the idea of not having something to fall back on because I never want to be a burden on anyone. So when times are good and the money is flowing in I save aggressively. Then when emergencies crop up I have something to fall back on.

How do you still have fun and live life without over spending?

I know my limits and I’m able look at the value of something, whether it’s a beautiful dress, experience or holiday. If it’s worth the money then I don’t mind paying for it. But I’m not going to pay R2000 for a basic dress just because it’s an exclusive label. But if it’s a well-made, durable and unique dress then I don’t mind. I spoil myself often because I’ve been able to be very disciplined over the years.

Do you have a budget? Why? Why not?

Yes I do, it just helps me keep taps on my spending. I need to know what goes out and what goes in. I also check my financial statements every month.

How do you let go and move forward from the mistakes you make with money sometimes?

Once money is spent, it's spent and there’s nothing you can do about it. I just take the lesson and try not to repeat it next time.

If you have the choice between buying a home or investing in shares, which would you choose and why?

Well I actually do both. So I don’t think you have to do one or the other. There’s value in owning your own property and there’s also great value in investing in shares.

Do you have a financial adviser or do you prefer to do it yourself? Why?

Yes I do have a financial adviser. It just helps because they know all the technicalities of financial planning and I can seek out his advice as and when I need it.

Besides your full time job, are the other ways you make extra money?

Yes, freelancing from time to time for other publications.

Do you have rules for lending money to friends or family?

Yes, I generally do not loan money unless someone is in a very tight spot. Once you do it too regularly you become the go-to person and people assume that you always have money even when you don’t. And I hate having to ask when I’m getting my money back so I usually trust that they will pay me back when they are able to.

What are your top 3 financial tips / hacks that you’d like to share with our readers?
  1. Live below your means, it gives you plenty of room to manoeuvre when things crop up. 
  2. Cut out ALL unnecessary debt. Don’t become a slave to debt. If you pay off your car, don’t rush off to ‘upgrade’ to a newer, more expensive one. Rather channel that money into other things. 
  3. Save, save, save and invest, invest, invest! Create debit orders, this will force you to be disciplined. And make sure these debit orders go off a day or so after pay day, it will stop the temptation to spend.
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