Seline van der Wat: I really wish I had started investing early

by - May 30, 2016

Seline van der Wat is a qualified industrial engineer but resigned from her job to pursue her passion in cooking by entering the second season of MasterChef South Africa. Since Masterchef, Seline has started a company, Esbyseline, which specialises in food experiences, private dinners, pop-up restaurants and wedding cakes. She has also written a book with her sister, Leandri. She speaks to us about the impact of the rand on her finances and the to find out more about her money habits. 

Are you feeling the impact of the rand? How?

I travel a LOT and I constantly put money away for travelling purposes, and obviously following the fall of the rand and incidents like the Nene-gate, my money is quite simply put – worth less. Every single cent I’ve earned in my life now has less buying power in the world and that seems so unfair. In addition, my compulsory pension fund at work is currently earning MINUS 4 % because it’s growth and value is tied to the rand’s buying power. Silly, I know.

How did your childhood influence your attitude towards money?

Although my parents always did their best, we didn’t grow up with much! I remember shopping with my mother in our local strip mall and having to run between Pick n Pay and Shoprite to tell her which store is selling which item cheaper. My parents taught me the value of hard work, and that money doesn’t grow on trees. At the same time, they managed to balance that out with not being “ruled” by money, which I think is super valuable. My dad’s company (which he started when I was 1, working it from the ground up), really started doing well when we were in high school, allowing my parents to travel and spoil themselves. That taught me the value of investing wisely and using the profits of that to see the world and bless those around you.

Are you good with money or irresponsible?

I’m super prudent. I spend my money wisely and I can’t stand being wasteful with it. I pay the people that work for me well (at least 50% more than the going rate) because I believe that loyalty breeds loyalty and that loyalty creates a safe space in which someone can grow and improve. That being said, I don’t waste money on flashy cars, jewelry or clothes. I love buying my clothes on sale (yes, I’m THAT girl) and I’m dead happy driving my Volkswagen. I guess I didn’t grow up in an environment where money or fancy items determine your worth, so now I don’t live like that. At the same time I’d rather spend money on great wine, good food and travelling than on myself and worldly goods. People can take possessions away, but they cannot steal memories or experiences.

How do you define financial independence?

Personally, this would be me having a plan that would protect me until the day I die, without needing to rely on anybody else’s money (or name!). I believe I’m like 80% there and my aim is to have all of this sorted in the next 18 months. Then, anything my family or my husband does above  my plan is great, like a bonus, but I know that I’ve been a good steward of that which was given to me. And I’ve made it grow.

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

I’d invest the capital in shares and use the interest of it to pay of the bond on my property. (this obviously depends on how much capital you have and how big you want your house to be!) But I think the logic behind it is sound – use the gains to pay off the property and then 20 years down the line, you’ll still have the capital amount (regardless of whether you’ve saved elsewhere). In that way you have liquid capital if you need it, instead of your value sitting in an asset (the house) which is very much not liquid.

Have you ever been broke and how did you bounce back? 

I’ve never been broke, per se, but obviously straight out of University when I started my first job I didn’t have anything in my bank account. I kept my head down, and strictly saved as much as 50% of my after tax salary per month to start building up a reserve. That kept me afloat even after I started my own company. We had a tough year at my company last year, with the economic downturn and all, but we managed to survive by dipping into our reserves a little and just making lean, clean decisions about projects.

What's been your best and your worst decision about money? 

Ah man I really wish I had started investing early. I feel so far behind and get really mad at myself when I think about how much extra I could have made and saved. Really. It’s NEVER too early to open a good savings and investment account. You don’t have to put a million rand in there – start with what you can! Oh and obviously try to choose funds that aren’t tied to the rand!

How do you encourage yourself to think about your financial future without feeling overwhelmed? 

Honestly I struggle with this. As a woman, I feel like I deeply desire security and unfortunately I think that this is largely tied to money. Knowing that you’ll always have a roof over your head, knowing you have good medical cover; knowing that you can survive retirement without leeching off others. These things keep me up at night. But my husband has a really good calming effect on me and I’m slowly learning to just be diligent, work hard and make good decisions, but to not let fear or money rule my life. It’s a beautiful place to be, even though I still frequent crazy-money-lady town every now and then.

What’s your biggest personal indulgence? 

Wine. I can’t help it, it’s just so beautiful! Good wine turns any situation into a great indulgent one, even if you’re on the floor of your new, unfurnished house. It’s kind of a reminder I give myself to enjoy life too and to use the money I’ve earned to indulge a little. That being said I know great wine suppliers and I’d never pay R300 for a bottle of wine in a restaurant when I know if costs R80 from the farm!. But my biggest indulgence? Travel!

What are your rules for lending money to friends or family?

My advice is pretty much “don’t do it.” Lending money to friends and family has NEVER ended well in my world. If you can, rather give it to them and try your best to not expect anything in return. This will be easy if you really care  and if they really need it.

Do you think wine is a good investment? Why?

This is hilarious considering my ode to wine in the above questions. Yes I do. It’s not something I would buy and resell, so in that sense it’s not a good investment. Bbut at the same time, I am constantly buying “bargain” quality wines (like R100) but ageing them for 6-8 years in my cellar. I built the cellar myself and pick my wines from wine sales or from the wine farms and then label them and age them appropriately. ALWAYS ask the wine maker for how long you should keep the bottle – don’t keep the cheap stuff, I promise you it doesn’t get any better! By the time we consume the wine it is valued anywhere between R300- R600 a bottle; a ludicrous amount to pay for a single bottle of wine, but considering you bought it for R100, it tastes even better.

Please share your financial tips?

Stop spending money on stuff you don’t like or don’t need to impress people that have no value in your life. And never, ever, live beyond your means. It never ends well. You don’t need that 12th handbag – I promise!

Follow Seline on Twitter.

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