Wendy Knowler: Read the small print, trust your gut

by - September 05, 2016

Wendy Knowler is a consumer champion with over 16 years' experience as a consumer journalist, in both print and on radio. Her consumer column, In Your Corner, is published on Mondays in The Times, Herald and Daily Dispatch. She also has a weekly slot on East Coast Breakfast on Thursday mornings, from 8.30am. In this interview, she talks to me about her money habits.

What lessons did you learn about money from your parents?

My father left a real estate agency when I was in high school to develop property with my mother. There were times when we had quite a lot of money and other times we didn't. My father’s favourite money saying is “It’s only money”; in other words, don’t take it too seriously, and my mom constantly urged my sister and I never to rely on a man for money. Neither of us do.

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

Yes, I’m driving a paid-off entry level car, haven’t upgraded my cellphone contract, my only credit facility (apart from my home loan) is a single credit card. We have fewer, shorter cheaper family holidays, eat out less often, and I spend far less on my clothes and grooming than I used to.

Are you good or bad with money?


How do you deal with financial setbacks when they happen?

Withdraw money out of the home loan, which I got down to under R100k at one point for this reason.

Have there been times where you’ve experienced money blocks or conflicting feelings about money?

Yes. Being proud of being the main breadwinner but at times succumbing to the Cinderella complex fantasy of wanting to be “taken care of” financially. And wanting/feeling worthy of being well off, but feeling, as a journalist of my era, that being noble, credible and principled somehow means battling financially, too.

Do you and your husband share equal responsibility when it comes to your household finances?


What are you doing to ensure your family's financial well being?

Working hard at keeping my full-time job, and continuing to pay rather a lot into policies that I can’t really afford.

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

Not sure that this is possible!

What money lessons do you pass along to your children?

To make financial independence their goal, to learn to budget, and the difference between good and bad credit, and how to avoid consumer scams and pitfalls. And to interrogate advertised offers.

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

Best: when I resigned from a newspaper group after 17 years, I took my pension pay-out and invested it in a property deal with my parents. I tripled my investment. Then I invested in another and did the same. And then I bought an investment property.
Worst: Thinking I could afford private school education for my children!

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

A home. Property is what my family knows.

How do you define financial independence?

Good question! For me it’s always meant not having to ask a man or my parents for money, and being able to manage my finances well.

What's the most frugal thing you do?

I do a lot of little things, but for me the biggest financial sacrifice and money saver is not indulging my love of cars and driving what my one friend calls a “student car”.

Do you indulge in any luxuries?

More and more things seem like luxuries these days. A glass of wine at night; the occasional facial, a Woolies shop. :)

Are you saving for a retirement?


If you could do it again, what would you do differently financially?

I want to say I’d choose a better paying career, but I can’t because I’ve so loved my career. So I’ll go with stretching myself to buy another one or two investment properties when I was younger and had more disposal income, and properties were cheaper.

How can consumers avoid ripoffs and bad deals?

Read the small print, trust your gut and treat everything a salesman says with a pinch of salt.

Follow Wendy on Twitter.

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