Lerato Tshabalala: I'd rather keep my friends than fight over money

Soweto born Lerato Tshabalala is a writer, DJ and editor with 15 years’ experience in print media.  She is the author of The Way I See It, the host of the Best of Both Worlds on Touch Central FM, editor of The Afropolitan and a columnist. In 2014 she was chosen as one of the first alumni of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, which allowed her to study business and entrepreneurship at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, USA. In this interview she talks about her money habits.

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

Downsizing would be an understatement.  Three years ago I decided to live my full time job and freelance. I had to adjust myself to the new lifestyle. I started doing my own hair.  I stopped doing my nails.  And another thing is I have owned property since I was 24 years old and and now I had to let go of my house in 2015. It was a very humbling experience when I realised that I couldn't afford to keep it anymore. But I found that there are many people who have gone through the exact experience. And I didn't want to be one those people who held onto a house because I was worried about what people will think. I needed to release the ego of having it.  And for most of us a house is a physical manifestation  of success. And to let go of that one material possession that defines you - whether it's car or house - is the most difficult thing to do. I had to learn that as long as I am happy and content with myself then I will be fine.

Out of all your responsibilities (bills, groceries, etc) , what do you find to be the most expensive nowadays? 

When you are a freelancer like me, data is unbelievably expensive. I want to be taken seriously as a service provide but I can't do that if I don't have access to the internet. I'm totally for the #datamustfall movement. 

How did your childhood influence your attitude towards money?

I had fears about money because I grew up poor. My grandparents were wonderful, eccentric people they were also alcoholics. I watched them being incredibly reckless with money, they rarely ever saved and money disappeared like money out a sieve. Still, they taught me that you  also need to enjoy your money when you have it.

On the other hand, my parents who I started living with when I was 12 years old, were financially astute and taught me the value of saving. My dad was a clerk and my mother was a cleaner at a hospital. Before my brother was born, when it was just me and my sister, they decided that my dad would go to school full time and study programming. So my mom had to carry us financially and it was tough. Sometimes we go hounded by furniture stores, demanding to take our furniture.  But we held on. And dad finally got a nicer job and managed to buy our first car. That was the most amazing day in our lives. So, I saw my parents go from one car to 2 cars to 2 houses. And because I had those extremities in my life, I know what it is like to have nothing and to have more than enough. 
Knowing how to handle money is one of the biggest lessons of my life.  

How do you remain positive about money in tough times?

I learned that just because you dream of something and wish for something, it doesn't mean that it's going to be easy. What keeps me positive is my faith. I believe that God will deliver me.  I remember going to Kenya for the first time and I took a book by Eckhart Tolle - A new earth. In the book he said something that changed my life forever. He said, people often use the phrase, this too shall pass in a negative way, for example, this too shall pass when someone has died but he stressed that 'this too shall pass' applies to everything in life. If you are happy you need to remember that this too shall pass and if you are sad never forget that this too shall pass. Once I learned this, I realised that even in my darkest hour or happiest hour, this too shall  pass. everything is a passing moment, it helps me have a lot of gratitude for what i have in my life. And having supportive friends and people who really care about you also helps.

How do you define financial independence?

As a freelancer, you don't know when you next paycheck is going to come from and you worry about debit orders being late, etc. For me, financial independence is waking up in the morning and not panicking about money.

Do you have a financial advisor? 

Yes I do. I got a financial advisor when I was 21 years old. I  never wanted to be a cliche broke writer and since I didn't trust myself with money, I knew that getting a financial advisor would help. It's been my saving grace.

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

I bought my second house in 2007 and then the credit crunch hit the world. the house I bought was falling apart and the interest rates shot up. That meant instead of paying the original amount I had budgeted for, I found myself paying double that because of the interest rates. My dreads nearly fell of my head from the stress! However, I had to learn to make the most of it.
Being broke will teach to trim the fat in your life - from friends to frivolities - you discover really quickly what and who you don't need when you're in financial dire straits. 

Why do you think we so easily fall into debt these days?

Have you looked at Instagram? Have you seen the champagne lifestyle? The holidays? Nobody want's to be left behind. We get into debt because we want to be like everybody else. It's not healthy but it's human nature not to show that you are struggling. But I have learned to travel in my lane.

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

I already have investments and my portfolio has property in it. If you can invest in both property and shares that would be awesome but I reckon for most people, property is the first and easiest step. 

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

Money gets in the way of relationships and causes fights. If I do lend friends money I expect them to keep their word and pay me back. I hate debt so I always make sure that I pay it back. I'd rather keep my friends than fight over money.

Do you and your women friends talk about money?

I have always been very comfortable talking about investing with my friends because I had my financial advisor when I started my first job. It's sad that the perception is that women don't talk about investing. My friends and I talk about money all the time. For me, this is the one way we can be economically free.

What do you indulge in? 

My nails.  When my nails are not done, I feel like I'm wearing my poverty on my sleeves (LAUGHS). I believe that when my nails are done I can conqueror the world.

What was the last item you regretted purchasing?

My house. It was too big and excessive. I lived alone and I had domestic quarters and a swimming pool which I never used. And the work that had to be done on it was never ending and costly. So my next space is going to be an apartment with a balcony. That's all I need.  I've learned that just because you can afford something doesn't mean you have to have it.

Why don't we talk about our financial struggles? 

We don't talk about our financial struggles because people are unkind and mean spirited. And for many of us it's embarrassing when friends ask you out and you can't afford to pay for a simple think like a drink. But I've also learned that you have to humble yourself and admit that you can't afford certain things in your life and people who love you will understand and most likely lend a hand too.  

What are your money tips for our readers? 

If you are in a financial difficulty, stop trying to help everyone. You have to help yourself first before you can help everyone else in your life. And if you let go of the super woman mentality, people will be much kinder to you. If something is not working, let it go. This is the only way you'll experience a new and better life for yourself. 

You can follow Lerato on Twitter and Instagram.

Pic credit: Victor Dlamini