Ntombi Tisani: Being broke is very humbling and a necessary reality check

Ntombi Tisani is a strategic marketer and has been in her current role at Old Mutual for over three years. She joined the company from outside of the insurance industry, with work experience in media/broadcasting, retail and market research - and she attribute the fresh perspective she's brought into the business to this. She's championed new ways of creating a connection between the Old Mutual brand and the market; including a partnership with Red Bull Amaphiko and deepening the company's collaboration with DESTINY magazine. Tisani is also passionate about storytelling and works to create powerful emotional narratives that bring the brand to life to meet the brand's customers – on their own terms. In this
interview Tisani talks about her relationship with money and the lessons she's learned. She also has some words of advice for women looking to learn about money and how to manage it, including setting financial priorities.

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

I’ve become more conscious of the cost of things and challenge myself to pay attention when spending money. It’s interesting to see how powerful some basic financial management principles can be – once you actually start to apply them. One of the questions I ask myself is “Is this a want or need?’ This can also be phrased as ‘Do I really need another pair of black shoes?” I’m putting the basics in place.

What are you doing to remain positive about your financial well-being during these tough times?

I also choose not to see it as ‘down-sizing’ or in any way depriving myself – but rather as ‘right sizing’ by reducing/removing the superfluous.  I believe that decluttering is necessary, healthy and makes you available to experience the new.  So in a way, I’m working with the economic climate to put a sharper focus on what really matters to me – and to open up space for new experience.

How did your childhood influence your attitude towards money?

My parents instilled a strong work ethic and respect for money. It was something that you work for; it involves sacrifice and was something that was not in abundance growing up. I’ve also learnt from them the power of prayer – as they literally made miracles happen in raising three children and providing for all our needs, with very limited financial means. My mother in particular has been the bedrock of the family finances. I remember all the children had Post Office book savings accounts growing up, which went towards our education.  The example of my parents (and more broadly that generation) is tremendous – when you think of the distance they’ve gone in their own life’s journey from very humble beginnings and living through the height of Apartheid South Africa.

How do you deal with financial setbacks when they happen? 

Any kind of setback requires an adjustment. When it comes to money, this would typically involve scaling down, prioritising until I can absorb the shock (if possible). My response is also to understand the cause and see how I can mitigate this in future.

What does money mean to you?

I truly am grateful for the money that I have received in my life; it affords me a lifestyle and allows me to do things for the people I care about.  I do realise that I am fortunate. I’m also working to adjust my relationship with money and bring it into a healthier dynamic. Part of this is properly contextualizing money in my life.  This involves recognising money as an important enabler of my life (how I want to live and things I want to do), and for this reason, has significant value. However money alone is not the sole or most significant measure of value – it doesn’t always translate or the important things in life cannot always be expressed in monetary terms.  Keeping that balanced view is important when you do the full ‘balance sheet’ of your life situation and having full appreciation of what truly matters to me: time with loved ones, my sense of self, new experiences etc. This also helps to cultivate a spirit of abundance – so that it’s not about grasping on to rands and cents. 

What changes, if any, have you made (or wish you could make!) to your own money management practices with a view to becoming financially independent overall?

I can do better with managing the detail/administration around money. It is something I avoid (admin in general) and I am learning to put processes in place or involve the right tools and/or people to help with that.  My financial adviser has been supportive and I’ve also been working with tools like the 22seven app which provides a useful lens.

Do you think it is better to buy a house or to rent? 

Big disclaimer** my view and mine alone** I do believe in owning property. Apart from the value of the property increasing over time – there is a sense of security in having a place called home that you own and can point to. 

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

I would begin with the property purchase.  For me it is foundational, and once I have that in place I’ll more aggressively move into other investment vehicles.

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

Of course! Being broke is very humbling and a necessary reality check.  I’ve experienced this at different stages of my life: as a student, starting out in my career and also when I was starting my business.  I suppose the experience of it is more daunting when you progress in life – and have accumulated more ‘stuff’ and carry more responsibilities. The stakes are higher. It’s an experience that makes you get out there and hustle to find a revenue stream. It also forces you to simplify and let go of anything that is not absolutely necessary.

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

I think we have an unhealthy societal acceptance of debt and it is so readily available.  People are really putting themselves under pressure to play catchup – particularly this idea of a ‘black middle class’ that is compelled to show the trappings of the ‘good life’, but instead end up trapped.

What’s the worst money mistake you’ve ever made, if you’ve made any? What did you learn from it? 

Loaning money is a mistake that can negatively impact on a relationship with someone. I have learnt that the hard way.  I now consider any request for money as a gift not a loan.  If it comes back  - that’s a bonus, but if not, I have given that over without reservation. If I can’t part with the money, with no expectation of receiving it back – then I cannot actually loan that money, and I don’t.
I am excited to see how women are becoming more deliberate in transforming their social circles to become networking and investing groups.
Last year I attended one of your events and the focus was to change the way women think about their money. How tough is it for women to be financially intelligent?

It’s not necessarily ‘tough’ for women to be financially intelligent. There is no deficiency in women preventing us from mastering  this field. It’s more about a claiming of space and assertion of self-will to take ownership.  It is critical that women take ownership of their finances as it is an integral part of realising your independence. Unfortunately the world of finance has historically been portrayed as a male domain and in some traditional scenarios, it’s still the preserve of the man of the house. I am encouraged to see an ever increasing number of women claiming this space – we see African women leading in the sector and every day more women are making the effort to engage with their finances and better navigate their lives.

Money is often a taboo topic; few women really do discuss it openly. How do we get women to open up?

Again, I think some social conditioning gets in the way here. Old-school thinking suggested that money was a topic that men engaged in.  However, in truth, women have been dealing and handling the money aspects – and doing so in community with one another. We only need to look at the stokvels, which are largely powered by women and in which significant quantities of money are vested.  This is enabled through social capital, an area where women have a particular talent in building strong supportive and trust based relationships. I am excited to see how women are becoming more deliberate in transforming their social circles to become networking and investing groups.

Why do emotions run high at times when we think or talk about money?

Money is an emotional topic. It is imbued with a lot of our expression of self and plans for our lives.  It’s also a place of anxiety and stress, and many of our worries can be traced to having/not having money. I don’t think you can properly engage on money by trying to act like it is devoid of emotion. What does help you to not allow emotions to take control – is to invest in building out your financial plan, and working with a trusted financial adviser who can ‘keep you honest’ when you are being swayed by emotions.

The term financial literacy gets talked about a lot, go in a little more of what that really means? 

Financial literacy is about having a working knowledge on how money works and the tools you can use to make money work for you. Basic practices such as budgeting, different savings and investment options, the true cost of debt etc. It has the intent to financially empower people with the knowledge to make better financial decisions, resulting in better life outcomes. Another important aspect of financial literacy is demystifying the world of finance – again to better equip people to take ownership of their financial life.

Death is a topic a lot of us avoid talking about, but it’s really important to plan for the future and future passing because it’s going to happen. So, how do you open up that conversation to know what to do should you lose a loved one? 

Death is a sure thing! I say it flippantly – but in truth, it is the one thing that is certain in life.  The approach to finance should be about your ‘life plan’ and not just your finances.  In that way, you can look at the different aspects of life – including the different changes and challenges that may arise, such as marriage, having a child, sickness, retrenchment, disability and death.  It’s about engaging with the full experience and making sure you have a response and provision in place.

There is a real wage gap between women and men. As women, what can we do to try to close that gap?

There is a real call to expose the fallacy of patriarchy – and the different ways in which it shows up.  The wage gap is one aspect, there is also a gender premium, where women are paying more for products targeted at women.  This has received more attention recently and the opportunity is for all people (women and men) to agitate to bring this to the surface and find ways to eradicate it in our society. There are different ways to make it real: looking at the employment policy at work to ensure there are no biases and also conducting parity analysis to monitor the differences.  Women can also boycott brands and products that apply the gender premium and make sure that our voice is heard.

Why is it important for women to be financially independent nowadays?

It’s important for all people to be financially independent as this enables you to live out your life as you see it.  More so for women, where being a financial dependant can heighten their vulnerability. In cases of domestic abuse, it is often cited that the women is a virtual ‘prisoner’ of their partner and doesn’t/can’t leave the negative environment, because they don’t have the financial means.

What should women do to keep themselves and their money on track, what are you suggesting?

For me, the beginning of a money plan actually begins with your life plan; knowing what you want and what matters to you.  The money then comes in as an enabler.  Working with a reputable financial adviser is a way to get clarity on both your life goals and how these translate into monetary requirements.

Tisani’s 5 tips for women to protect their financial security:
1. Take stock of where you are in your life and identify your responsibilities and priorities
2. Ask yourself the following questions:
* Who will pay my monthly expenses if I am unable to work?
* Will I still receive an income if I’m temporarily unable to work?
* Will I be able to maintain my and my family’s lifestyle if I become disabled?
3. Identify your goals and dreams and what the financial implications might be
4. Find out whether you have life and disability cover – and what it includes.
5. Speak to a financial adviser to translate your goals into an actionable plan that includes appropriate and sufficient risk cover.