Precious words of WISDOM
Maya Fisher-french speaks to three successful women about their money, careers and advice to young people who are just starting out
As these three successful, independent and powerful women share their wisdom around finances and careers, they have two things in common – they all wished they had started saving from an earlier age and they all believe that success lies in learning.
Asked about her biggest financial regret, Hazel Lerman, the divisional director of sales and distribution at Liberty Life, says: “If I had my time over, I would have started some type of savings plan or investment from my first pay cheque.”
Prem Govender, who runs her own financial planning company and is the chair of the SA Savings Institute, shares this sentiment.
“Like all youngsters out of university, I didn’t see the need to budget and take charge of my finances from day one, but I am grateful I learnt timeously that saving and investing are habits, and lifelong ones at that.”
Govender says her savings attitude changed when she realised that by saving before spending, she was paying herself first.
For City Press editor Ferial Haffajee, putting a debit order in place was the best way to kick-start her financial plan.
“I wish I had started saving earlier. I’d always thought it impossible given my responsibilities – until I got it done with a debit order. You learn to stop missing the money.”
Speak to anyone older than 30 and you will find that almost everyone wishes they had started putting money aside earlier, that they had not wasted money in their younger years, but allowed it to grow and provide them with options and choices later in life.
It seems this is one lesson that is learnt through experience. If there is one promise you need to make to yourself on Women’s Day, it is to take your first step towards financial freedom by putting a plan in place.
SMART MONEY MOVES
For Haffajee, good financial advice from a young age helped change her attitude towards money. Through the years, she has followed advice on how to get her finances in order instead of wasting money on “fripperies”.
“The best advice came from three women, naturally,” laughs Haffajee.
Like many university students, fashion was important to Haffajee so she opened fashion store accounts and maxed out her credit card.
“A bank manager at the time sat me down and gave me a good talking to about the cost of credit. She made me pay off debt and taught me how to. I keep a single card now. That, and the advice that you need very little in the way of material goods – although I will confess to a Yuppiechef habit – have made me less reliant on credit,” says Haffajee.
She began reading money books by US author Suze Orman, which built on the advice her first bank manager gave her. “Then I met a great adviser who taught me the stages in life you need to be prepared for,” she says.
One of the main reasons we don’t take the first step towards financial freedom is because we often don’t know where to start. We need someone who can mentor or guide us – a trusted adviser can be the difference between being continuously in debt and having a well-structured financial plan.
For Lerman, buying her first home was the best financial decision she ever made.
“Interest rates were high at 26%, but I took the plunge. You have to get into the property market as soon as you can.
“Owning one’s home is an important priority and there are sacrifices you have to make,” says Lerman, who believes there is never a “good” time to buy. You have to do your research, create a budget, save for a deposit and then buy.
Lerman also follows the “no debt” rule. “It is important to become debt-free as soon as possible. Other than a house and a car, if I can’t afford it, I don’t have it.
“I don’t buy on credit, I save and purchase when I have the money. I also never travel on credit. It’s more sensible to stay home – not easy but wise.”
Buying a home is a smart financial move as long as it is properly planned. If you buy a home you can’t afford, it can end up drowning you in debt. This is where starting early with your financial plan can really put you on the right path.
By starting early, saving towards a deposit on a home, taking the time to do a budget and understanding exactly what you can afford, your home could be the best investment you ever made and not a financial nightmare.
For Govender, her children’s education has been her most valuable investment. “We sent our children to the University of Cape Town, one of the best universities in the country. The exposure and opportunities they got there were priceless.”
Govender, who is from KwaZulu-Natal, found the cost of sending her children away to university extremely expensive and a huge drain on the family finances.
But she says it was worth the sacrifice now that both of them are professionals with the potential and skills to earn good salaries. “This will ensure that we as parents never have to worry about their financial wellbeing,” she says.
A good education for our children is not only a gift we give our children, but ourselves. It hopefully means we will not have to support them in our later years.
But it is important to remember that the cost of a child’s education should come from your living expenses and should not be at the expense of your retirement funds. Rather drive a smaller car, take fewer holidays or live in a smaller home to fund education costs. If you don’t take care of your own retirement, you will end up relying on your children financially.
This will make it difficult for them to educate their children.
SMART CAREER MOVES
When it comes to her career, Govender also places a great value on her own education, having studied for a Master’s degree in taxation.
“I wish I had done this earlier rather than waited to do it when my children were off my hands. But I am glad I did it – it has done wonders for my career as an accountant,” she says.
Haffajee believes her success has come from continuous learning. “At the Weekly Mail, my first journalistic home, I learnt it was good to learn as much as you can. Of late, I find myself learning a lot from young people – wisdom and skills can come in youthful packages. Besides that, I’d say my curiosity, insatiable as it is, has often worked well for me.”
Lerman agrees, saying: “You have to keep learning forever.” She studied a BCom at the age of 36. “Although I studied later in life, when I did, I graduated cum laude as I was doing it and making sacrifices for all the right reasons. It cost me time, energy, money and a social life, but it opened up so many doors.”
Investing in yourself through education and learning experiences should form part of your financial plan. Further education improves your ability to earn and it can open new career paths for you.
If you take time off work, cash in savings or take out a loan to complete your studies, you need to make sure you recover financially by committing a portion of your higher earning potential to paying off those loans or replenishing those savings. Use your new earnings potential to grow wealth – not things.
WORDS OF WISDOM
“If I had to advise young women today, I would tell them to grab every single opportunity,” says Haffajee, who adds that humility is key in learning – never assume you know everything and never be afraid to ask.
Govender’s advice to professional women is that an undergraduate qualification is not sufficient.
“Postgraduate studies definitely set you apart from your peers and are key to ensuring you climb the corporate ladder with specialised skills, knowledge and – above all – confidence.”
Lerman says: “Work hard, learn all you can, produce results. Aim to become a subject matter expert – own your career and industry. You can do this through reading appropriate material to keep you informed and also by finding a good mentor.” She recommends building a network. “It’s amazing how much you learn from others, and be willing to share.”
Lerman’s final words to all those starting on the career path is: “Save from your first pay cheque; you will thank me for this advice one day.”
PAY OFF DEBT Ferial Haffajee
START EARLY Hazel Lerman
SAVINGS HABIT Prem Govender