This gen­er­a­tion of pro­fes­sion­als is caught be­tween the needs of sup­port­ing fam­ily and try­ing to pro­vide for their own fu­ture How do I get ahead when I have to help my fam­ily stay ahead? Per­sonal fi­nance guru Maya Fisher-French of­fers some case stud­ies and

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‘If you re­ally want to un­der­stand the re­al­ity of our high un­em­ploy­ment lev­els, speak to young work­ing black pro­fes­sion­als,” says Si­nenhlanhla Nzama, a mar­ket­ing ac­tu­ary at Old Mu­tual who sup­ports his ex­tended fam­ily and is all too fa­mil­iar with the ex­pec­ta­tions of un­em­ployed fam­ily mem­bers on those who have “made it”.

Break­ing the cy­cle

Sibu­siso* (26) is barely on speak­ing terms with his mother af­ter he reached a point where he had to say “enough is enough” be­fore the de­mands of his fam­ily left him drown­ing in debt.

“There is this per­cep­tion that you are liv­ing the high life, and that you could al­ways be do­ing more. The re­al­ity is that I am strug­gling to make ends meet. I am pro­vid­ing as much as I can but I can­not go into debt to sup­port my fam­ily,” says Sibu­siso.

He cur­rently sup­ports his mother and his sis­ter, who is still in school, as well as sev­eral mem­bers of his ex­tended fam­ily who live with his mother.

Apart from the reg­u­lar amount he pays to the house­hold, there are al­ways emer­gen­cies, usu­ally around health­care; and as the most fi­nan­cially suc­cess­ful person in his ex­tended fam­ily, they look to him for sup­port. “Even my cousin, who tra­di­tion­ally is the head of the fam­ily, came to me when he be­came ill. There is al­ways some­thing.”

Si­nenhlanhla says young black pro­fes­sion­als are sup­port­ing their fam­i­lies not only fi­nan­cially, but emo­tion­ally. “When I visit home, I am sur­rounded by peo­ple who have an ex­pec­ta­tion that I can do some­thing to help them,” says Si­nenhlanhla.

Fam­ily mem­bers will come to him and ask him where they can find work or how they can start a small busi­ness. “As work­ing pro­fes­sion­als, we may have more in­for­ma­tion but we don’t have enough to re­ally help,” says Si­nenhlanhla, who finds that he plays the role of both men­tor and fa­ther fig­ure.

“You have to pro­vide emo­tional strength, es­pe­cially if there is no other fa­ther fig­ure in the fam­ily.”

Afika (27) is try­ing to break the fi­nan­cial cy­cle of de­pen­dency. His mother is about to re­tire and af­ter spend­ing her work­ing years sup­port­ing her chil­dren, she has put lit­tle away for her own fi­nan­cial needs.

“I couldn’t bear that she had to rent a back­room some­where af­ter all she had done for her fam­ily and her kids, so I bought a house for her,” says Afika.

But this has left Afika stretched fi­nan­cially – he has his own dreams and doesn’t want to be in a sit­u­a­tion where he reaches re­tire­ment with­out his own home or a re­tire­ment fund.

“I want to break this cy­cle of the young black mid­dle class tak­ing care of the whole fam­ily, but I don’t know how to talk to my mother about her re­tire­ment and whether she can help to pay the bond. She is old school and does not talk about her fi­nances or her plans when she re­tires,” he says.

This gen­er­a­tion of pro­fes­sion­als is caught be­tween the im­me­di­ate needs of sup­port­ing fam­ily, but also try­ing to break the cy­cle of de­pen­dency by pro­vid­ing for their own fu­tures – by not tak­ing on ex­ces­sive debt and putting some­thing aside for their own chil­dren and their re­tire­ment.

The Old Mu­tual Sav­ings & In­vest­ment Mon­i­tor found that 50% of the youth sur­veyed were strug­gling to make ends meet. Santie Schin­de­hutte, a case me­di­a­tion man­ager at the Na­tional Debt Me­di­a­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, says the or­gan­i­sa­tion has found many work­ing pro­fes­sion­als in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion – they are ex­pected to step in to sup­port im­me­di­ate and ex­tended fam­i­lies be­cause they have a sta­ble in­come.

“This places not only a fi­nan­cial but emo­tional re­spon­si­bil­ity on the shoul­ders of the in­come earner to pro­vide fi­nances even if they can­not af­ford to. In a lot of in­stances, they do not want to let their fam­ily down and there is re­ally no other in­come source to as­sist the fam­ily,” says Schin­de­hutte.

Kerry King, an ad­vi­sory part­ner at Ci­tadel Wealth Man­age­ment, has many clients who are sup­port­ing ex­tended fam­i­lies. King ex­plains that this has cre­ated a cul­ture of com­mu­nity sav­ing rather than the idea of sav­ing for your­self for the fu­ture.

“There was al­ways the idea that some­one else would help you out. Un­for­tu­nately, there is sim­ply not enough sup­port in the com­mu­ni­ties. The un­em­ploy­ment rate is so high that many feel they are the only ones sup­port­ing many, many fam­i­lies.”

The bur­den of suc­cess

Sibu­siso, Afika and Si­nenhlanhla are seen by their fam­i­lies as hav­ing “made it”.

“I am by far the most suc­cess­ful both aca­dem­i­cally and fi­nan­cially in my en­tire ex­tended fam­ily,” says Sibu­siso, although his dream was nearly de­stroyed when his fa­ther left home just as he started univer­sity.

“He left and never pro­vided any fi­nan­cial sup­port; our fam­ily was left in poverty. I grew up in a well-off mid­dle class fam­ily, but my sis­ter – who was eight at the time – has grown up poor.” He re­lied on bur­saries and part-time jobs to com­plete his law de­gree.

Of the six cousins who grew up to­gether in Mthatha with his grand­mother, Afika is the only one who achieved his dreams. “We grew up the same way, we were a typ­i­cal mid­dle class black fam­ily, we weren’t poor, but we knew we wanted more.

“I told my­self I would one day be some­thing that would make me happy and other peo­ple happy. Other peo­ple didn’t reach their dreams, but they can’t say they didn’t have the same op­por­tu­ni­ties, they just didn’t take them,” says Afika, whose engi­neer­ing

qual­i­fi­ca­tion was funded through the Na­tional Stu­dent Fi­nan­cial Aid Scheme.

As the “lucky” ones, is there an obli­ga­tion to pay for­ward and as­sist the rest of the fam­ily?

Si­nenhlanhla says the need to help one’s fam­ily is not only an obli­ga­tion but a re­al­i­sa­tion that if you are able to as­sist a fam­ily mem­ber ob­tain an ed­u­ca­tion, they too can join the ranks of the em­ployed and help one to carry the fi­nan­cial bur­den.

Si­nenhlanhla’s older brother, for ex­am­ple, sup­ported him through his stud­ies and once he was qual­i­fied and work­ing, they were able to sup­port their mother by buy­ing her a home to­gether. “On his own, there was no way my brother could have af­forded it,” says Si­nenhlanhla.

Now the broth­ers are able to help their mother and ex­tended fam­ily – the bur­den, although still large, is at least shared. Si­nenhlanhla’s sis­ter is fin­ish­ing her stud­ies and will hope­fully be fi­nan­cially in­de­pen­dent soon.

“When I go home, I can see the need, I can see there is no food in the fridge – how can I leave my fam­ily to eat cab­bage ev­ery night?” asks Sibu­siso, who adds that it is not just a mat­ter of peo­ple sit­ting back ask­ing for hand­outs, many of them are work­ing but earn­ing too lit­tle to sup­port their chil­dren.

“My aunt is a fac­tory worker try­ing to put three chil­dren through school. My niece is in ma­tric and the school fee sub­sidy has fallen away.

“Her mother can­not af­ford the fees and to put food on the ta­ble. She is a bright girl and could go through to univer­sity, how can I not help?”

Keep­ing the golden goose alive

While there is clearly a de­sire by many young pro­fes­sion­als to help their fam­i­lies, it does not help if the goose that is lay­ing the golden egg starves to death.

King says the key goal for her clients is not to de­pend on their chil­dren in re­tire­ment and there­fore to break the cy­cle of de­pen­dency.

When work­ing with clients, King says the most im­por­tant thing is to put bound­aries in place. “We ringfence money for re­tire­ment and we ring-fence money for fam­ily spend. This has also en­abled them to be em­pow­ered to ex­press how much they are able to con­trib­ute to the fam­ily. It was hard pre­vi­ously to stick to with no phys­i­cal boundary,” says King.

Fi­nan­cial ad­viser Craig Gra­didge of Gra­didge-Mahura In­vest­ments says get­ting fi­nan­cial ad­vice and putting a plan in place is crit­i­cal.

“An ad­viser will as­sist you in ar­tic­u­lat­ing your own goals and how you can achieve them, as well as cre­ate a plan around how to still sup­port your fam­ily.” He adds that an ad­viser can also be a use­ful in­de­pen­dent person who can meet with the fam­ily mem­bers to ex­plain the sit­u­a­tion.

In Afika’s case, Gra­didge rec­om­mended that Afika and his mother go and see an ad­viser who could help her un­der­stand her fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion in re­tire­ment and what sup­port she may still need from her son.

Gra­didge says he needs to ap­proach it as a dis­cus­sion about his abil­ity to carry the cost of the house on his own. He could then share his goals such as one day own­ing his own home and how that would fit into the en­tire fi­nan­cial plan.

“He should pre­pare him­self for a dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tion, be­cause avoid­ing the dis­cus­sion is likely to mean him con­tin­u­ing to carry the fi­nan­cial com­mit­ments of the house on his own,” says Gra­didge.

Sibu­siso says: “I am un­der con­stant pres­sure to main­tain my mother’s life­style. She is a very proud woman, and there has been a great deal of con­flict around that. The fi­nan­cial de­mands are also in­creas­ing for my sis­ter as her school fee sub­sidy is re­duc­ing as she goes into higher grades. I had to sit down with my payslip and my bud­get and say ‘this is the sum to­tal of what I have – how do we di­vide the needs?’”

Sibu­siso is also try­ing to save up to buy a car he needs for work. “My job re­quires a lot of meet­ings and trav­el­ling and not hav­ing a car is cost­ing me a great deal in trans­port costs.

“I want to build up enough of a de­posit so that I don’t have high re­pay­ments each month.”

His chal­lenge is to get his fam­ily to see that buy­ing a car is a more im­por­tant goal right now as it will help him to earn the in­come that is keep­ing the fam­ily afloat.

Like with the other case stud­ies, these are nec­es­sary con­ver­sa­tions to have so that every­one can un­der­stand what they can or can­not ex­pect from each other.

* Not his real name

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