A year into financial freedom: Where are they now?

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Next week we launch the Absa/City Press Money Makeover Challenge. Maya Fisher-French touches base with last year’s Money Makeover finalists to check if they have embraced their financial freedom or have gone back to their bad habits.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown have taken their toll on our Money Makeover Challenge contestants from last year, with most of them facing a reduction in household income.

Fortunately, the work they did last year as part of the six-month money boot camp strengthened their finances and prepared them for the financial shocks.

They had a handle on their budgets and spending, paid off debts and started emergency funds, creating financial resilience.

Despite the challenges of the lockdown, their finances remain on track.

There may be times when focusing on just staying afloat is the best strategy, but it creates a firm base from which to grow when your circumstances improve.


Mishack works in government communication. Sticking to a budget for the first time during the Money Makeover Challenge last year helped Mishack identify his spending pattern: “We would go to the shopping mall to pay accounts and have a meal and do more shopping.”

By paying those accounts online and targeting his debt repayments, Mishack paid off all three of this clothing accounts and R29 000 of credit card debt.

A year later

As a government employee, Mishack has not had a salary increase in two years, so the past year has been tough: “Everything has increased except our salaries – medical aid, petrol, electricity, school and crèche fees.

“I am effectively earning less than what I was earning two years ago. However, the experience gained during the Money Makeover Challenge has helped me to survive.”

I have increased my safety net. I am still disciplined; I no longer spend impulsively.

With cattle prices increasing after the end of the hard lockdown, Mishack, who is a communal farmer, was able to tap into his livestock investment, selling R80 000 worth of cattle on auction.

“I put it [my cash] to a good use, thanks to the knowledge I gained on the Money Makeover. I renovated my two houses and paid the annual school fees, benefiting from the upfront cash discount.”

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He was able to get his cars serviced and even spoil his twin sons with new bicycles.

“The knowledge, experience and discipline acquired during the Money Makeover Challenge has taught me to survive with the little you have and complete certain projects without being in debt. I have increased my safety net. I am still disciplined; I no longer spend impulsively. I plan projects and stick to the budget, and do not lend money to my family and friends using my credit card.”


Peter is in his early forties. Having given up on the large corporate salary to work for himself, the family relied on credit to meet expenses.

During the Money Makeover Challenge, the family worked hard on sticking to a budget, reducing their spending by R5 000 a month while settling credit card debt and starting an emergency fund.

The family took a knock financially when his wife’s speech therapy practice had to stop due to Covid-19.

A year later

This year, the emergency fund proved invaluable as their car needed major repairs.

“We have not dipped into using the credit card and the continued feedback sessions with our kids about budgeting and the cost of living really help keep us honest too,” says Peter, who was able to increase his contributions to his retirement fund this year.

“While it seems all doom and gloom, we are still in a much better situation than we would have been had we not gotten our finances in order. Paying for repairs hurts, but we had put cash aside in case of an emergency. We don’t need to borrow money or write the car off because we can’t afford repairs.”


Bellah is an entrepreneur running her own construction company in Pretoria. During the Money Makeover Challenge, she learnt to separate her personal and business finances and pay herself a monthly salary.

She paid off R175 000 of debt and built up an emergency fund.

A year later

Bellah’s business was hit hard by the lockdown. However, having paid off most of her debts, Bellah has been able to weather the storm: “I am only left with one Absa loan, but I communicate with the bank, as I have learnt from my Money Makeover journey to speak to my creditors rather than keep quiet.”

Bellah has won two tenders this year that will help her settle her final loan. As a entrepreneur, Bellah also ran some side hustles during the lockdown, buying coat hangers in bulk and making biltong to sell. She also started a garden service, which is now picking up and starting to provide an income for her son.

“Last year was hard, but I am so grateful I had paid off the informal loans with high interest rates. Through the Money Makeover journey, I managed to save, took out life cover to provide for my children and built up an emergency fund that I used during the lockdown when there was no income at all.”


Nono works as a TV producer and had recently married when she joined the Money Makeover Challenge. Nono has had an exciting and life-changing year since being named runner-up in the challenge having given birth to her second daughter.

During the challenge, Nono exceeded all her timelines in paying off her debts. She settled her credit card, revolving loan and also set up an emergency fund. On top of all this, she also encouraged her extended family to join her journey.

A year later

Nono continues to keep to her financial promises and paid off her BMW in November – more than a year early. The money she was paying in car instalments is now split between increasing her bond repayments and starting a university fund for her daughter.

“Since paying off the car, the loan and the credit card, my husband and I are concentrating on paying off our home. We also have an emergency fund in place, and we use the R2 000 monthly [savings] towards buying shares on EasyEquities,” says Nono, who has invested R30 000 and already seen a R5 000 return.

“We’ve opened an educational fund for our little one through Absa and we continue to save money for her monthly needs in another account.”


Catherien is an executive personal assistant, married with three children and the winner of last year’s Money Makeover challenge. By the end of the six-month competition, Catherien and her husband were on the same page financially. They paid off two credit cards and agreed to stick to a household budget.

A year later

“We have felt the reality of the Covid-19 pandemic and the economy,” says Catherien, whose husband’s businesses have been affected by the economic downturn.

“He is trying to stay positive, because we also learnt that being positive about finances has a positive effect. But trust me, it is not always easy.”

READ: Important lessons learnt during a six-month money makeover campaign

Despite the challenges of a lower income and rocketing food and petrol prices, Catherien has remained up to date with their bond and vehicle repayments without taking any payment holidays.

She even managed to put some extra money into their bond, thanks to her side businesses.

Their children are also part of the family’s money decisions and find extra ways to earn an income.

“I have more of a balance in life, but with the higher cost of living, it is not always easy, and yet, we can still smile. We live life to the fullest and appreciate the little things. For us, it’s being able to pay all our monthly debit orders on time, have food on our table and live in our dream home. We are extremely blessed.”


Colen is an area manager and married with three children.

His focus during the Money Makeover Challenge was to consolidate his finances on his property portfolio made up of several properties, including flat rentals.

I am still following my plans I created with the help of my financial adviser, as I see that as a transport to my financial freedom.

Colen discovered that he was not using his money effectively and, by utilising cash sitting idly in his transaction account, he paid off R50 000 of the property debt and improved his cashflow.

A year later

“Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, I’ve lost more students this year. The student [rental] property is not doing well and I need to decide whether I’m going to sell or not,” says Colen, whose added challenge this year is relocating for work due to a restructuring and he had to relocate to a different province.

“I am starting the new position in July and now the challenge is to find myself a small place to stay as I’m not planning to relocate the whole family there. This is actually throwing my plans into disarray as I was planning to buy a one- or two-bedroom apartment and rent it out with the money I got from the sale of my Pretoria North property,” says Colen.

He adds that, despite these challenges, he remains on track and is thankful that he reduced his property debt.

“I am still following my plans I created with the help of my financial adviser, as I see that as a transport to my financial freedom.”

You can follow the story on social media @CPMoneyMakeover

To read more about Money Makeover and sign up for the weekly newsletter, click here.


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