Faces of financial freedom

The winner of the Absa/City Press Money Makeover Challenge 2021, Nocawe.
The winner of the Absa/City Press Money Makeover Challenge 2021, Nocawe.


The Absa/City Press Money Makeover Challenge has come to an end. Despite the ongoing challenges of Covid-19, our candidates have worked hard, paid off debt and built savings. They are proof that the power to improve your financial circumstances lies within you and you do not have to wait for some ‘miracle’ to achieve financial freedom.


The goal: To use my money to create wealth

Nocawe is in her late 30s and married, and has two young children. Often it is not what we earn, but what we do with our money that matters. Nocawe felt that she and her husband were not making the most of their income to build wealth. Although the couple earn good salaries, they faced financial pressure due to debts they felt they should not have taken on, which were preventing them from saving to grow wealth.

When she entered the challenge, Nocawe said: “I hope to achieve financial success by being free of debt, having emergency funds and building generational wealth.” She also had a big dream to own a successful agribusiness one day, starting with a chicken farm on her mother’s tribal land.

Nocawe worked with Simanga Nkala as her Absa financial adviser.

The achievement

It is incredible what Nocawe has achieved in just six months – from paying off significant debt to starting her poultry business. She has also shared her knowledge with her community and helped her sister budget and pay off her debts. By creating and sticking to a household budget, her family has built an emergency fund, paid off two clothing accounts and will have settled their personal loan by the end of October.

“Before entering the competition, we had high car debts. We bought them purely for pleasure, without realising what this did to our finances. By working on our finances, we now realise that those cars were losing us money – money we could have been investing.” Now that the personal loans are paid off, the money will be earmarked to settle the car debt.
Nocawe had a cleaning business and side hustles selling items, but she was not managing her cash flow. During the challenge, she worked on a business plan, improved her cash flow and managed to make a profit of R10 000, which she used to pay the loan she had taken to establish the business, which is now free of debt.

She also achieved her big dream of starting a poultry farm. With the assistance of a business mentor, she completed a thorough business plan and underwent training to farm broiler chickens. She will soon be starting her chicken farm enterprise.

Nocawe created a WhatsApp platform for women, on which she shares what she learnt during the competition. She started a stokvel for school uniforms with her sister and, on her advice, her sister has closed her credit card account and is working on settling her car debt while starting an investment.

“When I received the notification that I was chosen as a candidate for Money Makeover, I made a statement that, through this completion, all those who were close to me and those reachable would also be empowered. As a result, I have a community that I am accountable to financially. I am an empowered person now.”

Six months in figures:
  • Paid off R64 000 of debt
  • R20 000 for emergency savings
  • R10 000 emergency fund for anything related to the kids
  • Saving pockets for next year’s school fees, birthdays and gifts
  • Monthly investment of R3 200 per month


The goal: To push the reset button

Gugu is a researcher and insurance analyst. She is in her early 30s and single, with no children. When she entered the challenge, Gugu said: “Like many young people, I am struggling with money management skills. With the ever-increasing cost of medical and education expenses, I find myself struggling to make ends meet. There is also a lot of emotional stress that comes with being in debt; it makes one feel like a failure.”

Gugu wanted to reset her finances, but needed help prioritising and planning. She had taken a high-interest loan to pay school fees and was using her credit card for emergencies; she had no financial buffer.

Gugu worked with Absa financial adviser Michelle Moodley, and Rikesh Sewparsad is her business mentor.

The achievement

Gugu made a brave decision to move back home to save money. It is not easy to admit to family and friends that you are in a difficult situation. Yet, by swallowing her pride and being honest about her finances, Gugu has transformed her financial situation, having paid off all her debt within six months – a remarkable accomplishment. It took sacrifice and discipline to achieve it, but she reached her goal of pushing the reset button and starting over. Sometimes we make a mistake, but it is in doing something about it, as soon as possible, that we turn a negative into a positive life lesson.

Gugu paid off three times her monthly salary in debt repayments over the period, built up an emergency fund and started a retirement annuity. Gugu also worked with business adviser Sewparsad on a business plan to turn her cake side hustle into a bread-baking business, as it is still Gugu’s dream to become an entrepreneur. However, she has decided to focus on her current job and her side hustles of baking cakes and embroidering items for now.

In taking control of her finances, Gugu found that, not only did her finances improve, but so did her mental health: “The original goal was to be free of debt and work towards creating wealth, yet my mental health improved so much, I was hopeful for the future again. That has been special to me – it’s really been a challenging journey, but nothing compares to the peace of mind, the freedom from anxiety and worry.”

Six months in figures:
  • Free from debt; paid off R64 000
  • R5 000 in emergency savings
  • Retirement annuity contribution of R500 per month
  • Saving contribution of R500 per month


The goal: To start saving for retirement

Maryke is a foundation phase teacher and single mother to a three-year-old. She recently bought a home and was finding it hard to save money, despite having little debt. Her mortgage, medical aid and various insurances take up a large portion of her monthly salary. She needed additional income and, as a teacher, had time during holidays to build her cake baking business.

Maryke worked with Absa financial adviser Leighanne Decker and Absa business mentor Lunga Madonela.

The achievement

Maryke learnt that saving can only happen if you do it before you spend. It must form part of your budget rather than be something you do with “left over” money. Another eye-opener for Maryke was the cost of her store cards. She did not actually need them, but thought it was something everyone did. When her adviser showed her how much she was spending on interest and fees, she focused on paying them off and closing them over the six months.

Maryke worked hard at using every spare cent to build up her emergency fund – especially important when you have a young child, as they tend to have higher medical costs. A big focus for Maryke was to earn an additional income; she worked hard on her business plan for her cake business with Madonela. “I only started to realise then how much work and time goes into a business. I realised how valuable my time was and how important it was to find the balance between a hobby and clients paying me for the final product as well as my time.” She also opened a separate bank account for her side businesses, which helped her see how much profit she was making.

Six months in figures
  • Paid off R4 600 in store card debt
  • R10 000 in emergency fund


The goal: To practise my wife’s financial wisdom

Lwandile is in his late thirties, and married with a two-year-old son. He was feeling considerable financial stress as the sole breadwinner and supporting extended family. Although the couple did not have any short-term debt, they were living from pay cheque to pay cheque. His objective was to save money for a home renovation, fix their car and celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary next year. His bigger goal was to help his wife’s family open a cleaning business so they could be self-reliant.

Lwandile worked with Absa financial adviser Theunis Prinsloo.

The achievement

Lwandile worked extremely hard over the past six months to improve his money behaviour, and develop a business plan for the cleaning business and raise capital for it. He collected all his grocery slips and was able to identify his spending patterns and how he could improve. This resulted in a 21% reduction in his monthly grocery bill. This extra money went into building an emergency fund for the family and as capital towards his cleaning business. Lwandile also drafted a will, which is extremely important, especially when you have children.

Six months in figures
  • Reduced grocery spend by 21%
  • R4 600 in emergency savings (having used a portion to replace a phone)
  • R11 800 for business start-up capital
  • R20 000 for school fees


The goal: Working together on our finances as  a family

Audrey (40) works for an organisation as a forensic investigator. She is married and has four children, ranging in age from five to 19. Her most pressing concern was how to fund her children’s tertiary education while preparing for her own future. However, her main problem was that the couple did not work together with money. “He pays his things and I pay my things; nothing is consolidated. There is also financial stress as we have not been taught how to budget and plan for life events or even to save money.”

Audrey worked with Absa financial adviser Sonja Pen Lai.

The achievement

Audrey and her husband Michael worked on the couple money questionnaire and, with the help of Pen Lai, started to have conversations about their money. “These conversations were usually stressful, and left me anxious and even resentful and angry at times, but, of late, it has become some sort of a bonding session when we discuss money, savings, wasteful spending, future needs, children’s needs and getting our priorities in order. It was truly a rewarding, learning, scary and insightful experience,” says Audrey.

Despite the negative effect of Covid-19 on her husband’s business, the couple has still made significant strides towards paying off debt. They closed three of their five store cards, with the aim of paying off the last two next month. They have been more disciplined in grocery shopping and sticking to lists. Rather than using her SA Revenue Service rebate to “spoil” herself, as she has done in previous years, Audrey used the money to help convert their garage into a cottage, which will provide them with additional income from January, and will be used to pay off the mortgage and invest for retirement. She also reviewed her will and adjusted it, based on her adviser’s recommendation. “She gave me a lot of insight into how to split the money to provide more for the younger ones, since they still have a longer way to go in terms of school and tertiary education, which I had never even thought about.”

Six months in figures
  • Paid off R10 000 of debt
  • Closed three store cards
  • Credit record improved by 94 points


The goal: Instil good money habits

Production manager Stephan is 26 years old and newly married. The couple had not developed a healthy savings attitude and tended to take out short-term loans rather than save for the things they wanted. With debt and other life expenses such as rent and medical aid, his salary is fully spent two days after payday.
“I have been married to an amazing woman for almost two years and we are talking about starting a family. Although everyone tells us that if you wait for financial stability you will wait forever, financial burdens have a huge impact on our decision-making. I know we have not always managed our money well enough and that we bend the rules on our own budget and saving plans much too often.”

They were also struggling with their vape shop business. “We learnt a lot about managing and starting a business the right way. Our business is not doing great, and it is a hard one to swallow. It is small but is not only a side hustle, as my wife’s income and debt repayment depends on it.

Stephan worked with Absa financial adviser Zettie Everson.

The achievement

Before joining Money Makeover, Stephan did not have a budget and was always backtracking to pay debts. There was no discipline or monitoring of their spending, which resulted in impulsive loans. The couple are now far more disciplined and have a good handle on their expenses. They moved to more affordable accommodation during the challenge.
On the recommendation of his adviser, Stephan was able to consolidate his various small loans into a single personal loan. This was at a lower interest rate and gave the couple some breathing space to meet their other goals, including putting money away into their emergency fund. This became very important when both of them contracted Covid-19. They had to cover medical bills and his wife was unable to work at their vape shop. Stephan has been working on a business plan to decide how to improve the viability of the shop or whether they need to close it.

“My original goal was to achieve financial stability and have financial breathing space, and we definitely achieved that. We consolidated my debt and set up a full and honest budget, which I feel is very underrated. We set spending rules for ourselves and have been strict about sticking to them.”

Six months in figures
  • Reduced monthly debt repayment through consolidated loan
  • Improved net budget by R6 000 – went from a R3 091 shortfall to R3 285 surplus each month
  • Retirement annuity of R250 per month and life cover of R151
  • Emergency fund balance R1 500


Maya Fisher-French 

Personal Finance Editor

+27 11 713 9001
69 Kingsway Rd, Auckland Park

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24


Read the digital editions of City Press here.
Read now
Voting Booth
Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s comments on the Constitution and the judiciary has been termed an “extraordinary attack” that is “dangerous and regressive”. What are your thoughts?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
She’s within her rights
11% - 37 votes
It’s all politics
26% - 86 votes
It was irresponsible
63% - 206 votes