Meet the 2020 Money Makeover candidates as they embark on a finance boot camp


Follow six ordinary South Africans as they take up the City Press-Absa Money Makeover Challenge and participate in a finance boot camp.

The next six months will test their resolve and make them face tough decisions regarding every aspect of their finances, including how to convince a partner to start budgeting, accepting the challenge to stop the debt spiral and  adjusting lifestyles to stay afloat.

Each candidate has been allocated their own Absa financial adviser, who will help them to organise their finances and reach their personal financial goals.

The candidates will be required to complete certain financial tasks and stick to the budgets set out for them. Along the way, they will be awarded incentive prizes, and one person will be selected as the final winner.

Personal finance expert Maya Fisher-French will be sharing their stories with you, hopefully inspiring you to start your own journey to financial freedom.

Follow the journey

You can follow the story on social media using #MoneyMakeover.

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Have you been so busy building your investments that you have neglected the basics of estate planning?

Colen is an area manager at a petrochemical company and is married with three children. He has focused on building a property portfolio made up of various properties, including flat rentals.

While Colen does not have significant consumption debt, he is very stretched on his property debt. The property business cannot sustain itself, so he has to rely on his personal budget to keep it going, which is putting strain on his other family commitments.

“Right now, our way of managing the business finance is not well structured. We are struggling to separate the business finances from the personal finances, and need a system to ensure that the business is able to sustain itself,” he says.


My dream is to pay off the debt on my current properties and expand the room-renting business to eventually have enough money to buy a commercial cattle farm


“I lost R100 000 buying a property off-plan. I got a promotion and had the money saved up for a deposit. We ended up paying more than R100 000 into the developer’s attorney’s trust account, and we got a loan with Absa.

“The developer delivered poor quality work and was stopped from building other houses. Our house was never built. When we tried get the money from the attorneys, we were told that the developer took all the money from the trust account. That was a valuable lesson learnt, even though we lost a lot of money.”


Jean-Pierre van der Merwe has been a financial adviser since 2015.

“I absolutely thrive when I make a difference in the lives of my clients. Some changes may be more significant than others, but making any kind of positive change in someone’s life is satisfying.”

In undertaking a needs analysis, Van der Merwe immediately identified that Colen did not have a will or insurance that would assist his family should something happen to him, and the way his property portfolio was structured would leave them with a significant tax bill.

“We are implementing a step-by-step plan to cater for his current and future needs, but the priority is to provide a succession plan to protect his assets and his family,” says Van der Merwe.



Are you running a business but have no idea whether it’s making money, or you can’t understand why there is never enough cash to meet your expenses?

Bellah is a 45-year-old entrepreneur running her own construction company in Pretoria. Despite having a significant turnover last year, Bellah has no idea if her business is making a profit.

Although she receives large lump-sum payments from projects, Bellah never seems to have enough money to meet her living expenses. As a result, she has taken on significant debt.

“I worry about how to pay the school fees for my 11-year-old daughter and for creche for my three-year-old daughter. I also need to pay tertiary education fees for my 22-year-old son.”

Bellah will need to spend the next six months understanding her business, analysing her profits and creating a positive cash flow that will allow her to pay herself a fixed salary amount.


To be financially independent again. I also want to have a financial adviser to talk to before making any decisions, as I have lined up several big projects and I want to make sure I have priced them correctly


“In November 2017, after completing a big construction project that paid out R650 000, I opened a shop that sold toilet paper and nappies.

“A year later, I had to close the shop as it had lost money. My employee had stolen the stock money, so I was paying her a salary and for the stolen stock.”


Stacey Coulson has a post-graduate diploma in financial planning.

“The first priority for Bellah is that she must start paying herself a regular salary from her business so that her debit orders don’t bounce and give her a bad credit record. Currently, all her policies have lapsed as premiums had not been received on time.”

Absa has provided a small business expert to assist Bellah. Elton Govender is a senior enterprise development specialist at the bank and is also an entrepreneur.

“Bellah is not accounting for all of her expenses in her contracts and has no business plan to grow the business. She has very expensive loans. If she continues along her current trajectory, the probability of success is low unless fundamental changes are made in the business,” warns Govender.



A debt crisis isn’t something that happens because you live the high life – it comes along when you least expect it.

Mishack works in government in communications. He is a married father with a nine-year-old son and two-year-old twins. Over the past few years, Mishack has been hit with much misfortune, which devastated his finances. It started when he had to help his mother buy a home.

“With the support and assistance of my wife, we were granted a home loan. I did not have a deposit, so I took money from my credit card to pay for the conveyancers, transfer fees and registration of the house.

“The same year, my wife gave birth to twins and we had to buy another car to fit the family. That was the beginning of my hardship, but I would do it all over again because my family comes first,” says Mishack, who also experienced a robbery and a family tragedy during this time, forcing him to borrow more money.

His wife’s health has not been great since the birth of the twins, which has limited the amount of shifts she can work as a childcare worker. This has further impacted their finances.


Going back to school to further my studies, which will create a better future for my wife and kids


“Taking on the second home loan while knowing full well that it would put a lot of strain on my financial muscle. I had to do it, otherwise my mum’s health would have deteriorated. And then, immediately after that, I bought an executive car.”


Johan Frouws has been a financial adviser for 12 years.

“My goal since the first day as a financial adviser has been to add value to clients and educate them with what I know. It is also pleasing to see clients after five or 10 years and observe the growth of their wealth and planning.

“The main goal for Mishack is to reduce his expenses, which will result in more funds being available to settle debts and remain with a positive cash flow. I have provided Mishack with a Microsoft Excel budget template, which will enable him to track his spending and identify where he overspends.”



A great way to find extra cash is to start a side gig and use it the income strategically.

Recently married Nono is 33 and works as a TV producer. She has a teenage daughter who lives with her parents in KwaZulu-Natal. Nono has a side business selling her own body care products. She loves her current job and has no intention of turning her side business into a full-time gig, but she wants to create opportunities for others and leave the business as a legacy to her daughter.

The side business also provides her with extra income that she can use to invest for the future. Nono would like to get her finances under control so that she can put more energy into her business.

“I can definitely feel the aftereffects of the wedding expenses. I feel overwhelmed because my budget is tight.”


My dream is to live in financial freedom, and to pay off my car and revolving loan. I’d like to make wiser financial decisions and empower others with the same knowledge. I’d like to build my business and pass on a sound legacy to my children


“I took a revolving loan to pay off other debt and it set me back. I also wish I had saved more to pay towards my car; the instalments are a big burden.”


Steve Williamson has been a financial adviser for the past 15 years.

“After participating in last year’s money makeover as an adviser, I realised that I wanted to track the progress and execution of our plan on a weekly basis.”

The priority is for Nono to have a proper estate plan in place to provide for her daughter. They have also set a goal to pay off her revolving loan by the end of the year.



Do you and your partner argue about money? Is one a spender and the other a saver?

Catherien is in her late forties and is married to an amazing man, but they are not on the same page when it comes to managing money.

“I am tired of being a nagging wife, but I know that if we get on the same page and start managing our money together, we will do well,” she says.

Her husband Jan earns an erratic income and doesn’t feel that it is possible to budget. This puts a great deal of pressure on Catherien financially, as she feels responsible for finding the money to pay those extra bills. She has started a side business selling Ancient Biblical Oils, which is providing some additional income. Her 16-year-old son recently had a brain operation, which has put further pressure on the family emotionally and financially.


To have a small home of our own so we can stop paying rent, and to give our three children a home


“Selling our first home without knowing what was going on in the market. We sold our home and, by the time the money came through, the property market had increased by an alarming 25% to 30%, which left us in dire straits because we suddenly could not do what we had planned.”


Riette Visser has been a financial adviser with Absa since 2008.

“I am passionate about my work. I love being an adviser; helping and teaching others to reach their goals.”

Visser was a financial adviser during last year’s money makeover, but admits that Catherien’s situation will be a challenge.

“Our goal is to get her husband on board. The first step has been for the couple to put together a household budget and also separate budgets for her and her husband’s businesses.

“I also recommended that Catherien open an Absa bank account to separate her business and personal budgets,” says Visser.



Have you had to tap into lines of credit after leaving the security of a regular job, either voluntarily or through retrenchment?

Peter is in his early forties and left his well-paying corporate job to join a start-up. The business did not take off and he eventually had to call it quits. He subsequently accepted a consulting job on an annual contract.

Having given up on the large corporate salary, the family relied on credit to pay expenses. Peter admits that it was too hard to give up the lifestyle they had become accustomed to. They have four children, three of whom are still living at home.

“Currently, we manage to spend more than our combined income. We end up using our credit card facility and, while we can make payments towards the card, the amount we owe seems to bounce up and down without ever being cleared.

“I would like to be in a situation where I can clear the debt owing on these cards and be in a situation where we can continue contributions into our retirement annuities.”


My medium-term goal is to set up my own business and be able to provide training and employment opportunities. Long-term, I want to be able to retire, but remain involved in a business that I set up and that is self-sustaining


“Trusting a financial adviser who had his own best interests at heart. It was a number of investments with a fee and cancellation structure that left me considerably out of pocket when my circumstances changed and I needed to make amendments to my policies.”


Leighanne Decker has been in the financial services industry since 2009, and joined Absa last year. As a single mum of teenage twins, her job gives her flexibility.

“I adore what I do – meeting clients from diverse backgrounds, each with their individual story.”

Decker is happy that Peter and his wife Helen have agreed to work together.

“The goals that have been set are to have his short-term debt resolved, create a budget that he sticks to, make sure that he is saving rather than overspending, and to create an emergency fund and restart his retirement annuity contributions.”

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