Don't wait for lady luck

Simon Brown, founder and director of JustOneLap.com.
Simon Brown, founder and director of JustOneLap.com.

I seldom answer my phone if I don’t recognise the number, but a few weeks ago I did, and I almost immediately regretted it. I could tell by the background noise and delayed greeting that this was going to be some dodgy sales call trying to sell me something if I needed I would have bought – no cold calling required.

This time I was asked if I knew about the JSE and whether I would be interested in learning how to make more from my salary every month by using its trading platform and expert advice. 

Now, normally I would end the call right there and then block the number, but I was curious. The caller then asked if he could send me an SMS with their website details, to which I agreed.

The SMS never arrived, but then I got the follow-up phone call asking if I had heard of Amazon. They then proceeded to tell me how well the stock had been doing, how results were due and how great they’d be. The offer was guaranteed profits for me in Amazon if I opened an account immediately. I would also get further ongoing telephonic advice from their experts.

I am going to stop with the story right there because all the lies and red flags are obvious. But this scam must work on enough people, otherwise it would have shut down ages ago? That got me thinking – why does this obvious scam work?

The problem, I suspect, is in part that we believe in the old saying that one day our ship will come in and luck will land a large pile of cash in our lap. 

For many of us our strategy for getting out of the mess that is our personal financial situation is by luck rather than our own effort. We hope for a phone call offering us millions, or maybe a large unexpected bonus or promotion at work – failing which, we grudgingly buy a lotto ticket even though we know the math is 100% against us.

Financial success does sometimes happen by luck and those lucky ones are often lauded for their prowess when, truthfully, it was all down to lady luck. 

But luck is not a real strategy, not ever. The stark reality is that financial success nearly always comes from hard work and sacrifice. But the good news is that while luck is totally out of our control (and unlikely), the hard work and sacrifice is within our control.

We need to manage our money and debt levels and monitor our personal balance sheet. We need to spend less than we earn, live within our means and save for our future. 

None of this is rocket science. And nor is any of it truly hard. Yes, it does mean we’ll live a less grand life than the one we could live if instead we lavished in a whirl of expensive debt, where one credit card rolls into another.

But we need to take control, not only for ourselves but for our family and our children. What sort of life lessons are we teaching if we manage our money like fools?

Set budgets, have regular family meetings and stick to the rules. Have a hard look at your spending patterns and figure out what can go. What must go? I recently downscaled my life by moving from my large house to a smaller and much cheaper apartment. The savings every month are staggering.

Now sure, it’s hard at first. Especially if you have a lot of debt to pay off. But soon enough it becomes second nature and being debt-free is a lot more enjoyable – even if it is less flashy. And managing it yourself is a lot more rewarding than hoping luck will strike.

This article originally appeared in the 2 August edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here or subscribe to our newsletter here.

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