Financial freedom in just six months for six readers

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Personal finance expert Maya Fisher-French recaps the Money Makeover contestants' journeys and celebrates their achievements – plus meet the winner!

The Absa/City Press Money Makeover boot camp has come to an end. This year has undoubtedly been the most challenging for contestants as they grappled with the fallout of Covid-19 and the country’s lockdown. Four participants experienced a drop in household income, yet they still managed to meet all their goals set out in January. They're proof that the power to change your financial circumstances lies with you and you don't have to wait for a “miracle” to achieve financial freedom.

In this final edition we recap their journey and success – with support from Absa financial advisers all six have made significant strides in grappling with their debt and learning how to better manage their finances. We hope their stories inspire you to create your own financial freedom.


THE GOAL: To get her husband on the same page as her financially

Catherien is an executive PA and married with three kids. Her biggest issue was that she and her husband, Jan, didn’t have the same views about managing money. Jan earns an erratic income and didn’t feel it was possible to budget.

Due to some of his clients’ nonpayment, he’d built up significant credit card debt. This put a great deal of pressure on Catherien financially as she felt responsible to find the money to pay those extra bills through her side businesses.

She also had an enormous emotional challenge this year as her 16-year-old son had a brain operation at the beginning of the year and will most likely require further surgery. She worked with Absa financial adviser Riette Visser, who helped her draw up a realistic household budget. She and Jan completed a money and marriage questionnaire to understand their respective money attitudes and the Money Makeover team created a plan to help Jan better manage his cash flow.


Catherien experienced both a financial and emotional transformation and despite the challenges created by her son’s health and the pandemic, she succeeded against all odds. By understanding each other’s perspectives and putting a plan together the couple’s relationship changed.

“Talking about money used to be this heavy thing. Now we can even laugh about it,” Catherien says. While she had to accept a more realistic budget, Jan had to accept that he couldn't work with credit cards. He agreed to close two of the cards and that Catherien keeps the third one with a positive credit balance for safe-keeping. Jan is also paying himself a set salary from his business so he can commit to the family obligations.

“I can honestly say even through Covid and its huge challenges my husband and I are now on the same page and we can have uplifting, positive discussions regarding our finances.” Jan lost income during lockdown, yet Catherien was able to make up the shortfall by working hard on her two side businesses. “We have various accounts with positive amounts and no debt!” she says. “I have to pinch myself to believe what we've achieved in the past six months – even with the Covid-19 issues.”

Improved credit score by 17 points.

Closed two credit cards using funds from new orders placed with Jan’s business post-lockdown as well as a withdrawal from their home loan. But they’re paying R6 000 a month extra into the mortgage to settle the drawdown within a year.

  • Built up a salary fund for Jan.
  • Managed drop in income without tapping into savings or credit.
  • Paid all additional home purchases with cash – no debt.
  • Generated additional income through Catherien’s two side businesses.


THE GOAL: To settle wedding debts and build a legacy

Nono works as a TV producer and married Vusi in December. She has a teenage daughter who lives with her parents, and she’s expecting her second child. Nono has a side business selling her own body-care products. She wanted to get her finances under control by paying off her car and revolving loan.

“I’d just spent all my savings on the wedding and after 12 years of working, I was starting from scratch. I had debt to settle and no savings to speak of.” She worked with Absa financial adviser Steve Williamson, who created a plan for her to target her debts. This meant the money she was spending unnecessarily went immediately to settle her debt.


Nono exceeded all her timelines in paying off her debts. She’s already settled her credit card and revolving loan and will pay off her car by December. “Surprisingly, the ‘leftover’ money I’d previously regarded as spending money made the most difference in paying off debt.”

Just by packing lunch each day rather than buying some at work, she increased her mortgage repayment by R500 a month. Nono brought her extended family into the competition by creating a WhatsApp group and shared her knowledge and goals with her siblings. This was a great help when lockdown started as two of her siblings experienced a drop in income and so were better prepared because they’d already started talking about settling debts.

“We’ve changed how we approach birthdays as a family. Instead of gifts, we’ve decided to deposit R500 into an account where the birthday person has debt. If there’s no debt, we deposit money into a 32-day savings account.”

Nono created many clever savings strategies, including a “nappy fund” for the baby, a family stokvel so they’re not under pressure at Christmas and a gratitude jar where the couple keep their spare change and then give away the sum at the end of the year to those they want to thank.

Paid off credit card and revolving loan.

Built up emergency fund.

Set up multiple savings plans.

Set up a family WhatsApp group to aid others.

Improved credit score by 12 points.


THE GOAL: To make his property portfolio profitable

Colen is an area manager and married with three children. He’s building a portfolio made up of various properties including flat rentals. While Colen doesn’t have significant consumption debt, he was stretched on his property debt.

The business couldn’t sustain itself without him relying on his personal budget. Colen worked with Absa financial adviser Jean-Pierre van der Merwe, who identified that Colen didn’t have a will or insurance to assist his family should something happen to him. The way his property portfolio was structured would leave them with a significant tax bill. 


Colen discovered he wasn’t using his money effectively to pay off his property debt. “I didn’t care or wasn’t bothered by my debt as long as I was able to pay the instalments each month until my adviser told me about the money I was losing by applying this kind of strategy.”

By using money sitting idly in his transaction account Colen has paid off a significant amount of the property debt and improved his cash flow. He achieved this despite a salary cut and loss of income from a rental unit. He also discovered there were many expenses he could’ve claimed from the taxman that he’d spent on the properties. Colen reduced his property expenses by R7 000 by installing prepaid electricity meters.

  • Created an emergency fund of R91 000.
  • Reduced property debt by R50 000.
  • Kept the original bond repayments on his properties despite the interest-rate cuts.


THE GOAL: Stop credit card dependency

Peter is in his early forties and left his well-paying corporate job to join a startup. He’s married to Helen and they have four children, three of whom are still living with them.

Having given up a large salary, the family relied on credit to meet expenses. Peter admitted it was too hard to give up the lifestyle they’d become accustomed to. When he joined the Money Makeover Challenge he found they spent more than their 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 being cleared. I’d like to clear the debt on these cards and be able to continue contributions into our retirement annuities.”

Peter worked with Absa financial adviser Leighanne Decker, who helped him analyse his debts, reconsider his budget and also identified that one of his investments was inappropriate for his needs and better served to help settle his credit card debt.


Despite Helen losing her income during lockdown, the couple stuck to their stringent budget. Peter became a guru at finding special deals at grocery retailers and started a blog called Frugal Family. He brought the kids into the competition by teaching them budgeting through games he shares on his blog.

He managed to pay off debt, start an emergency fund and even resume his contribution to his retirement annuity. By using his insurance company’s rewards programme and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, Peter has increased his life cover without paying a higher premium. The couple achieved their goals despite Helen’s loss of income.

“Our budget allowed us to work out what the impact would be and adjust accordingly. We weren’t driving so the saving on fuel was redirected. If the pandemic had struck before we were in this process we’d have been in a dire situation,” Peter says.

  • Reduced spending by R5 000 a month.
  • Settled credit card debt and started an emergency fund.
  • Actively used social media to share his journey, tips and blog, thereby helping others.
  • Improved insurance cover through a healthy lifestyle.


THE GOAL: To get her construction business cash flow positive

Bellah is a single mom and entrepreneur who runs her own construction company. Despite having a significant turnover last year, she had no idea whether her business was making a profit.

Although she received large lump-sum payments from projects, Bellah never seemed to have enough money to meet her living expenses. As a result, she’d taken on significant debt. Bellah worked with Absa financial adviser Stacey Coulson, who recommended that she start paying herself a salary from her business every month so her debit orders don’t bounce and give her a bad credit record.

She also worked with Elton Govender, a senior enterprise-development specialist at Absa. He helped her understand her business, analyse profits and create a positive cash flow that allowed her to pay herself a salary.


Although coronavirus and lockdown had a material impact on her business, Bellah was still able to implement many of the recommendations. She separated her personal and business finances and paid herself a monthly salary.

She created and stuck to a budget, which included paying off her personal loans. Bellah kept an income statement on each project to fully understand her expenses and profits. She now employs her own team rather than using sub-contractors, which has improved her margins considerably.

When she received lump-sum payments, rather than going on a spending spree, she reinvested it into the business – paying off debts and building up capital to fund future projects. She started a Facebook page for her business and has completed three projects from these leads. Bellah made significant inroads into her debt and has started to diversify her client base.

Paid off R175 000 of business and personal debt.

Built up a salary/emergency fund of R45 000.

Took life cover to provide for her children and started an education fund.

Achieved this despite not working during lockdown. 


THE GOAL: Take control of property debt

Mishack is a married father of three who works for the government in communications. Over the past few years he’s been hit with a few curveballs that’ve negatively impacted his finances.

It started when he had to help his mother buy a home. “I didn’t have money for a deposit, so I used my credit card to pay for the registration of the house.”

The same year his wife gave birth to twins and they had to buy a bigger car. “I’d do it all over again because my family comes first,” says Mishack, who entered the Money Makeover Challenge with a significant credit card debt of more than R100 000.

His goal was to stabilise his debt and create a better future for his wife and children. Mishack worked with Absa financial adviser Johan Frouws, who provided him with a budgeting template and a debt-repayment plan. This enabled him to track his spending and identifying where he overspends, creating some free cash to target those loans.


Sticking to a budget for the first time allowed Mishack to identify where his money was going. “I realised there was a lot of wasteful expenditure. We’d go to the mall to pay accounts and have a meal and do more shopping.”

By paying those accounts online and targeting his debt repayments Mishack has paid off all three of his clothing accounts. He and his wife have started talking about finances and work together as a team. Because Mishack had paid off his store cards and started paying off his credit card, his credit score improved and he was able to qualify for a debt consolidation loan at Absa. This means he’s been able to pay off his credit card with the loan at a lower interest rate and now knows when his debts will be paid off.

One of the biggest challenges was saying no to friends who asked to borrow money. Previously Mishack would draw from his credit card, and even if his friends paid him back it was without interest. This led to the credit card debt spiralling out of control.

  • Settled R29 000 in credit card debt.
  • Paid off three store cards.
  • Settled his wife’s medical bills.
  • Put a will and estate planning in place for his family.

Find out how the contestants achieved their goals at

You can follow the journey on social media #CPMoneyMakeover

Facebook: @CPMoneyMakeover,

Twitter: @CPMoneyMakeover and on Instagram: @city_press

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