A short video sent across WhatsApp by a friend was a game changer for me – and literally it took to convince me that we were so done with doing the whole bill-paying-to-creditors thing
I remember the excitement of listening to a Dave Ramsey rant (look him up on YouTube, friends! You won’t be disappointed) and thinking, “my person needs so hear this”. We’d been working in the diaspora since 2010, were doing okay but still felt a strong sense of something needing to give. When your career is comprised of many long hours and moments of rest dedicated to sleeping and thinking of a master plan on how you can save more money so you can start living a little. You’ll understand what I mean by needing a change from the rudimentary grind rut that plagues most of us.
You see, I grew up in a society where a mortgage was an achievement and credit cards, though non-existent for us, were designated for the elite few. And so I looked forward to one day being able to go out for a nice dinner and pull out that shiny credit card from whichever bank name was synonymous with progress. Adulting came about and I quickly learned that it was quite the exercise to get approved for a credit card, much less a mortgage. And when you do get the thumbs-up, no one tells you the strain that comes with earning a good bit of money, celebrating pay day and then being right back at zero on the 10th of the month. Too much month for the money in the bank.
That was my story for a long time. Got the credit cards and the mortgage but the bills never seemed to shrink in value no matter how big the instalments were. That too is the story for most people I know, and still is today, except my husband and I chose to switch up our financial narrative. We were sold on the idea of what it would be like to have no bills beyond living expenses. Was that even possible – especially for us as black people?
Turns out it was, and so without further ado, let me share with you what we learned during our journey to clearing six figures in debt, to now living 100% debt-free and on less than half of our combined income and chasing the dream. Yes, this can be you too. But you have to understand that without sacrifice, it will seem unattainable. It’s nothing you haven’t heard before, yet most of us find these basic principles so difficult to uphold. My hope is that if you find yourself shackled by the chains of debt, you consider these five simple spending and lifestyle changes as a start to your journey towards redrafting your story with money:
Saving money involves turning a blind eye to most things you love – for a while.
I live in the UAE, and everyone here travels so often. Dubai is the hub for connectivity and so you can pretty much get anywhere in one flight. Let’s not even begin to talk about the malls and the shopping, the dining and the entertainment. Dear friends, we didn’t eat out for weeks, months even. Eating out became what it was for us growing up – a Christmas day or birthday thing. We went from a culture of eating out and ordering in, to me finding my happy place in the kitchen, ignoring the sales and pretending I lived on an island with no airport or malls.
I hate to break it to you, but if you are looking to get out of debt, you’re going to have to understand that you have no money because you are spending it on something that you most likely don’t actually need. I tell my friends all the time – shop in your closet for that night out, or learn how to cook because it saves you hundreds of rands that you don’t realise you are even losing. Do you really need to order a salad for delivery when your fridge has all the ingredients to make a good one, or to buy a new pair of shoes or jeans to add to the 600 pairs you already have in every colour?
Download a budgeting app – and use it.
Very important, and there are loads of budgeting apps available the Apple IOS store or Playstore. If you don’t have a budget you’ll end up overspending on every one of your needs – whether it’s your bath soaps or the number of juices you buy for your kids. Put everything on a budget; from the money you send to your parents, right down to what you are giving away to charitable causes. If it’s a lollipop for your kid for winning their sack race at their sports day – yes, that goes on the budget too. Everything goes on the budget. If you don’t know how much you are spending, it’s likely you won’t recall what you are spending it on. Get the picture?
Can you get a side-gig?
Extra coin is a good thing – always. The minute I got paid for doing a friend a favour by formatting a presentation for a pitch document she had, I realised I could charge people for just about everything they couldn’t do or didn’t want to, and I could and wanted to. As a matter of fact, that’s how my consultancy hustle started. Your skills do not have to be confined to your day job. Heck even a tree feller can cut some extra trees on the weekend if he buys his own chainsaw!
Multiple streams of income will always do you better in the long run, but that additional revenue also needs to be channelled towards your savings or reinvesting into something that could make you more money. Rental income can go into buying stocks or saving up to buy your next asset. Side hustle money isn’t extra spending money – it’s extra money to be saved.
Learn the habits of the rich and listen to their advice.
If you don’t have any well off friends – get some. Their conversations can be different. They are talking JSE and which neighbourhoods are the best to invest in property, while other friends are talking how many braais to hit on the weekend, which dress to buy to which fashion week and which socialite has the latest scandal to hit the headlines. Listen, I’m not saying we will all have the opportunity to rub shoulders with the wealthy but the truth is you can only learn and grow from people who are doing better than you.
Get rid of the plastic.
I touched on my dreams of having credit cards when I was younger. Having a credit card is simply giving yourself the licence to spend money you don’t have and having to rob Peter to pay the credit card company. Dear friends, plastic is bad for the environment and your wallet. I have one debit card and cash in my wallet and have enjoyed the freedom of not having to pay back money I never had to begin with. I refer you to Dave Ramsey on his take on credit cards. It’s life changing.
We’re all inspired by those personalities who started with nothing but a few dollars, built a fortune and are giving back to the communities they came from. The truth of the matter is not all millionaires inherit their wealth. The good ones have thousands of hours and smart decisions with money to thank for that, and one of these decisions included choosing not to spend unnecessarily. Your net income is your wealth building tool. The question is whether or not you believe that you can really change your money story by changing your habits.
Yvonne Chiedza Mtengwa is an international speaker, publicist and the author of “Reinvented: Challenging insecurity to live authentically through faith”, a book encouraging women to confront their issues with relationships, insecurities and self-fulfilling prophesies, in an effort to truly discover who they were created to be. Visit and subscribe to her website on ReinventedToday.com or check out her Instagram @quintessentially_yvonne