Follow five ordinary South Africans as they take up the Absa/City Press Money Makeover Challenge and undergo a money makeover boot camp.

The six-month challenge will test their resolve and make them face tough decisions on every aspect of their finances. Each contestant has been allocated their own Absa financial adviser, who will help them organise their finances and reach their personal financial goals.

The contestants will be required to complete certain financial tasks and to stick to the budgets set out for them to win incentive prizes or be selected as the final winner. Personal finance expert Maya Fisher-French shares their stories, which will hopefully inspire you to start your own financial journey.This year’s candidates include five women – here’s how Tamsin, Thuli, Amanda, Samke and Nkosi have planned to make it through the festive season, without forfeiting the holiday spirit. 

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The best financial plans can come unstuck during the festive season, when we are faced with an overwhelming temptation to spoil ourselves and others.

Our Money Makeover candidates have spent time creating realistic festive season budgets. This is not about going without, but about planning and making sure you can afford the celebrations.

Create a Christmas money box 

Nkosi has been saving her R5 and R2 coins in a money box. This has grown to more than R2 000, which she will use to buy a few extra treats during her festive grocery shop. She has also been buying food stamps at her grocery store to build up a festive season grocery fund. Another way to save towards the festive spend is to hoard your loyalty points – Amanda has saved all her loyalty points to use for gifts and luxuries. 

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Create your own 13th cheque or bonus

A great way to save towards the festive season and those January expenses is to structure your salary so that you receive a 13th cheque in December. This creates a forced savings mechanism. However, one of the challenges faced by freelancer Tamsin is that she doesn’t earn a salary, so she has to structure her income carefully.

At the advice of her adviser, Leighanne, Tamsin has been putting money aside to create a “13th cheque”. “The prospect of this is actually very exciting as I have never done this before and, having worked incredibly hard this year, I feel very deserving of a bonus,” says Tamsin, who adds that, as a result of her new approach to money, she is not going to splurge unnecessarily and will try to pay for most of her festive expenses from her normal budget.

She will, however, be using the bonus to pay for a holiday for her family and to buy gifts. “I want to put the rest of my bonus money into one of my funds – either contingency, holiday or emergency.” Stokvels and savings clubs are another great way to create an end-of-year bonus. While Thuli doesn’t receive a 13th cheque, she does contribute to a stokvel that will pay out in the first week of December. 

“I will use my annual stokvel payout to help with the festive season purchases, and also to partly pay for school books and uniforms,” says Thuli.

Amanda is also part of a savings club that will boost her finances during the holidays and dreaded “Janu-worry”. 

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“We are going to have a little brunch and then we are going to hand out the envelopes. We have saved between R200 and R400 each month.” Gifts don’t have to carry a hefty price tag. Thuli has discussed the new lower Christmas budget with her family and, while they are on board, her youngest daughter is not so impressed. 

“It works out to R300 per person – she was hoping for a higher amount per person,” says Thuli about the family’s secret Santa gifting plan – each member of the family picks a name out of hat and then buys a gift for that one person. “The fun part is that you do not know who is buying for you and people drop hints to each other about what they want,” says Thuli. 

Tamsin is by nature a very generous person and would normally have splurged on gifts, irrespective of her financial position. “This year, I have decided against my usual grain of magnanimous spending. My husband doesn’t expect or like gifts, really, so I will just think of something special for my youngest daughter, who I haven’t seen in a while.

I would like to spoil her with nice clothes and treats.” Tamsin’s eldest daughter is going on her first overseas trip and, although her daughter has funded it herself, Tamsin’s Christmas gift for her daughter will be some spending money. In Samke’s family, gifts are big deal, so she has included gifts in her budget. “With the extra money I have from settling two of my debts, I will be using R2 000 to buy gifts.

I had a talk with my family, and they have been so understanding and very supportive. They really want me to be better financially because I told them that I will be in a better position to assist them should they need things if I don’t have debts.” 

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Amanda will be facing Christmas without her late husband. While this will be an emotionally challenging time, it means the family will be creating a “new normal”. “We are in a unique position as we are still trying to figure out what the new normal is regarding Christmas traditions, so the kids know that we are on a journey.

What they also know is that I don’t want ‘stuff’ any more, because I must then find a place to store it and then, when it is old or broken, I have to figure out how to get rid of it. I am not up for it any more. I would rather have money to give them experiences and to expose them to things beyond the house and school.”

Keep money for January

Many households will be receiving their salaries early this month and the temptation will be to spend it all on celebrations. The reality is that the salary has to last until the end of January. Before you spend anything, put money away for those January bills.“I will be putting money away from my December salary that should keep me going until January,” says Nkosi. Thuli will only get paid on the 24th.

 “I have asked for my debit orders to go through on this day instead of the end of the month to minimise temptation. I am also going to leave my credit cards behind when we go on holiday to Cape Town.”Samke will be keeping money for food and transport during January in a separate account so that she is not tempted to spend it.

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Thuli’s top tip: Make sure your family is part of the festive season process and budget. My boys are responsible for managing the dining and going out budget – they have to record expenditure every time we eat out. The girls are responsible for the grocery budget.


Tamsin’s top tip: Take a little time for yourself to renew your energy and connect with family over Christmas, but definitely do not look at this as a time for spending lots of money. 


Amanda’s top tip: There are a lot of people out there who would like a simpler life, especially around Christmas as the madness is not good for your mental health and your pocket. It is not worth it to go into debt to impress other people. If you get negative because of things that you are seeing on social media, maybe it is time to take a little break. Also, talk to your family about your situation – they may be so relieved to talk about it as they are feeling the financial and mental pressure too. 


Samke’s top tip: Indoor activities really help save money. Have a picnic with family in the lounge, teach the young ones to cook or bake and play games at home.


Nkosi’s top tip: I am going to keep some of my grocery stamps for January to keep me going until pay day. The stationery and uniform list should have been issued by now, so it is advisable to start buying what the kids will need now to avoid panic in January, when the budget might be exhausted. School fees must also be paid now