The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has produced studies that reveal women overall have lower financial literacy levels than men, and that there are specific groups of women with the least financial knowledge.

This is true for both developed and developing countries, and the groups of women who struggle most include young women, widows, the less educated and women in low-income brackets.

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In South Africa, recent research also shows that the pay gap is still too wide, and women are saving less than men towards their retirement. This is problematic because women live longer than men, and also often have dependents to support. These are just some of many challenges facing women who want to lead financially successful lives. 

Now there is plenty of generic advice out there, and any Google search results will be full of tips, but many of us lead busy lives on limited budgets and can’t fathom putting away 30% of our income towards retirement or investing half our pay check for a potential pay-out years in the future.

If only there was just one thing we could do to make managing our money easier…

To get some real advice, we spoke to Mapalo Makhu, a personal finance coach and the founder of Woman&Finance, a local online platform that aims to educate and inspire women to take charge of their finances.

While there are a number of practical steps a woman can take to manage her finances, Mapalo says that the one thing that a young South African woman can do to get her finances on track is to be intentional with spending. 

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“To build wealth; get out of debt or become financially free, one has to be intentional about it. It just doesn't happen by itself”, she told us. 

Mapalo says the motivation comes from knowing that any short-term sacrifices are worth it for the resultant financial freedom, which is ultimately; freedom itself. 

“When you become intentional about how you spend every rand you earn; you budget, set financial goals, and make sound financial decisions for your future self.”
Hold yourself accountable and know that you are in control here, to be more intentional about all aspects of your financial planning. 

Planning to save

As an example, when preparing a budget Mapalo says successful savers budget three to six months in advance. There are a number of events that you can prepare for: birthdays, holidays, weddings and so on all cost money, but if properly prepared for won’t lead to unexpected setbacks in your financial goals. 

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“You have to think about your expenses into the future and plan accordingly. You have to decide if it is a priority to you and if you can afford it,” she advises. 
It’s best to be honest with yourself about where you are financially, what your priorities are and what financial goals you are working towards Mapalo says, and “Don’t be afraid to let friends and family know that you are on a budget.

Remember: Your money, your rules.”

Invest for the future 

Even if you’re only able to save a little to start, aim to eventually save and invest as much of your annual income as is manageable for you. But note that studies indicate that saving even 15% of your annual salary towards retirement won’t quite cover you once you’re no longer working, so the more the better. 

“If you make a good income every year and spend it all, you are not getting wealthier, you are just living high,” says Mapalo. “Wealth is what you accumulate, not what you spend.” 
She says the key to successful investing is to know the difference between saving and investing.

“You save to spend; you invest to earn,” she explains. Her key tips to new investors are to have a clear financial goal, to educate yourself on the types of investment options available and to make sure you understand the fees charged, as high fees could eat up your investment faster than you will make returns.

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Makhu also advises spreading your investments across different asset classes “thereby spreading the risk you hold. I think this holds even more true in the South African context where our economy has been struggling. So diversification is not only investing across asset classes but investing globally in other countries too.” 

She notes that making more money won’t solve your financial problems if you have problems with cash flow management. In short, money consciousness is key to financial success. If you are intentional with your money, you will be more conscious of your financial flow and become better at spending, saving, budgeting and standing up for your financial choices. 

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