When I moved from KZN to Johannesburg, money and I were formally introduced to one another. I could not believe how expensive everything seemed, especially accommodation. Up until that point, I lived at home my whole life and had never managed my own money. My parents didn’t believe in giving their children an allowance, as a result, I knew little about how to handle money. The only conversation my parents and I had about money was a brief venting session about how distasteful it was to owe people money and how embarrassed they’d be if I were to choose such a lifestyle. And off I went to the city of gold, armed with the only financial wisdom my parents had given me— as long as I didn’t owe anyone, I’d be alright. Of course, I didn’t fully understand or appreciate their advice then, but after a few mistakes, it makes sense to me now.
I remember going to view a bachelor apartment in my first week in Johannesburg, when the agent told me it was going for R4 500 per month (don’t forget; plus deposit upfront), I almost fainted! I couldn’t imagine that amount of money! Hang on, I had never senough that amount of money. That was more than what I was earning as an intern. Finally, what made sense was admitting that I didn’t have enough money to live alone yet. As a result, I shared a living space with 2 colleagues that I was in the internship with. I remember the day we got the keys to our place, we were elated until we opened the door and reality sunk in— the house was completely empty and we had nothing but our suitcases to our names! This means we slept on the cold floor for many months (it got worse in winter) because we couldn’t afford beds. Asking for money from home was not an option because our parents had sacrificed everything just to get us through tertiary. We were grateful just to be alive. In hindsight, that experience was a gift to me— having so little gave me a hunger for more (pun intended).
It was October 2007 when, after many months of working tirelessly as an intern, I eventually signed my first contract! I remember discussing with my colleagues what getting contract meant, for many of us it was an opportunity to provide for our families and prove to our parents that their sacrifices were worth it. As we discussed, one of our colleagues mentioned that security the contract for him meant the possibility of buying a car. Honestly, the thought had not crossed my mind until then.
Even though we all showed up for work with smiles on our faces, the truth is, our circumstances were different. My reality did not allow me to even entertain the idea of buying what seemed to be a luxury item. Every night I knew the pain of having to sleep on the floor, staying in a dark house when we the electricity ran out, walking for kilometres just to save on transport money, living on bread and beans (we couldn’t cook, we had no pots) etc. That lifestyle had been difficult but important. It forced us to be disciplined and intentional about the little we had. We didn’t buy things we didn’t need, and when we did buy, we took advantage of specials. We didn’t take public transport unless it was raining, we walked for hours to and from work. Occasionally, we’d get a lift from a colleague. To keep my expenses extremely low, I cut my hair and was content with not having to spend money I didn’t have on hairstyles. Our idea of splurging was buying streetwise 2 from KFC and that was only on payday. How we looked forward to that!
After signing our contracts, my flat mates and I went our separate ways with me moving into a lovely bachelor apartment close to work (and I bought myself a brand new bed). I enjoyed my new space and furniture but what I had experienced had made a massive impact on me. I reached out to my agent for information on what I needed to qualify to buy. She got back to me within a day! I was turning 21 that year and the most amazing thing happened, I moved into my own 2 bedroom apartment.
Will blog soon about the process of buying property and things I didn’t know then that I know now.
With love and light,
Nono Cele Xaba
Tweet me: @Nono_Cele