File Image: IOL
File Image: IOL

Let’s change women’s money stories for the better

By Opinion Time of article published Aug 18, 2021

Share this article:

By Hester van der Merwe

We’ve all heard the fable: Once upon a time, there were three sisters. One kept her money in a functional leather wallet, the second in a Louis Vuitton purse and the third kept hers tucked under her bra strap…

It’s a little outdated, don’t you think? The reality is that the story of women in finance is not a fairy tale. Most women do not get to the “happily ever after” part in their money journey. Yet, despite the constant challenges they face, women also turn out to be great investment heroes.

Part of what makes the relationship between women and money so complicated is the myriad characters that a woman must play. During any stage of her life, she must be nurturing and protective as a mother, daughter, wife or partner. She might also be the sole breadwinner or a contributing breadwinner to a family, and have to juggle a career, being an entrepreneur, or working tirelessly for the benefit of others.

This picture is backed up by facts:

  • In 2017, 56% of unbanked adults worldwide – that is, people without access to a bank account – were women. (World Bank Findex Report)
  • In South Arica, 42% of children live with their mothers only. (StatsSA General Household Survey, 2019)
  • There are fewer women in top financial positions than men, even though an equal percentage of male and female candidates enter the profession.

Celebrating unsung superwomen

I know many truly courageous women. Take Jenna*, for example: she had been working and contributing to the household for many years, handing over every rand she earned to her husband without complaint. However, when her mother passed away, leaving her a legacy, she wanted to leave this sum as a legacy for her own daughters in return. But her husband resisted. He told her that they didn’t owe their children anything, and that the money should be used for their own needs. Jenna put her foot down. She made an appointment with a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) and decided to learn about her financial rights and options.

Then there’s Lerato*, who had minimal time to devote to her finances while coping with a demanding career and looking after her mother. With a haphazardly constructed portfolio and no clear idea of her financial objectives, she floundered and became more and more stressed. She decided to confront the problem head-on and began working with her financial planner to consider her priorities and values. In the end, she ensured she was working towards the fulfilment of her own goals and those of her mum.

But for me, Mamma Helena* stands out in her role as superwoman. She recognised the needs of mothers traveling long distances for work and not knowing how to care for their small children and babies at the same time. She jumped in and started an informal nursery. No obstacle was too big for her to tackle. The nursery grew into a well-organised school where mothers could leave their children without a heavy heart. During a visit to the school, I watched as the children practised drawing a number eight according to a little rhyme, while they waited in line for a comfort break. Mamma Helena still lives in an informal house, dedicating all her efforts and resources to the children of her community – a true hero!

Rewrite your own money story

The main lesson I’ve learnt from these women is that despite all the difficulties we face, ours doesn’t have to be a tale of sorrow and woe. I want to encourage everybody, men included, to help women change their money stories for the better. Educate your daughters to become financially secure adults. Help an unbanked woman open her own bank account. Encourage a friend who says she doesn’t understand finances to take the first step to becoming financially literate. If you don’t know how to get in touch with a Certified Financial Planner, visit the Financial Planning Institute’s website ( and click the “Find a financial planner” tab.

It’s vital that we keep talking about money. There’s no shame in not knowing or not having! Share your fears and worries, and never feel ashamed to ask for help.

Have a safe, happy and moneywise Women’s Month!

Hester van der Merwe is a CFP at Ultima Financial Planners in Pretoria and the FPI’s Financial Planner of the Year for 2020/21.

* Names have been changed to protect the identities of the women.


Share this article: