How to become your own financial expert: Putting the person back into personal finance

A tweet that was doing the rounds recently made me chuckle. It said: “I’m glad I learned about parallelograms instead of how to do taxes. It’s really come in handy this parallelogram season.”

With no disrespect to parallelograms, I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment. Financial literacy is severely lacking in the South African educational system. How often do you hear the kids telling you that they scored 80% on retirement class or an A+ on their investing course? It sounds a little silly, right?

With that said, it certainly helps to explain why our country is experiencing a retirement savings crisis (with only 6% of people equipped for drawing a comfortable retirement income). Quite simply, we’re financially illiterate. With no changes to the school curriculum in sight, are we doomed to a dismal financial future?

Be encouraged, my friend – not all hope is lost.

You don’t need a degree in finance to be a financial expert. I’m proof of this. I trained as a scientist for 12 years, but recently started a personal finance blog with no real knowledge of finance, economics or business. Zero. Nada. Zilch. I made my own financial path by seeking out the help, guidance and advice of other ordinary people like myself. Ordinary people looking for the same thing: financial freedom. Why shouldn’t you be able to do the same? 

Back to school, back to reality

So, if your high school teachers were big on talking about the movements of high-density gases but didn’t share much about the movements of the stock market, where do we begin to equip ourselves with this knowledge? 

Fortunately, there’s a treasure trove of information in the webiverse that can help turn even the biggest noob into a money master. 

Wherever possible, go local. Not only are some of South Africa’s regulations and terminology different to those in other countries, but I think local really is just lekker.

Below are a few resources that have really helped me:

1. Financial blogs

As a blogger, I’m possibly biased in my opinion that blogs are an underrated source of great financial content. Why? Well, there are some pretty rad, but ordinary people out there who have struggled with similar financial challenges. 

Through their own successes and failures, they’re able to share financial advice that is relevant, relatable and authentic.
In addition, I’ve found financial blogs to be very motivating. Seeing others like me making progress towards their financial goals makes me want to keep working on my own. What’s not to love? 

South Africa is blessed with some great financial content creators. If you head over to the Not Financial Advice directory, you’ll find links to some of our local talent, often giving of their free time to give some solid money advice.

And let’s not forget 10X Investments, which provides some exceptional resources and content spanning general investing through to retirement planning and the economy. One of my favourites is their comprehensive retirement savings e-book that they recently released, which outlines everything you need to know about investing and saving for retirement. What are you waiting for?

2. Podcasts

Not a big fan of reading or you struggle to find the time? Well, podcasts might be a good addition to your financial arsenal. While they have more of an established following abroad, podcasts are slowly gaining traction in South Africa. 

They’re a great way to learn on-the-go and tend to get straight to the point by answering your most pressing financial questions. This makes podcasts perfect for those who live a busy and fast-paced lifestyle. Just hook it up to your car stereo and let your time spent in traffic be useful.
Some great local examples that you should check out include The Fat Wallet Show, Maya on Money, Afrika FIRE and Personal Finance with Warren Ingram.

3. Hit the Books

Maybe you prefer a good old book. Well. there is no shortage of incredible South African authors in the finance realm. Possibly one of my favourites is Sam Beckbessinger’s “Manage Your Money Like a F*cking Grownup”.
Not only did I belly laugh my way through it (because Sam is hilarious!) – it also provides a solid and thorough overview of almost everything you need to consider. It’s adulting 101 at its finest.

Other household titles I’d recommend include My Money: A Financial Planning Guide for Ordinary People and Maya on Money: Your Money Questions Answered.

4. YouTube

Here are some pretty cool science-backed facts about visual content:

  • Approximately 90% of information processed by the brain is visual.
  • The brain is able to process visuals 60,000 times faster than written text.
  • The human attention span is one second less than a goldfish, at an unimpressive 8 seconds. But don’t despair – videos are able to double a person’s attention span, by establishing an emotional connection.
  • On average, a person watching a video is able to remember 95% of the content compared with 10% when reading it.

Science has spoken. Videos are an effective learning tool. With over 300 hours of video uploaded to YouTube each minute, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to this medium. No matter your question – how to save money, how to invest for retirement or how to set up a monthly budget – it’s almost guaranteed that YouTube will have many answers.

Take a look at Financial Fitness Bunnies for some great local video content.

5. Facebook groups

Maybe you’re more of a social learner? There is much to be said about community and its effects on promoting good financial habits. Take Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps Community on Facebook as an example. With more than 160,000 members, it’s a place for ordinary people to share their fears, breakthroughs and financial advice for the benefit of others. It’s a forum to meet like-minded people who are often walking the same path as you, providing a level of authenticity that is difficult to find elsewhere. 

If this sounds like a platform you could benefit from, some local Facebook groups for you to consider include League of F*cking Grownups and The Fat Wallet Community

6. Pinterest

Say what? You can use Pinterest to become a financial aficionado? You sure can! What most people don’t realise is that Pinterest is not really a social media platform. Rather, it’s a visual search engine. Think of it as the sexier version of Google. 

What makes Pinterest a great tool is that it links to many different learning platforms (blogs, YouTube videos and podcasts), making it extremely versatile for any audience.

No guesses for which niche gets a lot of traffic each month. Personal finance is right up there with health and fitness, consistently ranking in the top 10. By way of example, there is a group board (Frugal Living Ideas & Money Saving Tips), which has more than 128,000 followers and more than 88,000 articles, all dedicated to this one topic. Imagine what else you might find? 

You can visit my business Pinterest account to get an idea of the topics that are covered and whether it could serve as a useful learning platform for your own financial journey. 

As you can see, there is no shortage of finance-related content to fit every type of learner. Since we all consume content differently, you need to find which platform resonates with you the most and immerse yourself in it. You can download an infographic that summarises my top resources here.

Download the infographic

Google: financial friend or foe?

Did you notice that I didn’t suggest Google as an educational resource earlier? Here is why: I just Googled “how to save money”. Do you want to guess how many results popped up? 2.8 trillion. 

Besides the fact that my brain struggles to comprehend such a number, where do we even begin to sort through that kind of volume? How do we separate the quality from the quantity? In my honest opinion, I don’t think it’s possible. 

I understand that Google uses some nifty algorithms to rank articles based on relevance, with the intention of placing high-quality articles first. However, these algorithms typically rank content based on simple metrics, such as article word count (more is better), or the number of times that specific keywords are mentioned.

Can you see the flaws in this system? Nowadays, almost anyone can own a website and post a Google-optimised article for the masses to read – whether financially sound or not. After all, who’s actually fact-checking? 

Rather than relying on the convenience of the “Just Google it!” generation, my suggestion is to dig a little deeper and find sources that are reputable, have a dedicated following and resonate with your personal financial context.

Knowledge is power, but action is powerful

It’s evident that the world is hungry to learn about managing and growing their finances. This is reflected in the number of online searches and articles around topics related to personal finance, budgeting, investing and how to make and save money. 

What I’ve learned through my time as a scientist is that theory is useless in the absence of taking action. It’s the same for our finances. You may know the right steps to study, implement and nurture your finances, but none of that will matter if you don’t take the actionable steps to prove it. Results are birthed through action.

Maybe you doubt that you have what it takes to be your own financial expert. Maybe you weren’t good at maths at school. Or maybe you’ve been burned too many times by taking the wrong financial advice, losing thousands in the process? That is history, put it where it belongs: in the past. The only way that we learn and grow is through making mistakes. Forgive yourself, and turn the page. It’s not the act of making a mistake that counts – it’s how you respond to it that matters.

The ball’s in your court

There are no more excuses. If there is one take-home message from this article, it’s that there is some great financial content right at your fingertips. You just need to make the decision and put in the time to engage with it.
As one of my favourite brands encourages: Just do it!


About Dr Kyle O' Hagan

Kyle is a postdoctoral fellow turned enthusiastic blogger. Born and raised in sunny South Africa, He's spent the better part of his years studying to be a research scientist and is currently involved in researching HIV transmission. Kyle started his blog, aptly named The Saving Scientist, after he hit 30 and realised he had no financial plans in place for his savings were dismal. He started educating himself on budgeting, saving and investing. Luckily for us, he's shared his financial journey so that we can all benefit.

Twitter:  @thesavingsci

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