Lois Wagner spent much of her life spending money like there was no tomorrow.
Shaped by her impoverished childhood, the last thing the 67-year-old ever wanted was to be poor.
“Growing up, we were so poor that I wanted to make up for what I missed,” Wagner said.
“I remember my mother being so proud when I got my first job and earned more than she did after a lifetime of working.
“I always believed I’d keep making good money.”
No saving plan
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, her career began in marketing. Later she went into partnership in a small digital printing company.
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To her friends and family, Wagner looked to have made it.
“I spent it all. On hobbies such as scuba diving, music, theatre, eating out and stuff for my home. I never saved.”
Then in 1995, at 41 years old, a horrific event would change her life. While working at her office, Wagner was attacked and raped.
Her assailant was eventually captured and sentenced to 25 years in jail.
After the rape, Wagner could no longer continue working in the business.
Her business partner agreed to buy her out.
Unfortunately, he betrayed her and the business was pushed into liquidation. “We went bankrupt and I went into deep debt.”
Change of scenery; no change of plan
Looking to put the previous couple of years behind her, Wagner moved to work in the Middle East, where the exchange rate favoured the South African currency.
“If I’d been smart, I could have saved a lot of money,” she said.
Instead, she travelled all over the globe, sometimes three times a year.
“I was probably overconfident - again, a belief from my childhood that I would always be poor, so enjoy every moment.”
At 64 she was forced into retirement with no savings or retirement plan.
“I projected myself as being successful,” she said.
“I am ashamed to be in this state. It’s my own doing. I felt ashamed that as an intelligent woman I could be so stupid not to think of my future.”
Finding hope by helping others
She returned home in 2019. Family members helped her financially while she trained as a coach.
Today, she relies on a small government pension along with income from her coaching business.
“As a coach and speaker, I have visibility in social media and podcasts,” she said.
“I tell my story of rape and forgiveness, I forgave my rapist. There is no shame associated here.”
Helping other people overcome their challenges has inspired her.
“In this space, I forget my own shame and problems. I am working harder than ever for financial independence.”
Accountant and financial coach Stacey Price says money shame isn’t new.
“We all know the saying, ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. Back in the good old days, wealth and success was generally tied to who had the nicest car, the biggest house, the highest-paid job; wealth was visible.”
Today, wealth is not so visible.
“People hide behind social media facades so they don't appear as a failure,” Price said.
“They’re like, fake it until they hope they make it.”
Price says enablers such as family members or friends think they are doing the right thing by helping out financially, when in fact it’s a band-aid solution.
“It is not really a long-term solution, it is just plugging a hole,” she said.
“Family support is great, however there are other ways they can be supportive, encouraging and uplifting, and give much better long-term results.”
Instead of just using your support network as a "bank", Price suggests using them as a support person to take to a meeting with a financial planner or accountant.
“Use them as a mentor or accountability buddy to check in each week to see how you are feeling, and what you’ve achieved. Sound them out for ideas and share your wins.
“They should be your biggest cheerleaders and support to truly overcome your demons. And if they are not, then find yourself a new support network. They will be your lifeline.”
How to overcome money shame
The first step to fighting shame, adds Price, is to admit that you have shame with regards to your money habits.
“I know this seems easy and obvious but it is the hardest, yet most crucial, step,” she said.
“Long-lasting change won't happen unless you are honest about your situation. Grab a good old-fashioned journal, block out the ‘noise and expectations’ and write down the things that are causing you financial grief and shame.”
She recommends asking yourself the following questions:
What are you scared of?
What are your personal goals?
What are your road blocks?
Who are you trying to impress? (This mostly tends to be external people)
By writing down some honest truths, and seeing it in black and white, it’s much easier to create a plan of attack. It also helps to break it down into smaller, less overwhelming chunks.
Then work through each action area one at a time:
Spend a minimum of three weeks nailing a certain goal and make one change at a time
Create separate bank accounts as part of a savings plan
Read a good money book or speak with a financial planner or accountant
Create a three-month cash flow or budget to get back on track, it could be analysing your bank statements to find where spending gaps are happening
Remember, shame is a feeling. Accept that feeling, but be brave enough to challenge it.
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