The money lessons we can learn from a Bafana legend

Phil Masinga seemed to have it all in the 1990s – but he had to learn his money lessons the hard way.

In the late 1990s Phil Masinga was a South African icon. The Bafana Bafana striker was enjoying an international career that included two years with Leeds in the English Premier League, and in 1997 he scored that goal against Congo Brazzaville that sent South Africa into the World Cup finals.

Off the field, however, he was facing the kinds of challenges that appear all too familiar for professional sportsmen and women:

“Before I moved to England I was earning R4 500 a month at Sundowns,” he told the Momentum Consult Conference last week. “Then all of a sudden everything changed and I was earning £12 000 pounds. It was a big thing, and it was quite difficult to manage.”

His fellow former professional, Eugene Zwane, was not earning to that level at Orlando Pirates, but his problems were not dissimilar.

“As a young player, I made a lot of the mistakes young people make,” said Zwane. “You want the coolest things. People start noticing you, so you want to be dressed in this brand, attract that kind of girl. You don’t want to be seen in a taxi, so you get a car. But all of that puts financial pressure on you.”

These may sound like problems of the talented and famous, but they are not really that different from the financial challenges faced by people every day:

Early temptations

Just as Zwane wanted the cars, clothes and women when he began earning money from football, anyone starting their careers will have the urge to spend as soon as they see their first pay cheque.

“At the time I was playing I spent all of the money that I earned, little as it was,” Zwane recalled. “But towards the end of my playing career, having been to university and having learnt more about finances, I also started working and amassing my own portfolio of assets.”

Overspending on your lifestyle detracts from your ability to save. The sooner you start, the longer your money has to work for you and the greater the rewards will be.

Bad ideas

When Masinga started earning a good salary in England, he soon attracted people keen to give him ideas on what to do with his money.

“We had many hangers-on and advisers who had their own interests at heart, not ours,” Masinga said. “We were advised to invest in businesses and ventures as we often had capital. We were promised great returns that we sometimes never got to see.”

There are always going to be schemes promising high returns and guaranteed success. Protect yourself by learning how to avoid them by understanding how money works, what is realistic and what isn’t.

The sandwich

“When I started playing in England and earning that salary, I wanted to make everyone happy,” Masinga recalled. “I thought I’ll be the one to change everyone’s lives. But it’s not like that.”

Many South Africans face the challenge of family demands on their finances. They find themselves in the ‘sandwich generation’ – supporting both their children and their parents. It’s a responsibility that can’t be ignored but it has to be managed, and a good financial adviser can be a big help.

“A downfall for many soccer players is a lack of financial management skills,” Masinga said. “I had a good agent who was happy to make sure he got a good contract for me, but after that he left me and didn’t give me any coaching on what to do about my finances. I needed someone to help me with all of that.”

Protect yourself

Masinga was forced into early retirement at the age of 32 due to injury. He was expecting to play for a number more years, but suddenly he was without a job.

“I thought I was still young enough to play, but my legs couldn’t carry me any more,” he said.

“And that first month of not earning money you realise: ‘I could have done so much more before I retired.’”

Be prepared for the unexpected. It’s important to have a plan in place if you are disabled or fall chronically ill and are unable to work.

Retirement is coming

Professional footballers may earn significantly more than the average South African, but their careers are also much shorter.

“If a player earns R2 million a year, that is R20 million over a 10-year career,” Zwane explained. “Someone else may earn R500 000 a year, which over 30 years is R15 million.”

However, the footballer is earning so much more per month that their spending habits tend to reflect that, and they don’t properly provide for the days after they stop playing.

“Often within six to 12 months of retirement they are already functionally bankrupt and have to start scrapping just to earn a living and survive,” Zwane said. “A lot of people spend their money not because they are irresponsible, but because they don’t know any better.”

This is not a problem unique to professional sportsmen. The majority of South Africans fail to prepare adequately for retirement.

The best remedy for that is getting educated on how to save, where to save and thinking long term instead of demanding instant gratification. Think of your future self, and consider whether in 30 years’ time you will be grateful or not for the decisions you made today.

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