Western Cape Premier Helen Zille recently opened up about her relationship with money and how she manages her finances at home, revealing how she got her very first bank account when she started varsity and that she thinks spending money on a brand new car is a “big waste of money” for her.
“It’s [money] never been a motivating factor in my life; I grew up in very modest circumstances. My parents were refugees, they had lived through the war, and I knew exactly how it was like not to have anything,” Zille said in an interview on The Money Show with Bruce Whitfield on Monday.
The former Democratic Alliance (DA) leader described how her parents struggled to make ends meet while she was growing up and squeezed themselves into the middle class. She said she enrolled at local iron corrugated school in Johannesburg, where few pupils had shoes.
“My parents, they turned over every penny, twice or three times … nothing was ever thrown away. My parents grew their own vegetables in the garden. And so we were taught to look after things very carefully,” she said.
Asked who managed the finances in her household, Zille said her father who owned a small scrap mental business did because her mother was a homemaker.
“My mother didn’t work outside of the home, but my father earned the money and looked after the money and rationed the money.”
“My parents stressed about important things in life, but they always said money is necessary to be able to eat and wear clothes. But it is not a sign of status or position or anything to value people by, so we never had the ethos of keeping up with the Joneses ever in our house.”
The premier stunned many listeners when she said she still owned her first car, a small Opel Corsa she bought 15 years ago.
“You know, I would never spend money on a car. I still drive a car I bought in 2001. It’s a little Opel Corsa, and it does me absolutely fine. I have never spent money on a car because I think it’s a big waste of money, and because I just need to get around.”
So what does she spend her money on?
“If I do spend money, I would like to spend money on my living environment, and I have never done that, and obviously I live in a very beautiful living environment at the moment at Leeuwenhof [the premier’s official residence in Cape Town],” she said.
Zille, who last week launched her autobiography detailing her personal life and illustrious political career, mentioned that her husband banned her from shopping as he was much more frugal with spending money.
Her mantra regarding money is quite simple: “As long as you learn by your mistakes, it isn’t money wasted.”