All of our material possessions have a value. Raw materials and time and effort have gone into making our cars, our clothes, our electronics and everything else we own. But these items have another kind of value as well – how they make us feel.

There’s no denying that we feel more clever in a great suit, more confident behind the wheel of a luxury car, more attractive in designer shoes, and more connected when we use the smartest of smart phones on the market.

And there is no denying that there’s a value to confidence and feelings of self-worth. If these material possessions allow you to go out into the world feeling better about yourself, and to achieve greater things as a result, that’s fantastic.

These things come at a cost

However, it’s important to remember that these things come at a cost, and for very, very many South Africans, that cost is more than they can easily afford.

We know that 86% of South Africans took out a loan in 2013-2014. We also know that South Africans have one of the worst savings rates in the world. These are critical issues that are preventing the people of this country from building a firm foundation for their future.

However, we see these South Africans driving smart cars, wearing smart clothes and using smart phones – possessions that they clearly can’t afford – and accumulating more and more of these things every month that goes by.

The end result of this is more and more debt – far more than is justified by people’s earnings. And the real end of the line for some is non-payment of debt, legal action and a bad credit record.

Wake up, South Africa! Let go of this notion that you are judged by the things you own – especially if you can’t afford them. Outward displays of wealth or fashion mean nothing if they are not a true reflection of personal wealth – and that personal wealth is built by saving and spending responsibly.

So while nice things can make you feel good about yourself, or that you are one of the crowd, remember that it’s what’s in your savings account that really counts. You have to start listening to your bank balance before you listen to that little voice inside that says “buy this and you will be happy!”

You can have nice things

Once you’ve budgeted, paid your bills, paid off your debts and saved, you can start to work toward the fancy clothes and the designer shoes and the new iPad. But you should only buy those things when you have saved for them. You can only afford them once you have set a goal and worked towards it. Remember that if you do not have your own goals, you will be fulfilling the goals of others (the banks, the shops, the designers).

If you are flashing around possessions that you can’t really afford because you haven’t looked after your future first, then you are pretending to be someone that you are not. No matter how good a possession makes you feel, if it’s not reflecting who you really are, then that feeling is hollow.

So if you are robbing yourself to pay for things you can’t afford, remember that while new possessions make you feel great, the best feeling in the world is having a full savings account and no debts. I know which things I’d rather have…

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