The Tinder Swindler, a Netflix true-crime documentary that currently has both the online and offline world ablaze, details the story of an internet conman who constructs a tightly wound web of lies around him, with the aim of swindling his romantic interests out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
While the storyline touches on many poignant issues (such as relationship gaslighting, as well as the legal gaps and grey areas that exist when it comes to policing online activity), there are a number of very important financial lessons it draws into sharp focus, and that we should all heed.
Don’t take on debt for anyone else (and think twice before taking it on for yourself)
A big red flag that the documentary raises is the danger of taking on debt for someone else. There are very few circumstances that would justify taking out a loan, especially one that runs into thousands of rand, in order to assist someone else.
While you may want to help someone in financial need, there are various other avenues that you can point them to, which are far preferable to you sinking into debt you may not be able to afford. They could consider consulting a financial advisor, who will help them draw up a plan to tackle their money issues or achieve their objectives. And don’t be swayed by promises of prompt repayment – if that is the case, they should have no issue taking out their own loan and keeping to the repayment schedule!
The same goes for signing surety for someone else’s loan. Simply don’t do it. If, for any reason, they cannot repay the loan, it will become your responsibility. Defaults on repayments may also impact your credit record and it can take years to clear your name.
Apply these same rules to your own life, and learn the difference between good and bad debt. ‘Good debt’ is something that helps you increase wealth or better your financial situation over time – like a study loan – while bad debt involves borrowing money for consumption purposes or to purchase assets that will soon decrease in value. You want to avoid the bad kind.
Keep your finances separate in the early stages of a relationship
Relationships are complicated, and money adds another layer of complexity. When entering a new relationship, it is advisable that you keep your finances separate until you share a long-term commitment with someone, and then you can reconsider.
Retain your own bank account and keep a close eye on your income and expenses, encouraging your partner to do the same. That is not to say that you can’t treat them to dinner or enjoy a luxurious bottle of perfume or cologne which they gifted you, but relationships become far more complicated when two people’s finances intertwine.
If and when you do decide to marry, many couples still prefer to keep their finances separate. There is no one-size-fits-all approach; it’s important to have regular and open conversations with each other about money and do what works best for you. Don’t lose touch with managing your money, you should always be in the know and happy to take on the leading role in your own financial life.
Have a rainy day fund
Sometimes, regardless of our best intentions and planning, we encounter a financial setback. At times like these, it is important to have a buffer to tide you over and to mitigate the worst of the financial blow.
I putting away a little into a rainy day fund every month. Plus, you will benefit from the power of compound interest; which is when you earn interest on top of your interest.
Do not make big financial decisions under pressure
Don’t let anyone pressure you into making a financial decision that makes you uncomfortable, or before you’re ready. In the documentary, we saw the conartist’s victims uncomfortable with being asked to lend him money, but forged ahead anyway when placed under pressure.
Trust your intuition. Rather take a little longer and do the due diligence that will make you feel comfortable and assured, before making a costly financial decision that you may regret down the line.
Take responsibility for your money and get into the driving seat of your finances
Finally, if you slip up, take ownership of your mistakes and course-correct. We saw how the Tinder Swindler’s victims set out to tackle the debt they had incurred on his behalf, instead of simply bemoaning their fate and potentially sinking into deeper financial trouble. While the scammer is certainly not absolved of blame, I found it admirable how his victims, for the most part, realised that they could only rely on themselves to fix their financial situations, and set out to do just that.
Ultimately, we are human and likely to make errors in judgment as we learn more about ourselves and our finances. Through becoming active participants in our own lives and getting into the driving seat of our finances, we have far better control of a positive outcome.
Litha Maqungo is social media and communication lead at Metropolitan GetUp.