Maureen du Toit, from Haenertsburg, is the founder of the website funeconomix.co.za which features her stories, workbooks and talks and where you can ask Whyman a money-related question.
Maureen du Toit loves the colour purple. She wears it often. It is the colour of prosperity, she explains, which is probably why the characters in her books are “perky, pointy, purple people”.
Du Toit has spent the past 12 years or so perfecting her stories filled with quirky characters which aim to educate youngsters about finance in a fun and accessible way. The purple folk live on an island where they barter in a bustling market. Things start to go awry, however, when unusual commodities are brought to the mix.
Du Toit is a quirky character herself and has had a varied career which started in banking. Writing, however, has always been the place where she “can be Maureen.” She has also written a number of economics textbooks.
"I’d like young people to be more savvy
when it comes to their finances"
“Look at this thing,” she says animatedly holding up a hefty volume. “It’s so boring. I know I wrote it, but really, it could have been done in a different way.” It was while she was writing this manual that she started finding imaginative ways to explain complex information and then suddenly purple people started popping into her head. Amongst them are the anagrammatically named Pete Carnes, the carpenter’s son; Myone, the pretty little girl who inadvertently discovers the island’s first currency; Mix Fix and Match Patch, the village pranksters; and Whyman, the island’s sage.
Her years of experience as a financial adviser in the banking industry showed her how gullible people are when it comes to money matters: “Most people are scared of banks and financial jargon … and the salespeople are smooth talkers who can easily hoodwink clients and prey on their fears,” she says.
“My husband played a lot of cricket. He always told me that the longer you played, the bigger the ball got until you could see it like a football. I’d like young people to have that sort of savvy when it comes to their finances. I want them to understand so they won't get caught out by debt, loan sharks and the like.” With many South Africans drowning in debt, it makes sense to teach children from a young age the value of money and how credit and interest works.
She recounts an incident where a labourer at a company she was working for had bought a fridge on higher purchase. After five years he had paid it off and was told by the retailer that his good payment record was to be rewarded. When he went to collect his prize, he was told he’d only receive it when he bought something else. He bought a television, which he didn't need, and received his prize – a five-litre bottle of liquid soap.
“Children say they like it because it’s a story and not work”
It is this kind of tale that spurs Du Toit to write her books, even though it has not been an easy journey. “Some people might think it is just a silly story. But, it is all based on sound economic principles,” says Du Toit who enjoys reading romantic comedies just as much as books on economics.
Children, however, love her adventures and enjoy her visits where the session always ends with a song and dance to Sheb Wooley’s Purple People Eater.
“Children say they like it because it’s a story and not work,” says Du Toit with a moistened, twinkle in her eye.