This paper investigates the underlying causes of financial mismanagement in public schools and focuses on the perceptions of various role players in the Limpopo Province of South Africa. The various Departments of Basic Education in South Africa allocate funds to schools each year, and expect school principals and school governing bodies to manage it appropriately. The problem is that in some schools, the principals, teachers and school governing body members are perpetrators of various financial mismanagement activities related to financial mismanagement. This article reports on qualitative research used to arrive at an in-depth understanding of why financial mismanagement occurs in certain schools. For this purpose, data was collected through semi-structured interviews with principals, finance officers and departmental officials and analysed thematically. The findings revealed a lack of knowledge of legislation and skills, poor monitoring and control of funds, unavailability of financial policies in schools, omission to act against culprits, and lack of honesty, openness and trustworthiness. The article proposes remedies that might bring financial management in public schools in line with the principles of good governance.