For most people, Christmas, holidays and overspending may as well be synonyms.
If you know that drawing an ATM statement will cause you to go into shock, it’s probably no consolation that almost everyone around you is in exactly the same position. Despite annual promises to not let this happen again, when the month of January rolls around, we find ourselves with a few extra kilos and no spare cash. Or no cash at all.
Here are a few ideas to get you to the end of this long month.
Emergency budget: A reality check is the first step. Take a look at exactly what you have in your account and draw up a short-term emergency budget. You have to eat, you have to get yourself to work and you have to keep yourself and the house clean. Everything else can probably wait till payday (except school stuff, but more about that later). If it’s cheaper to use public transport, then do it. Be aware of what you have available to spend and the things without which you absolutely cannot do. (Cappuccino is not one of them.)
Try not to borrow money: If you borrow cash, all you’re doing is to transfer the money problem to next month, when you will be short again, because of the repayments. Only consider borrowing money if you don’t have money to get to work, or to buy food, or if there is a real emergency.
Dig deep into your food cupboards: At the back of most food cupboards lurk tins, packets of rice and pasta, or stuff you bought on special sometime in the last year. Now is the time to dig out these items and use them. Be creative with spices and veggies. You might just find a new family favourite.
Phone creditors: If you are unable to meet your obligations, don’t just keep quiet. Phone your creditors and try and make some arrangements. If you just don’t say anything, they will assume you don’t want to pay and they can take steps against you, or have you blacklisted.
Leave the credit card for real emergencies: If your credit card isn’t maxed out already, this is not the time to do it. Interest payments on these are sky-high. Use the card only if you absolutely can’t avoid it, but try and pay everything back you spent in January in one lump sum. Otherwise you will be starting 2015 on a slippery slope of debt.
Use gift vouchers: If you have received any of these for Christmas, now is the time to use them. Mall vouchers can usually also be spent at supermarkets, so that might solve the food problem in January. OK, it’s unromantic, but it’ll help you get through.
Tell the family: Don’t suffer in silence and don’t be shy. Tell the family and your friends that things are tight. This should reduce demands on your pocket for the next few weeks as kids and partners and friends will know that this is not the time to ask for any favours, or to invite you out on expensive outings.
Cook at home: Eating out and buying takeaways are enormously expensive. Cook fresh, and freeze. Also take your own lunch to work. It’s more of an effort, but will save you money. This is the month to break your 2-a-day cappuccino habit.
Buy veg combo specials at supermarkets: These are fantastic value for money and could go a long way to seeing you through to the end of the month. These often consist of potatoes, onions, tomatoes, butternuts, pumpkins, sweet potatoes or fruit in season. You won’t be practising to be the new Jamie Oliver, but your family will not go hungry.
Give time, not money: If someone has a birthday, don’t buy a present – offer them three babysitting sessions, or offer to help them with housework, or take them shopping, or to the doctor. Be creative.
Sell something on Gumtree/OLX: We all have stuff we don’t use. Maybe someone else will have a use for these things, and might be prepared to pay you good money for it. Advertising on these sites is free. Clear out the garage and make some cash.
Bring and braai: It’s expensive to feed dinner guests. But if everyone brings what they want to braai (a packet of sausages goes a long way) and what they want to drink, you could host a party at minimal cost. Put a few potatoes in the oven and make a coleslaw, and there you go.
Short-term lift club: If you can, share petrol costs with someone else, even if it is slightly inconvenient. Commuting on your own is really expensive.
School uniform exchange: If your kids need new school clothes, find out if there is a clothes bank at the school. You might be able to get sorted there at a fraction of the cost.
Plan for school and book fees: Many people are in the habit of paying school fees and buying books and stationery in December before the holiday starts. It’s a brilliant idea. The back-to-school crunch is unavoidable, but you also know it’s coming. If money is short, find out what absolutely has to be paid now, and what can wait until the end of the month. Education is one of the few things worth going into debt for.
DVDs and board games are magic: A nice DVD can keep the whole family entertained at a fraction of what it costs to go to the movies. Play cards, and haul out the board games. And when last did you build a jigsaw puzzle? And then there’s always the internet.
Rediscover the library: The library is free and can provide hours of reading entertainment for all of you. Having a few good books around will also help to while away the time if there is load-shedding in your area.