For every rand that one household in South Africa saves, another household is "dis-saving" by buying a car on credit or spending on a credit card, says Dr Adrian Saville, professor in economics at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS).
"There certainly are households who save through contributions to pension funds, retirement annuities, unit trusts and investments in their homes and properties, but the shocking truth is that South Africa's household savings rate is zero," says Saville.
Saville compiles the Investec GIBS Savings Index for South Africa. The latest index shows that, while South African households do save, this is cancelled out by people who spend on credit cards, personal loans, overdrafts and making other debts.
According to René Grobler, head of Investec Cash Investments, the aim of the index is to highlight the real facts about saving and to encourage an ongoing conversation around the importance of saving for South Africa.
By the fourth quarter of 2018, the index reached its lowest level of 60 points, while a score of 100 would be regarded as a "pass mark" for the country.
"The relationship between government, the corporate sector and households needs to be a symbiotic one to stimulate savings, investments and growth," says Saville.
"On a national level it is also a combination of collaboration, cooperation and coordination between regulators, governments, policymakers and the private sector that could lead to higher savings rates."
Grobler says research done for the index shows that saving is a learnt behaviour.
"The only way that you can get into a habit is to start that habit," she says.
She proposes three ways to achieve this. Firstly, understand that savings is a learnt behaviour, requiring discipline. She suggests setting up scheduled payments from your primary bank account to a savings account monthly - on the day you receive your salary or primary income.
Secondly, schedule a call with your financial adviser at least annually to review your financial circumstances and ensure you are achieving the best possible returns on your money.
Thirdly, maximise your tax breaks, such as tax-free savings.