- South Africa is facing a serious cost of living crisis and now is the time to scrutinise your budget.
- Your first task should be to quantify the increase in costs. Then you need to identify where you will find the money to plug the holes.
- If your situation is really dire, it may be time to make big lifestyle adjustments.
Inflation is back at levels last seen five years ago, the SA Reserve Bank has hiked interest rates to the detriment of anyone with any form of debt and the rapidly rising petrol price is due for another shock hike in June.
It’s a serious cost of living crisis, that calls for everyone - bar those with large amounts of spare cash every to spend – to take action.
Scrutinise your spending
If you do not have a budget, now is definitely the time to get one. You can use this budget planner to generate a budget you can download and use to track your expenses.
If you already have a budget, revisit it. Adjust your repayments for loans with variable interest rates like your home loan and car repayments – the banks will have sent advice on how much more you need to pay.
Don’t forget your credit card debt – it will be attracting more interest that can quickly snowball a smaller balance into a bigger one. Your bank may not increase your minimum repayment but you should focus on doing everything you can to pay more than the minimum and reduce the outstanding balance.
Your food and transport costs will have increased. Use the apps your bank provides to track what you are spending and adjust how you shop or make a plan with your budget to deal with the increases.
Your first task should be to quantify the increase in costs. Then you need to identify where you will find the money to plug the holes.
Consider expenses you can scale back
Deciding what to cut is a personal decision, but you most probably have something you can trim back - entertainment, holidays, or eating out, hobbies or sports.
Choose cheaper options or cut the frequency of your spend – but make a plan.
If your spending affects a spouse or your family, explain the situation to them and why you all need to spend less. Get them to buy into how you plan to do it.
Take a close look at your debts and the interest they are incurring. Reducing your debt will reduce the interest added each month and the total you repay.
Paying some debt off can free up cash for other expenses, but depending on your situation this may not be feasible immediately. Focus initially on bringing down your expenses so you can live within your means and not take on any more credit.
As soon as you can start paying off the debt that costs you the most in interest – typically a personal loan, overdraft or credit card. Use our debt repayment calculator to see what you could achieve by paying even small additional amounts towards your debt.
Look for savings
Audit your bank accounts for unnecessary expenses. Are you paying for a rewards or loyalty plan or subscription you seldom or never use?
Cutting it could go some way to meeting your new increased costs.
Do some homework on contracts, like those for streaming services or your cellphone. There may be a cheaper or more cost-effective option.
New banks and more cost-effective accounts and credit cards may also save you costs.
When times are tough, it is tempting to cut insurance. But remember you need to protect your and your family’s financial situation – against death, disability, illness and the loss of your possessions.
But reviewing your cover regularly is a good idea and can result in cost savings. Check the amounts for which you are covered and newer cheaper products on the market that offer equivalent or better cover.
If you have had claim-free years on a short-term insurance contract, shop around and check out vehicle insurance policies priced on the mileage you do.
If you can afford to pay a higher excess in the event of claim, consider taking one. It will create a monthly saving.
If you are thinking of downgrading medical cover, be careful. There is a huge difference between a medical scheme and the protection it affords through the prescribed minimum benefits and insurance such as hospital cash plan.
If it is really dire
If your situation is really dire, it may be time to make big lifestyle adjustments. Downgrading your home, moving in with others, selling a car or changing your children’s schools are hard things to do, but could prevent you falling deeper into difficult-to-repay debt.
Think about how you can bring in more money
The job market is not strong, but if your skills and experience are, you may be able to look for a higher-paying job. Or to ask for raise at work.
Look for online courses that can enhance your skills and volunteer for any an employer offers.
Whether you are employed or self-employed, think about diversifying your income streams. A side-hustle can help repay debt or fund additional costs.
This article was first published on SmartAboutMoney.co.za, an initiative by the Association for Savings and Investment South Africa (ASISA).