South African consumers are generally not very good at saving or budgeting, so defaults on bonds and rents are always the highest at the start of a new year, according to Rudi Botha, CEO of BetterBond.
However, there are some positive steps you can take right away to help make ends meet, says Botha.
The first of these is to "get real" about your financial situation.
"Get your bank statements and find out exactly how much money you have available for January. Then make a list of your essential or fixed monthly expenses and a separate list of variable expenses - like your grocery, cell-phone, utility and petrol costs," suggests Botha.
Pay the minimum
Botha suggests paying the minimum amount required on all your fixed expenses and your credit card account.
"You should definitely not put your home at risk, or your car if you need it to get to work. At the same time, you should review your medical aid and insurance policies and see if you can negotiate lower premiums on any of them without losing benefits," says Botha.
This especially applies to car insurance because the value of your vehicle decreases every year.
Botha says you need to work on your variable expenses list and see where you can cut costs, because this is where the money will hopefully come from to cover extras like school clothes and equipment.
You need to tackle your family's back-to-school requirements and buy only what you absolutely need right now.
"Most schools will offer a discount if you pay the fees for a whole year, for example, but if you can't manage that big amount right now, just pay by the month," says Botha.
Similarly, he suggests to just buy whatever uniform and stationery items your children need for the first term. You can add the rest in the course of the year.
"It is important to keep the use of your credit and store cards to a minimum now to avoid increasing your debt load,” says Botha.
Make sure you always compare prices, even on relatively inexpensive items.
"Lots of little savings can add up to quite a big amount, and comparative shopping is much easier now that most things are online," says Botha.
Finally, Botha suggests that this might be a great time to take on a part-time second job, or to get working on a "side hustle" that will bring in extra income all year round that you can allocate specifically to paying off your debts – or save to ease the load during January and February of the following year.