No-one wants to default on their bond instalments or other account payments, but often in January and February, there just isn’t enough money to go around after a big holiday splurge in December.
“SA consumers are unfortunately not very good at saving or budgeting,” says Rudi Botha, CEO of BetterBond*, SA’s leading bond originator, “so defaults on bonds and rents are always the highest at the start of the year, when many families have to cope with extra back-to-school and back-to-work expenses on top of bigger credit and store card repayments after their festive season spending.
“However, instead of just lying awake at night worrying about how you’ll cope, or running up more debt at exorbitant interest rates, there are some positive steps you can take right away to help make ends meet.”
- The first of these, he says, 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 payments (like your bond or rent, car repayment and insurance premiums) and a separate list of variable expenses (like your grocery, cell-phone, utility and petrol costs).”
- Second, pay 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. This especially applies to car insurance because the value of your vehicle decreases every year.”
- Third, says Botha, 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. “For example, you might decide to buy only half of your usual cell-phone airtime this month. Many people also cut out all alcohol, take-aways and restaurant meals in January.” Other ways to save money include taking public transport or organizing a car-pool with work colleagues and using your own car only when really necessary; cashing in any “points” you have built up on store-cards and rewards cards over the past year and using them now for essential purchases, and avoiding any additional commitments like a new gym subscription until later in the year.
- Then fourth, he says, 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. Similarly, just buy whatever uniform and stationery items your children need for this term. You can add the rest in the course of the year, and it is important to keep the use of your credit and store cards to a minimum now to avoid increasing your debt load.”
- Fifth, 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. Many online stores also offer free delivery at this time of year, which means even more savings, of time as well as money.”
- Then finally, says Botha, 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 next January and February.