Don’t let festivities feast on your finance

Social media is full of quips about January. Yes, it is a tough month for many, especially if the festive season was a little more financially jolly than it should have been.

Sbusiso Kumalo, chief marketing officer for African Bank, says these last two pandemic years should have taught consumers some valuable finance lessons.

The coming months will also continue to be tough for consumers, he said, warning that the depressed economy would continue to affect jobs.

“The last two years have taught us much about the value of saving for an emergency. Consumers would be wise to heed these and other money lessons into 2022 and beyond,” Mr Kumalo says.

“Good financial planning and money management have no curfew or expiry date; these are the foundation of providing well for your family, realising your dreams and being able to have a financially secure retirement.”

According to a recent report, last year South Africans, on average, spent R5 673 more than their usual expenses and this year it is predicted that our festive season spending will go up by 20%. While borrowing a little money to get you through the silly season may seem like a good idea, it can often have unforeseen consequences.

Head of Sanlam business development for retail credit, Ayanda Ndimande, says: “Credit might seem like a nice ‘pay now and worry later’ nice option – but it can come back and bite you.

“You should be aware that interest rates are high, and fees will be added. What you think you are paying is not the true price of the item in the long run. For example, dipping into your store account for R3 000 worth of holiday outfits and paying this off over 12 months could cost as much as 39% more. It’s always the better option to try to spend within your means.

“You also have your credit record to consider. Failure to pay debts on time impacts your credit score, which in turn, curtails your ability to apply for ‘good credit’ down-the-line. Keep your record squeaky clean by ditching unnecessary debt when you can.”

Money issues don’t just affect your bank balance. Finances are the driving force behind 55% of divorces and can have a major impact on mental health.

Often using credit to fund December activities only leaves one with a problem during the long month of January. Being financially responsible during the most tempting month of the year doesn’t mean you have to sit at home and be bored.

Here are some tips on how to make your money stretch further this December:

  • Work out a budget for gifts, holidays, meals and entertaining and stick to it. Remember that your regular expenses such as rent, bond repayments, policies etc. remain during December and January so you need to factor these in when you plan your budget.
  • Write a list of everyone you want to buy presents for, and then write ideas of what to get them next to their names. Don’t be tempted to buy extras. Stick to the list.
  • Do research. Shop around and compare prices; don’t simply purchase the first thing that you see and keep an eye out for specials which often run during this period – particularly online flash sales. Also shop where you are rewarded. Most retailers offer loyalty cards with good bang for your buck. Take the time to subscribe (which is free) and swipe the card whenever you make a purchase. There could be a decent amount in points or cash-back on the card at the end of the month to help cover groceries.
  • Buy small and significant, rather than large and lavish. Remember there’s nothing wrong with being moderate. You don’t need to show someone love by spending a fortune on them.
  • Consider debt consolidation if you are struggling to manage your debt. It is especially helpful if you want to simplify your credit by settling other debt and turning several loan payments into one cost-effective payment.
  • Try and avoid spending money you don’t have. Remember that when buying on credit you pay an increased price for the money that you borrowed when you finally pay that amount back.
  • Don’t blow all your bonus. Consider investing it and watching it grow over the long term.
  • Agree upfront who you’re buying gifts for this year. Why not chat with your extended family and decide not to do gifts this year? Or play “Secret Santa”, where each person is allocated one family member to get a gift for, anonymously.
  • Do DIY gifts. It’s cute, especially if you involve the kids. Gogo is bound to be delighted with her macaroni frame. And aunties and uncles are sure to be thrilled with home-made cookies, decorated by small paws. DIY your decorations as well.
  • Stick to a bring-and-share. You don’t have to bankroll the whole braai. Try a potluck bring-and-share celebration instead.
  • Get out the envelopes. Tried and tested. Allocate an amount to gifts, entertainment, food, and anonymous, extra expenses. Withdraw the amount for each category upfront. Stick the money in an envelope and put your card(s) away. Once the money in the envelope is gone, your budget is done; don’t allow yourself to draw more.
  • Put aside money for the big January expenses. As soon as your December salaries come in, put aside funds for school fees, rent, and other big expenses.
  • DIY December date nights. Do a December challenge, where you take turns to plan at-home date nights, on a set budget. Compete to see who can come up with the sweetest evening in.
  • Champagne lifestyle on a shoestring budget:. Social media makes it tempting to live your best, bubbliest life in “Dezemba”. Consider switching off from the “socials” to give yourself a break and avoid that “Keeping up with the Khumalos” feeling. Focus on family time instead.

Ms Ndimande concludes: “Budget for the holiday and stick to it. Be responsible and mindful that pay day is often a long month away. If you need to swipe, only use one card, and stay within affordable limits. The festive season needn’t be about being more extravagant than your means. Take joy from the simple things and the fact that when January rolls around, you’ll still be feeling financially fit.”

Mr Kumalo agrees: “Whatever your plan is for the festive season expenses, the key is sticking to the plan. Don’t be tempted to dip into your savings, for example, that may be intended for something else like school fees. Let’s get money savvy so we can start the new year debt- and worry-free.”