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Kick your finances into shape this year

Remove the worry from ‘Janu-worry’ and head into the rest of the year with ease.
The new year brings with it a renewed sense of opportunity and is the best time to straighten out your finances. Image: Shutterstock

Every new year comes with a fresh set of resolutions. Often these are left by the wayside before January is over. When it comes to finances, it’s a common joke that January is the longest month of the year, with the time between pay cheques stretching from around December 15 to January 25 and straddling the ‘silly’ season.

But what if you tackled it differently? Just as getting physically fit requires discipline and time, you can also get your finances into shape by implementing a year planner. Here’s how:

  • January

This is the month when you plan, plan, plan. If you haven’t already sorted out school fees, find out about the upfront discount you qualify for when you pay fees upfront for the year. This discount actually works out to a worthwhile saving.

Read: School fees: Is the upfront discount worth it?

Discounts will vary between schools and range between 2.5% to 7%. Some schools also offer a sibling discount where you receive a discount on your second child’s school fees.  Should you decide that you would rather make regular, monthly payments, factor this into your budget and make payment arrangements with the school. Take into account expenses such as stationery, computer equipment, extramural activities, uniforms and sports attire.

  • February

The shortest month of the year, this is also a month dreaded by some as it is tax season. Maximise your tax breaks by topping up your retirement annuity. Ask a financial planner or a tax consultant to help you do your tax return so that you don’t end up paying more tax than necessary. If you use a car for business purposes, make a note of the mileage on February 29 (2020 is a leap year) and ensure that you have all your supporting documents in order. Sars requires you to keep your supporting documents for up to five years. Andre Basson of Brenthurst Wealth Management notes that you can contribute up to 27.5% of your annual taxable income in a retirement annuity, subject to a maximum tax deduction limit of R350 000 per annum.

  • March

Use this month to review your short-term and long-term insurance. Find out if you are insured for the correct values on your car and household insurance. When it comes to your car, find out if you are insured for retail value or market value. According to short-term insurer Santam, the retail value is the average price a car dealer would sell it for.

Insuring for retail value means you can replace your car with a similar make and model.

Market value is almost always lower than the retail value and takes into account a number of variables, including mileage, vehicle condition, service history and accident reports. If you were to sell your car privately, the market value would be the price that you could likely sell it for. 

Take an inventory of your household contents and obtain valuations where required. Check this against the amount you are insured for. Some insurers will have a list of approved valuers you can use.

If you have lost a significant amount of weight or stopped smoking in the past year, let your long-term insurer know. This information is important so they can reassess your risk and possibly adjust your premium accordingly. You also need to reconsider your life assurance needs if you have had any major life changes such as having a child, getting married or divorced, or changing jobs.  

  • April

A budget is not a static document but something that needs to be reviewed regularly. If you haven’t already done so, review your budget – check where your money is going and where you can cut expenses. Lebogang Gaoaketse, Communications, Social Media and PR Manager at WesBank, says it’s vital to take note of exactly how much money you have available and work out your budget accordingly. “This can help you draw up a watertight strategy for your finances that will carry you through the tough economic year ahead.” If you’re not sure where to start, Old Mutual has a budget template that you can adapt for your use.

  • May

Winter is coming. This is when you want to review your energy use before the electricity bills skyrocket. Investigate and weigh up the installation costs of a solar geyser against the potential savings. Eskom says that a family using 200 litres of water a day and a 150-litre geyser can save as much as 122kWh of energy per month, if they drop the thermostat temperature from 70ºC to 60ºC and keep the geyser off from 6am to 9pm (15 hours) each day. A simple change in habits can result in significant savings in this case.

  • June

The year is halfway through and it’s a good time to review how much money is left in your medical savings account. Schedule your health checks such as the optometrist and dentist.

If you have a self-funding gap, find out from your medical aid how much you’ll need to spend before you get past the threshold so that your medical aid will cover your costs – and build this into your budget if it’s not accounted for already.

Deon Kotze, head of Discovery Health Research and Developments, says that 65% of members with a self-funding gap deplete their medical savings before the year is out.

  • July

It’s savings month and a good time to review your savings plans. Are you on track to meet your savings goals and are you in the right products? Check how much you’re paying in fees: remember that a difference of just 0.5% can make a significant dent in your savings. Prem Govender, chairperson of the South African Savings Institute, says by July 2019 South Africa’s household saving rate had declined to -0.5% of gross domestic product, while our household debt as a percentage of disposable income was 71.9%, “meaning that for every rand earned, nearly three quarters is spent on debt.”

  • August

Women’s month. According to Statistics SA’s 2018 General Household Survey, women head almost four out of ten South African households (37.9%). Furthermore, studies show that women are paid at least 25% less than their male counterparts. Vumile Msweli, chief executive of Hesed Consulting, advises women to find out what the role pays before accepting a job. “You can do this by chatting to recruiters and male colleagues. Always ask for a dummy payslip to see if your take-home is in fact higher than your current earnings and use this as a base for your salary negotiations.”

  • September

If you’ve let your filing fall behind during the year, spring clean and get your documents in order. Most schools require a term’s notice if your child will be leaving. So, if you are planning on changing your child’s school in 2021, now is the time to give notice at their current school. If you fail to give proper notice, you might find yourself liable for a term of school fees that you would not otherwise have paid.

  • October

Medical schemes start putting out their annual increases for the following year around October and November. Review your plan to check that it is the most suitable plan for you and compare the benefits you receive to the premiums you’re required to pay. Most medical schemes will have consultants who can talk you through the different benefit options.

  • November

If you will be lucky enough to receive a bonus in 2020, this is the ideal time to plan how you’re going to spend it. The 13th Annual Holiday Shopping Survey from Accenture, released in October 2019, says there’s a growing trend where consumers are moving away from buying physical items, in favour of ‘experience’ or ‘service’ gifts, such as travel, concerts, lawn care, home cleaning and spa treatments. Lettie Mzwinila, specialist in strategic markets from Allan Gray, suggests you adapt this slightly and consider opening an investment, such as a unit trust or tax-free investment account, on behalf of someone you love. “Starting a unit trust or a tax-free investment can cost as little as R500 per month and adds up to an investment of R6 000 over a year.”

  • December

The month when common sense tends to go out the window. FNB chief executive Jacques Cilliers cautions against taking on debt to cover the cost of purchases such as food and travel. “Credit or loans should be used in a way that balances the cost of long-term gains with day-to-day living expenses,” he says. Cilliers advises using an additional income such as a bonus, towards building a small buffer in your budget to supplement new year expenses such as school fees in January.

“People travelling during the holidays should make every use of rewards programmes and purchase fuel or discounted airline tickets with those programmes. Taking a careful approach to spending has become increasingly important in the current climate of a subdued economy.”


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The myth about switching off your geyser is a complete fallacy and in fact a lie perpetrated by Eskom. Think about it: if this was true, all geysers would come factory-fitted with a time switch. Geysers already have a thermostat that switches off the element when the water is hot enough.

Raising the temperature of the water from room temperature, once it’s been off the entire day, to 70 degrees takes far more energy than keeping the water at the same temperature.

You are mostly wrong, however there are exceptions.
Ever heard of standing heat loss?
Keeping your water at 70C actually uses a lot of power, and most of the time you only need it at 70C when you intend to use it (mostly you would keep a geyser at 60C, hot enough that it prevents Legionnaires’ disease but not wasting energy on heating)

Depending on how good your geyser is insulated and how much water you use will be the determining factor.
But more often than not, if its a small household you will save power, don’t believe me?
Install a efergy energy monitor and use a timer to heat up the water for when you need it (E.g showers)

I had a neighbor that also vehemently argued with me about the topic, I then told her, try turning it on only for 1 hour per day before you take your shower, she has since installed a geyser timer and is very thankful.

Google is your friend. I am correct. You’re wrong.

One more point: if this was really the case, why aren’t you a millionaire yet? Go and sell time switches to everybody with the promise that you can reduce their electricity bills? Why isn’t there an industry selling this and why are geysers not sold with time switches factory fitted? Surely if this really worked, somebody would have done this long ago. So, nope, you’re wrong. Once again, don’t believe me, go and Google it.

Ever heard of Geyserwise?
They made a thriving business out of exactly that.

I made my own custom solution with a solid state relay and temp probe that I use to log my geysers temperature and to do the switching.

Absolutely right. When I keep my geyser on my bill comes to R800 for the month. When I switch it on for an hour every two days the bill is R200/R300 max for the month. It’s awesome! But I have prepaid. Maybe some people dont.

Once again, why aren’t you super rich by applying your (incorrect) theory and saving the country millions? Why would Geyser Manufacturer A not simply factory fit your “solution” to their products, thereby having a tremendous advantage over Manufacturer B?

Because, and you also know this, the laws of physics prove that you’re wrong. Just as maintaining a constant speed saves petrol in your car, so maintaining a constant temperature in your geyser saves energy. This is Thermodynamics 101, not something that you can cheat.

This does not even apply to the law of thermodynamics.
I am not claiming to create (over unity) of energy.

You clearly know very little of physics.
To heat 1L of water by 1C uses 4200 joules

So a 150L geyser would use 4200 x 150L x 45C (lets say water temp was cold and at 25C and you are heating it to 70C) would mean you would need 28 350 000‬ joules, more easily expressed as 7.87kWh

That is the amout of energy it would take to heat a 150L geyser all the way from 25C to 70C

Now, with standing heat losses your geyser would want to naturally dissipate its heat into the surrounding area, the higher your geyser temperature is to the ambient the loses will be greater.

Based on this paper here:
The standing heat loss for a 150L geyser set to 70C with ambient at 20C shows a 2.5kWh per day standing heat loss, that is energy totally wasted trying to keep the water temperature that is trying it’s best to dissipate into the atmosphere at that level.

If I only heat my geyser daily from 45C to 65C (which is what I do now)
I would need 4200 joules x 150L x 20C = 12 600 000‬ Joules = 3.5kWh

I will spend slightly more energy heating my entire geyser by 20C than you will just waste trying to keep yours at 70C

I have a long comment stuck in moderation for some reason.

“Once again, why aren’t you super rich by applying your (incorrect) theory and saving the country millions? Why would Geyser Manufacturer A not simply factory fit your “solution” to their products, thereby having a tremendous advantage over Manufacturer B?”

I don’t have to invent anything, companies (like Geyserwise that I mentioned) have been building geyser timers for decades, drive down to your local ACDC Express and ask them if they sell geyser timers, they are everywhere, so rather ask yourself, what do these people buying them know that you don’t?

“This is Thermodynamics 101, not something that you can cheat.”
This has nothing to do with thermodynamics, I am not claiming to create more energy (over unity) or anything like that, I am reducing my standing heat loss, in my longer comment I pointed out, that while using 0 water, just trying to keep your water at 70C will use 2.5kWh per day, remember the higher your geysers temp is above ambient the higher these losses will be.

Incatus, you are clearly not a technically-trained person.

PJJ has got it 100% right. In your terms, his advice is “on the money!”

I have done for many years exactly what PJJ suggests here – “switch on the geyser an hour before you shower, then switch it off immediately afterwards, and until you shower the next day.”

The savings ARE significant.

I suggest you personally conduct this experiment for one month. Then only, with REAL results in hand (not half-baked waffle), defend your viewpoint?

Switching off your geyser definitely helps.

I switch my geyser on once a week in very hot weeks, otherwise once every four days.

My electrical bill for one person in a townhouse is R250 per month.

Why waste natural resources and pollute the planet in order to ensure your 75 degrees warm water comfort?

Your knowledge of Physics is probably not up to standard as your type of reasoning would imply that if I keep my hot water kettle on 24/7 it would use less electricity than if I only switch it on if I need hot water.

If you save R20.00 a month it will be a miracle. It just ain’t worth it.

Your knowledge of Physics is probably not up to standard as your type of reasoning would imply that if I keep my hot water kettle on 24/7 it would use less electricity than if I only switch it on if I need hot water.

For crying out loud Incitatus. One cannot discuss this without comparing temperatures. The loss from 75C to 50C cost more than a loss from 65C to 50C. Set your geyser at 65C and all is well. The thermostat will do it’s work.

Time your geyser and you will find that on average it switches on for 2 minutes every 15 – 20 minutes (depending on winter or summer) just to keep the water at the prescribed temperature. Let’s say over 24 hours there is a period of 15 hours during which you don’t use any hour water implying the geyser is on 15 x 6 minutes = 90 minutes just to keep the right temperature. Now, take the time the geyser needs to get to the prescribed temperature after an off period of 15 hours.

End of comments.





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