The holidays and fun have left many South Africans facing the New Year with financial hangovers, a long January, and the reality that their money problems could last well into 2022. But taking ten steps to get personal finances back in shape could make things look a lot better.
The art of making financial resolutions that work lies in moving as quickly as possible and taking the steps needed to build a sustainable financial future. The steps needed to improve your financial health are:
1. Knowing what you owe
Taking action to get financially fit cannot begin until you understand what your debts are. Listing loans, credit card debt, account balances and other debts is the step that identifies how big the job ahead will be.
This stage is vital because it can help avoid debt having a long-term impact on your credit rating. Also, until you resolve the problem, the chances are that you will not be able to make savings plans.
2. Stopping all unnecessary spending and accounts
Once your level of debt is known, you should stop spending on items you do not need. Closing unnecessary accounts will ensure that your spending is reduced – even though there could be less comforts in the house.
3. Paying off debts
Attack debts by paying off those with high interest rates first (some stores charge as much as 21% interest on accounts). As these are paid off the money used to settle these accounts can be used to pay off lower interest debts at a faster rate.
4. Consolidating your debts
Consolidating your debt in a single account means simplifying payments. In addition, as debts will be paid off as they are pulled together to form a single debt, so interest payments will be reduced. This means that the size of the overall debt also reduces.
5. Downscaling your lifestyle
Changing your financial habits will involve taking tough decisions. However, deciding to keep your car for another year, cutting back on restaurant visits and reducing spending on luxury items will have immediate benefits.
6. Seeing bonuses in a different light
It is tempting when a financial windfall comes your way to see the income as ‘extra’ and spend it. However, any bonus or gift you receive will work for you if it pays off accounts or kickstarts a savings plan.
7. Becoming a poly-jobber
More South Africans are using their skills to create second incomes. These poly-jobbers often take on projects offered on the web. The advantage is that the time required for the task and the rewards offered are negotiated upfront.
Again, improving your financial status means using money from this source to reduce your debts, rather than spending it on niceties. Once you are debt-free, the income can be used as you wish.
8. Not panicking
The worst thing to do is panic. By cancelling life and insurance policies, liquidating savings, or investments, you could be damaging your future security. Life, funeral, and short-term policies protect you and your family from the unexpected. Raising your personal risks by using the money to pay debts could bring only short-lived advantages.
9. Becoming a saver
To become financially fit, you should be a saver. Starting to save should be easier once your debt levels reduce. Developing a new personal budget will ensure that additional money can be paid into accounts. You will then have funds for emergencies, as well as short, medium, and long-term savings plans.
10. Getting expert financial advice
When making a fresh start, expert knowledge and advice can make a difference. A personal financial adviser will assist by reviewing your budget and developing strategies to help you meet your financial goals. As these strategies will be reviewed regularly and adapted, you can be sure that your savings and investments will continue to grow.
The key to changing bad money habits and becoming financially fit depends on financial education. The more you know about the right way to preserve and grow your money, the better your future will be. The time for change is now. To achieve remarkable things tomorrow means taking small steps today.
John Manyike, Head of Financial Education at Old Mutual.