Cape Town - It’s January and the heat is on – in more ways than one.
For most people January means a cash crisis. Christmas holidays are always more expensive than you think, and now January lies ahead: it is boiling hot and you’re also cash-strapped.
Of course, the secret lies in planning ahead, putting money aside during the year, buying school uniforms in November, and not splurging in December. But all of that is easier said than done, and while it’s hats off to the people who have managed to do all of that, for many others it is crunch time.
If you find yourself in dire financial straits right now, it might be an idea to make a list of what you spent money on in the last couple of weeks – and cross off the things you think you can do without next year. Make a point of reading this again at the beginning of November.
Here are 11 steps you can take to get you through this long month.
1. Do a stocktake
Look at your statements and find out exactly how much money you have left until the next payday – if any. Make your sums and look at the total, however scary that might be. Decide how much you want to use of your credit facilities if you are not already maxed out. Try and minimise the amount of debt you incur, otherwise the cash crisis is just going to spill into the rest of the year.
2. Make a list of the essentials
What are the things that you absolutely have to buy this month? That would include food, transport to work, electricity and school fees/uniforms if you have children. By this time of the month most debit orders have already gone through for January. If they all went through, you’re doing well.
3. Talk to the family
Tell everyone you’re cash-strapped so that you don’t have to fight this battle alone. The kids will know this is not the time to come and ask for money for extras or luxuries, as you simply don’t have it.
4. Talk to your creditors
If there are any payments that have been skipped, pick up the phone and call your creditors. Make some arrangement to pay off the arrears. Believe me, they are used to getting such calls this time of the year – and they prefer that to your remaining silent and just not paying.
5. Call in loans if anyone owes you money
It’s worth a try, but be prepared that they might also be cash-strapped at this time of the year. But at least they will be reminded that they owe you.
6. See if there’s anything you can sell
If you have stuff you are never going to use again, sell it on Gumtree or OLX. Clear some clutter and make some cash. Even a few hundred rand could make a huge difference to you right now.
7. Borrow from a friend or relative
This is only in a real crisis – usually this is not recommended at all, as it could sour relationships later on. If you are driven to do this, be clear about when you are going to pay back the money – and do it. It’s extremely bad form to borrow from someone again if you still owe them from last time.
8. Buy veggie combos on special
Look out for these at big supermarkets. When it comes to these, R100 goes a long way. It won’t kill you either to go vegetarian for a few weeks. Clean out your food cupboards. There is always something lurking in the back of cupboards and freezers that could feed you for a couple of meals. This could be packets of pasta, frozen veggies, tinned and bottled products you have long forgotten about.
9. Buy on credit
This is not recommended, as it just postpones the cash crisis to next month. Paying interest in grocery purchases is also a way of getting yourself into serious trouble. But if the kids are hungry, you might have no choice. Just don’t make a habit of this and buy only absolute essentials. The same goes for all shop accounts.
10. Public transport/lift clubs
Petrol is pricey. Finding a cheaper way of getting to work might help you make it to the end of the month. Check out buses and trains if you have never done so before.
11. Rediscover free entertainment
Do you have a heap of DVDs people have given you over the years? Or TV programmes you have recorded? Now is the time to watch them. It might also be the time to rediscover the local library. All of these can help pass the time while you wait with bated breath for payday.
* Add your tips on how to survive January and plan for the rest of the year.
Susan Erasmus is a freelance writer. Opinions expressed are her own.