THINK back to January 2015 – you were going to get thin, wipe out your debts and go to the gym. Yeah, right.
It might be easier to hit the mark if you take smaller steps, so let’s start by focusing on the finances.
For many South Africans, pure survival is more or less what they can hope for. But even for many salary earners, 2015 has not been a great year: the spiralling cost of living, low or no salary increases, the tumble of the rand, and the ever-present threat of retrenchments have made sure of that. In short, it’s been tough, and by all accounts 2016 will be tougher.
So if you do earn a salary, what can you realistically do to reduce the number of sleepless nights you have about finances?
Accept that you’re not entitled to a certain standard of living
Life owes us very little. No one can really say that they are entitled to certain things because of what they’re used to, because of their qualifications, or because of how they grew up. Of course everyone wants a comfortable life and nice things, but you’re basically entitled to what you can pay for. You have to adjust your lifestyle to your income. Harsh, but true.
Don’t make any new debts
There’s little point in paying off your debts if you keep on making new ones. All you’re doing is making the bank’s shareholders happy, because of all the interest the bank is raking in. Just because you have a job and qualify for a massive overdraft or credit card limit doesn’t mean you have to use it.
Also, open all your statements. Ignoring them won’t make the debts go away. You need to know what’s going on in your accounts. Query charges and debit orders if you don’t understand what they are.
Give the kids an allowance
If kids come and ask you every time they want something, your life becomes a permanent financial tug-of-war – especially if you have teenagers. Give them a reasonable fixed allowance, decide what needs to be covered by it, and stick to it. That way you can budget more carefully, and so can they. They get to decide what’s important to them and how they want to spend their money.
This is an important lesson you can teach them early in life. Be firm, and don’t give in to manipulation if they run out of cash because of poor planning.
Try and get away from the edge a little
Savings of even one month’s salary can spare you a lot of anxiety. It’s difficult to get together, but a little bit put aside every month quickly adds up. That way you’re not immediately in trouble if something goes wrong and you suddenly have to pay for a plane ticket to visit a sick relative, or your cellphone gets stolen.
Learn to say you are broke when you are
There is no shame in this, especially when you consider that many of your friends living the high life are possibly doing so on credit. If they suggest going to an expensive restaurant, don’t feel shy to say: “I'm sorry, but we’ve used up our entertainment budget for the month. Why don’t we have a bring-and-braai, or go out next month?”
Make a budget, and stick to it
You might have to adjust it as the year goes on, and certain prices go up or new things are added to the list. You have to be realistic, though. You are not going to get away with spending R500 a month on food. Keep a record of what you spend, and check it at the end of the month.
Make do and mend
Empty your wardrobe – some of the clothes you haven’t been wearing are still perfectly good. Check to see what you have before rushing off and buying new things. Fix the things you have. You can save yourself a fortune that way. Reupholster sofas and chairs rather than buying new ones, dye faded clothing, fix appliances that can still go for a couple of years.
We live in a throw-away culture. You can save yourself a packet by not becoming part of that way of thinking. You really don’t always need the latest and greatest of everything.
Don’t waste money
It sounds obvious, but it is so easy to fritter away hundreds of rands on buying cappuccinos every day, buying fruit out of season, giving large tips because you have no change, buying at convenience stores regularly, not eating the stuff in your fridge before it goes off, buying expensive lunches at work every day instead of making your own and not planning your car trips to minimise petrol usage. Just halving your expenses on all of these and putting the money aside could quickly add up to a sizeable emergency fund.
Earn interest, don’t pay it.
Use credit only for emergencies
Most importantly, you need to figure out what you consider to be an emergency. A packed-up gearbox on the car, a sudden unexpected doctor’s visit (after the medical savings account on your medical scheme has been depleted) or a lavish birthday party? Once you start buying things such as groceries on credit, red lights should start flashing.
Don’t think of credit card limits and overdraft limits as your money. It’s not - it’s the bank’s. Never forget it.
Become a bad consumer
Don’t let yourself be pressurised into buying designer clothing, fancy toys and expensive electronics because you think you will feel better about yourself if you do. You won’t – OK, maybe for a day or two, until you see what you’ve spent and the serious dent it has made in your bank balance. And then you go out shopping again to make yourself feel better.
In this game, you are not the winner – the retailers and the banks are.
* What are your financial resolutions for 2016? Let us know and you could get published.
Susan Erasmus is a freelance writer. Opinions expressed are her own.