If Lockdown has taught us anything it has taught us to appreciate the flexible nature of working from home. Many South African families have got used to juggling family and work pressures from home, particularly moms who often have school children at home too. It has brought into sharp focus the need to manage the family’s income better, particularly with many families now having to rely on one income earner in the home or two reduced salaries.
Lindiwe Miyambu, African Bank’s Group Executive: Human Capital, says the pandemic has given everyone a wake up call. “We have all had to take stock of our finances and ensure our depleted financial budget still aligns with our goals. A reboot has been necessary in many cases.”
Here are six simple steps to take to ensure your amended budget is still aligning with your goals.
- Check your credit score
One of the simplest and least time-consuming tasks you can check off your financial to-do list first is to pull your free credit reports and check for inconsistencies. Remember a credit report tracks information from your various credit accounts, including payment history, late payments and account balances, as well as your public records and inquires into your credit. It is free so a good way to check you are still on track.
- Ensure your budget aligns with your goals
The cost of living is always increasing and our salaries won’t always keep pace. At some point in our lives, every one of us will feel like the money we earn barely covers our monthly expenses. Throw a sudden emergency into the mix, like an urgent car repair or a hospital visit, and it soon starts to feel like we are losing control of our finances.
If you’ve been working with the same budget for a while now, it’s smart to re-evaluate it and see if your money is going where you want it to. Ask yourself: Are you saving enough in your emergency fund? Are you investing for retirement? Are you happy with what you’re spending your money on? An easy way to check this is to carefully go through your credit card and bank statements for the last three months. You might find some recurring expenses that surprise you, or categories where you’re spending less than you originally planned.
- Bills first, save second, spend third
Working-from-home does provide a more flexible work set-up but may also mean an unstable income. To ensure that you remain in control of your finances, no matter how inconsistent, it is best to pay your bills first. It really comes down to the 50/30/20 rule. Ensure that all of your repayments are made on loans, credit cards or on your bond and ensure that your monthly debit orders are covered. That’s the 50%. Once you’ve paid your bills, be sure to put some of your money into a savings account that delivers a steady interest rate that will guarantee growth. There goes your 30%. You may want to consider a 32-day notice account which offers a higher return on investment than a savings account. Also remember not to lose the value of interest compounded monthly, if you are able to look at a longer-term investment. Lastly, once you’ve paid your bills and saved your money, set about spending the remaining 20% wisely.
- Funnel a portion of your income into a credit card account
If you work from home, the chances are high that you will need to replace or repair stationery, hardware or software. Try and funnel a portion of your income into a credit card account. This will ensure that you have enough credit to pay for ad hoc items or repairs while building up a positive credit score. Also keep your account in the positive as it gives you some leeway for monthly payments if your income is less than expected.
- Focus on one savings goal, not percentages:
Start with a specific goal, such as putting away R500 a month. This could be for a holiday when lockdown lifts or just to buy your child some new summer clothes he/she will need when summer finally arrives. Next, break it down into how much you need to save per month and prioritise setting aside that amount first. Then, as long as you are meeting your other financial responsibilities as well, you may have more money over than you think.
- Check interest rates and fees carefully
High-yield savings accounts are obviously first choice as they earn more interest than traditional savings accounts. If you don’t have one this could be the time to do some research. While you’re at it, run an audit on your current banking situation: How much is your bank charging you in fees? Do you have easy access to ATMs or online banking when you need them? How’s the customer service? If you’re unhappy, you can make a more permanent switch to a different institution.
“Lockdown has taught us so many lessons – the biggest is to ensure we all have some form of buffer for an emergency. It is never too late to start saving or changing your spending habits and there is no such thing as saving too little. It all adds up,” concludes Miyambu.