How to reduce financial stress

Having a budget for your money is key.
Having a budget for your money is key.
Image: Andrey Popov

South Africans experience high levels of financial stress, with 36% of people saying they are "highly stressed" about money and 6% suffering from "overwhelming stress".

This is according to the 2018 Old Mutual Savings and Investment Monitor.

"The less you earn, the more likely you are to be stressed. Low earners struggle to cover day-to-day expenses and are not able to absorb higher prices or unexpected financial expenses," reads a recent press release issued by Old Mutual.

John Manyike, head of financial education at Old Mutual, says households with an income of less than R6 000 a month are now spending about 79% of their income on consumption, the highest since the survey started in 2009.

"Factors such as lack of financial education and the way you relate to money can also influence the level of financial stress you experience," he says.

Manyike says knowing your "money personality" can help spenders, over-cautious types, or savvy types.

But behavioural finance specialist Gerde van der Linde says it's not so simple.

"We are never just one type. It might be that some people are more prone to stress. And money stress depends very much on a person's circumstances at a point in time. Those who look after their money very well can be those who stress the most. Then there are those who spend money carelessly and go bust and start again, because they have a high tolerance for risk."

Van der Linde says a good financial coach can help you analyse your cashflow and develop a plan for your money.

"Making a few small changes to the way you manage your money can make a huge difference to your life."

Thayn Niemand, a certified financial planner at Verso Wealth, says irrespective of your personality type, you need a budget "because the numbers don't lie".

"For me, a budget is key. For all clients, we set out a 12-month budget, of expenses for every month of the year because February's expenses are very different to December's. Having identified if there will be a surplus or a deficit, we then identify areas where you can reduce your expenditure."

Niemand says the more serious your cashflow challenge, the more closely you need to manage your money. You may need to keep a daily account of what you are spending to make sure you don't run out of money before your next pay day.

"It's not so much about what you earn; it's more about what you spend. I've seen guys who earn R100 000 a month battling with their finances because the more we earn, the more we tend to spend."

A budget is a plan for your money. Unless you have a plan for your money, it's going to be like water in your hands.

Niemand says if you can't increase your income, you need to reduce your expenditure. Conversely, if you can't reduce your expenditure, you will have to increase your income. Increasingly, South Africans who have formal and full-time jobs are finding alternative ways to make money on the side.

"Look around your house and sell what you aren't using or rent it out," he suggests.

It's important to think about how we spend money. "For example, it's psychologically easy to pay with a credit card."

He recalls a time when his son was working a holiday job. "One day he told me that he had worked out that his lunch - a pie and Coke - had cost him two hours labour." If you work out how many salary cheques your cellphone contract is costing you, you might be horrified and decide not to upgrade to a newer phone. A small decision like that could save you thousands of rands.

Be wary of accounts that enable you to buy food on credit. Personal finance experts agree that unless you pay off your accounts in full at the end of each month, buying food and other essentials on credit is a debt trap. Credit should be used sparingly and not to sustain a lifestyle you can't afford.

The less credit you have, the less financial stress you are likely to have.

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