How to manage your financial wellbeing in a recession

Live within your means and don’t acquire unnecessary debt

26 March 2020 - 15:13
By Mxolisi Siwundla
Try to live within your means and don’t take on unnecessary debt. Picture: 123RF/PAPAN SAENKUTRUEANG
Try to live within your means and don’t take on unnecessary debt. Picture: 123RF/PAPAN SAENKUTRUEANG

Economists are increasingly warning of a global recession as the 10 worst-affected countries by the Covid-19 virus contribute more than 50% to global economic growth.

Mxolisi Siwundla
Mxolisi Siwundla

In South Africa, our country already dipped into a technical recession after the economy experienced negative growth in two consecutive quarters: -0.8% and -1.4% in the third and fourth quarters of 2019 respectively. While most people have a high-level understanding of the implications of a recession, not many are able to shield themselves from the short- and long-term consequences. 

A negative growth performance means that economic activity is not moving forward. Consequently, some of those who are employed face the risk of losing their jobs, creating an even worse situation for a country that already has a high prevalence of unemployment and over-indebtedness among its population. The experts say that the road to recovery for the South African economy will be long and households can expect low growth for the foreseeable future. 

What can we do as consumers to ready ourselves for this period and ensure that our finances survive the economic challenges ahead? Below are five practical interventions you can start implementing in your financial life. Not all of us will have the room in our budgets to follow all these interventions, but you can start with the most appropriate items for you. 

  1. Find ways to earn an extra income. This is commonly known as the gig economy or a side hustle. The benefit of doing this is that you diversify your income and cushion yourself from being too financially exposed to underperforming sectors of the economy.
  2. Allocate savings for a rainy day. If the low GDP projections of the Reserve Bank, National Treasury and the World Bank are correct, then we can expect more retrenchments to be announced across the country in the short-term. While you cannot always control whether you’ll keep your job, you have a degree of control on how you plan for emergencies like these. An emergency fund which can cover six months of living expenses will lighten the pressure, stress and sometimes trauma of losing your job. 
  3. Live within your means and don’t acquire unnecessary debt. Use any extra money to first pay off your existing debts and then allocate funds to a rainy-day savings account.  
  4. Reduce non-critical expenses from your budget. Many people enjoy the entertainment value of having multiple video-on-demand platforms and switching between Netflix on weekdays and Showmax on weekends. However, such non-essential items can be considerably reduced without compromising your quality of life. The money that would be saved could be used against paying off debts or allocated to a savings account.
  5. Acquire skills that the economy needs. From time to time, the national government publishes a list of critical skills that are in short supply in the economy. When you track these lists over time, a pattern starts to emerge of key qualifications, sectors and skills that have low unemployment statistics and are attracting relatively higher financial benefit. Given the length of these lists, some critical skills may align with your passions and career aspirations. The benefit of education in the 21st century is that thousands of learning institutions have online courses, some of which are free.

Some of these measures have immediate benefits to your finances, while others require you to take a long-term approach to the development of your financial wellbeing. If you can encourage this discipline within the members of your household and your friends, you create a self-fulfilling cycle of financial fitness that will build on itself and serve you during tough economic cycles.

* Siwundla holds the Financial Manager Risk qualification and is the investor relations and product analyst at CoreShares