How to get your money situation back on track

Repair the damage to your finances

Make a plan to pay off what you owe after lockdown

The Covid-19 lockdown levels 5 and 4 have devastated the financial standing of many South Africans, with some going without an income, others being laid off and some taking severe pay cuts or facing huge business income losses. 

Make a plan to settle outstanding accounts, pay off debt and replenish emergency savings as soon as your income starts to recover. 123RF Rido
Make a plan to settle outstanding accounts, pay off debt and replenish emergency savings as soon as your income starts to recover. 123RF Rido

It may still be a long way from being over for many – like those whose businesses or employers are not yet able to open – but some people are returning to work and their incomes are recovering again now that President Cyril Ramaphosa has moved SA to level 3 lockdown regulations.

For some people it will mean time to get back on track, but for others there may still be more financial shocks to come as employers take stock of their losses and decide to cut back on services and even jobs.

Even if you are one of the lucky ones whose job remains intact, you may find yourself supporting more family members.

If level 3 means you’re back to earning normally again or at least better than before, it is time to start tackling the damage done to your finances during the lockdown.

Compile a list of all the debts you had to accumulate if you were forced to suspend loan repayments or take on new credit to survive on no or less pay.

Check where in your budget can you save on costs to repay any debt. If your income is still down or you suspect your employer is in difficulty and may reduce pay, make a realistic plan on how soon you can pay it off.

If your job is secure now but there could be retrenchments in future, do all you can to pay off as much debt as soon as possible.

Shelly van der Westhuizen, head of corporate financial well-being and engagement at Alexander Forbes, suggests as a first step you take stock of your money habits developed either during or before lockdown and again identify the money eaters in your budget. 

Many people reported spending more on groceries with the whole family at home, but less on eating out. Now, while restaurants are still closed, it may be a good time to review your food shopping habits.

Founder and executive chef at LesDaChef Culinary Solutions, Lesego Semenya, says if you’re looking to be more efficient with your grocery budget, getting into the habit of buying versatile ingredients, mapping out meals and packaging food to avoid spoilage or wastage can go a long way. 

Planning your meals and deep-freezing leftovers also helps to ensure you avoid unnecessary trips to the store, where you may be tempted to buy other unplanned items.

Van der Westhuizen says you can squeeze out a lot of cash from controlling what you spend each month on groceries, and channel that money towards other things like repaying debt.

Reana Steyn, ombudsman for banking services, suggests that if you are not going to be able to meet all your obligations, you contact your credit provider to make arrangements before you default.

“All of the banks have offered some form of relief to their customers concerning their debt repayments, but we encourage bank customers to continue to pay their debts if at all possible,” Steyn urges. 

“It’s even more vital than ever to protect your credit score during tough times, because access to credit in future can often help you get through the rough patches,” Lee Naik, CEO of TransUnion Africa, says.

If you stopped any insurance policies or your medical cover, reinstate it as soon as your income is restored to avoid the cover lapsing and your premiums or contributions potentially being increased.

If you spent your emergency funds getting through the lockdown, you need to include in your financial plans room to re-establish those funds. If you did not have an emergency fund, hopefully you will have now realised how important having such funds is. As soon as your income starts to come in again, make a plan to start your emergency savings.

If your savings have taken a hit in from the fall in the markets, you need to assess the impact on your goals – if your savings are ones you will only need in a few years time like when your child needs to study or you need to retire, it is likely that there will be time for them to recover, Gerald Visser, financial planning consultant at Alexander Forbes Financial Planning Consultants, says.

Shorter-term goals may need to be postponed as cashing out when the markets are down means you will realize the loss, Visser says.