Time to cut your coat according to the cloth, folks
The latest interest rate hike and the rapid rise in food prices could push thousands - possibly millions - of South Africans into bankruptcy unless people take urgent action to manage their budgets, experts have warned.
There has been a rapid rise in food prices - both locally and internationally - with poor people being the hardest hit.
Other experts interpret the food crises as a matter of social injustice because no one should have to spend their entire wage on their daily bread.
Though there are many causes for rising food prices, one thing is clear: this is an emergency that has long-term implications for our wallets.
Worsening the situation is the recent 0,5percent hike in interest rates - pushing prime to 15percent, the ninth such increase since June 2006, when the rates were at 10,5percent.
Paul Beadle, managing director of www.justmoney.co.za, says the latest hike slapped an average R400 a month on to debt repayments, making life difficult for the majority of consumers.
Experts believe the current indebtedness is as a result of the lower interest rate environment of the past years up to 2005.
This was worsened by a virtually unlimited supply of credit during the period.
Much of this debt was not incurred directly at banks, but is the result of hire-purchase agreements and the large number of credit cards made available widely by banks via retail groups, airlines, cellphone companies and other borrowing outlets, they say.
Worse still, many people bought houses to the maximum of their disposable income.
So when interest rates are increased, as they have been since 2006, consumers start to struggle to carry the extra financial burden.
This means that many consumers are now so heavily indebted that they can't move financially.
Beadle says South Africans are faced with two choices: they can face bankruptcy or act now by curbing spending, managing their debts and slashing budgets.
He says the 0,5percent interest rate hike will on average put another R350 a month on to repayments of a R1million mortgage.
People borrowing R200000 for a vehicle loan will have to find an extra R50 a month in debt repayments, Beadle says.
If one adds the likelihood of credit card interest rates increasing, food, electricity and petrol prices soaring, plus a possible further interest rate hike, consumers could end up paying more than R1000 a month more in the next couple of months compared with the beginning of the year.
Beadle says even people who still have their heads above water have to keep their finances under control.
He says: "People have to start budgeting to ensure that they are not spending more than they are earning.
"Next they should avoid debts as much as possible. And if they have debts they should pay off their most expensive loans first."
The cardinal rule is to shop around for cheaper financial services and products, Beadle says.
He says many people visiting his company's website still want to borrow money through loans and credit cards, or they need help because they can no longer keep up with their debt repayments.
He says it is clear from the majority of people visiting his company's website that if they are still spending, they are spending money that they do not have in the first place.
Beadle's advice is: "If your current car repayments are crippling you, it's better to trade it in for a cheaper model and enjoy the extra cash rather than get into repayment difficulties."
Consumer bodies advise consumers to pool their money and buy food in bulk, especially people in disadvantaged areas.
They should also shop at outlets with the cheapest basket of goods and buy no-name brands.
Buying on credit or on impulse should be avoided at all cost.