Have an Emergency fund

It’s always a good idea to have an Emegency Fund available where you can quickly access money. You never know when something is going to happen. Think of how you would cope with a car service which costs 3-times what you expected, or if you needed to be admitted to hospital but your medical insurance requires you to pay upfront. Perhaps your washing machine suddenly stops working, or a power failure causes everything in your freezer to go bad. You could even have your credit card blocked and be in a difficult spot for a few days.

It’s just useful knowing that you have something saved for that rainy day. And, it is a great stress relief knowing that you are sorted for emergencies.

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How much do you need?

Circumstances are different for everyone so you need to make this decision yourself. Think about things that may have happened in the past where you suddenly needed extra money. Also think about things that could happen.

This is certainly not an exact science, rather just a ball-park figure which would make you feel comfortable and less stressed. Having something is better than nothing, so if you really can’t figure out how much to aim for, just set a low limit and see how it goes.

Type of account?

The three important factors about the account you use for this Emergency Fund are:

The purpose of an Emergency Fund is that you can access the money immediately. Anytime, day-or-night. Imagine needing to draw cash at at ATM at 2am – would you be able do so? Even if it involved using your online banking to transfer money between accounts; as long as it can be done quickly.

If you have a home loan from a bank, it could be very helpful to stash this extra cash in that account. Provided of course that the home loan account allows for withdrawals or transfers. Doing this would allow you to save interest on your debt, and this is often high. If you’re not sure contact your financial institution.

Have you considered keeping all your savings in one account and simply tracking the various goals in a spreadsheet? Have a look at how to use Savings Pockets to simplify your life.

How to start?

The best way to start anything is just to start! You don’t need to have enough money or know exactly what you’re doing before you start; just make the conscious decision. A few guidelines though would be:-

  1. Decide on your number. How much would you like to have saved in this fund?
  2. Decide which bank account to save it in – investigate the options but remember to keep your life (and admin) as simple as possible.
  3. Create a budget if you haven’t already.
  4. Set yourself a goal to save the necessary funds.

Once you have started you will see that circumstances may change, or you may need to use your fund sooner than expected. That is all fine, just relook at this often and be sure to be working towards this.

Is it better to Save or to Pay Off Debt?

Screen Shot 2017-06-17 at 1.51.16 PMIt’s easy to feel pressured to have a savings account or some type of investment. Is it better though to be saving or to be paying off debt?

Let’s have a look at some ways to calculate the answer…

Interest Rate

Generally speaking (and almost always) the interest that you earn on savings is far less than what you would pay on debt. Let’s look at an example…

You bank account may give you 4 – 6% (as an example) and fixed-term savings accounts may give you a bit more. Unit Trusts or other investments will probably be even more although they vary each month but you can get a general idea of the growth by looking at an investment summary sheet.

Debt – whether on store accounts or credit card is often charged a much higher interest rate. Add to that “fees” and penalties and all sorts of made up costs. Store accounts are designed to trick you because they often offer 3 or 6 months interest free debt, but remember that they charge you other fees each month (club fees or Special Member fees). And, if your debt is not paid within the interest-free period, they hit you with very high rates.

Thus; find out the interest that you would earn if you save your money and find the interest that you are charged (look for your account where you are charged the highest interest). That should give you your answer. Most of the time it is better to pay off debt!

Tip: If you have a home loan that you can access (pay extra into and withdraw when you need it) then you can save money by paying off your loan. If you pay extra into your loan account you will earn interest at the rate of your loan (currently in South Africa home loans are offered at around 12% interest). This is a good way to save for emergencies but at the same time you are paying off debt.

The Cost of Debt

Let’s look at a simple example of how much debt can cost you. If you have 1000 and you put in in a savings account for 1 month with an interest rate of 4.5% you would earn 3.75 interest. If you owe 1000 on a loan and the monthly interest rate is 20% you would pay 16.66 in interest.

Thus, if you “save” your 1000 for the month it is actually costing you money! You will have to pay 16.66 interest on your loan and yet you only earn 3.75 on your savings. You have to pay 12.92.

In this example, if you choose to save the extra money, it is actually costing you money and not saving at al!

Risk

Did you know that is most cases (if not all) the creditor (person or company you owe money to) can call up your debt at any time and insist that you pay it immediately. This is especially true for banks who can call up your home loan. This would put you in a terrible situation and could be disastrous to you and your family.

Debt always comes with a risk and therefore it is better to pay your debt as quickly as possible! Being in charge of your money means that you minimize risk by knowing and understanding the consequences of what you do.

Peace of Mind

Having debt causes stress. It’s not nice knowing that you owe someone money and especially if you are struggling to pay it. The consequence of not paying your debt can be dire and this all adds to your stress levels.

If you have the choice of saving 500 in your bank or paying debt off you should consider the peace of mind that you could “buy” yourself. Having no debt would be a wonderful feeling so if you can get to that state by slowly planning, budgeting and working towards being debt-free this would bring great relief to life.

Summary

It is probably a good idea to have a small amount of savings that can be used for emergencies; but generally speaking it is far better to pay off debt rather than save. If you have any spare money at the end of the month work towards paying off your debt!

Have a look at this article on paying off your store cards and apply that principle to any forms of debt that you may have.

Why Save?

This site is all about saving, budgeting and in general taking charge of your money. But saving is hard and requires you to make sacrifices. Is it really worth the effort? You might think that it’s silly to work so hard and then not spend your money; surely that’s why you work and earn money in the first place!

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Well, to start with, you need to find balance as you do need to enjoy life and spend money on things that can bring you joy. You need to spend time with loved ones and have fun. There is an old saying “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. We don’t want to become dull (and possibly cantankerous) simply because we focus so hard on saving that we forget how to live. To help you find this balance you definitely need to create a budget and a plan.

There is of course the concept of “living for today and enjoying each day to its fullest” but at the same time we need to look at “the bigger picture”. Saving is your tool to reach your goals and dreams. This is something that is completely in your control and the amount you save, the goals you make and the success is all up to you!

Many people feel that they simply don’t earn enough in order to reach any goals and thus don’t even bother trying. If you seriously look at what you earn and what you spend, you may find that there is actually more than you think. Unless you can find a way to earn more money, you should certainly be looking at where your money is disappearing to.

Here are some reasons why you should save (make your own list of keywords to get you started).

  • Better retirement plan
  • Less stress knowing that you have some money saved in the bank
  • A debt-free (thus stress free) life
  • Your children’s education
  • Your dream trip overseas
  • Your health (being able to afford better choices)

Why not start right away with your first goal?

Pay yourself first

keyboardThis is one of those things that you’ve probably heard many times before and you know you should do it, but most likely you don’t. So let’s look at what is meant by paying yourself first, and how it will help you save.

To pay yourself first really means that once you have set up a monthly budget and worked out how much you can save each month, then you should transfer that amount into a savings pocket immediately after being paid. If your bank allows, you can set up a recurring payment to transfer the money each month.

We’re used to setting up payments for accounts and debt repayments, but we seldom take our savings “payment” seriously. You should think of this as another account that you have to pay.

The advantage of transferring the savings amount out to a Savings Pocket immediately is that you cannot be tempted to spend it. You can’t spend what you don’t have (well you can with a credit card but that is a discipline you need to solve for yourself)

Challenge

Work out how much you can save (either actual savings or extra payments towards debt) and set up an automatic payment now to transfer this money. If you’re not sure how to create a budget, read this blog.

Create a simple budget

If you’ve never made a budget before then you should really start with something simple. Not that you ever really have to get too complex, but as you work with a budget over time you may find things that you want to change or situations that don’t work easily with your budget.

Before starting it would be good to know how much you’re currently spending. If you don’t have a clue then take the 30 Day Challenge of keeping track of each and every expense.

I like to use a spreadsheet for my budgeting as it makes the maths easy; you can however use any tool including a notepad and pen.

Start off with your income. You should hopefully know how much you earn each month, but if not, go find your salary slip. I would use my “net salary” (the money that is actually paid into my account) as my income as there is nothing I can do about taxes and other deductions off my salary. Of course, you may have access to a company store or canteen where purchases are automatically deducted off your salary – and these expenses you have full control over. So, use your full salary less taxes less compulsory expenses that you don’t control. (You can use your gross salary and show taxes on your budget, but that depends if you want that kind of detail)

If you have any other stable income (that you can rely on) then add it in as well. Examples would be over-time that you always work, rental income or a personal loan that someone is paying back.

With the Income section completed, now it’s time for the hard work. You need to categorize your spending into categories that make sense to you. Everyone has different spending habits and there is no “one fits all” solution. Categories could be things such as:

  • Satellite TV
  • School fees
  • Loans
  • Insurance
  • Groceries
  • Eating out
  • Entertainment
  • Fuel
  • Telephone
  • Club memberships
  • Golf
  • Other (for small things that don’t fit into a category of their own)
  • etc….

Although most expenses are monthly, some may be annual expenses (e.g. club membership) or possibly even quarterly expenses. The best way to handle these is to work out the monthly amount and budget per month and save the money in a specific savings pocket so that you don’t get a shock when you need to pay the money. It’s really easy to do once you’ve set up your “system” and reminders on your phone.

The most important aim of a budget is to ensure that you earn more than you spend! If you don’t, then you have to spend less. It’s that simple, but in practice it may take a few months to change your spending habits. You may want to consider cancelling store cards as these make spending far too easy!

Basic Budget

Now that you have decided how much you can spend in each category, you must stick to the budget! You will find that you cannot control expenses exactly as you plan as things happen and we react accordingly. However, if you overspend on the Groceries category then you need to underspend somewhere else to ensure that your overall expenses do not exceed the budget.

I also like to have a category for “Other” expenses which are often unplanned things that come up.

Once you have created your budget, see if you can find any extra cash or ways to save money.

Challenge

Create your budget now!

Do the right thing

Sounds easy enough, and it sure is! We’re strange creatures though as we generally know what is good for us in terms of health, exercise, financial issues, etc but we often choose to ignore our own knowledge. We think and say one thing, but do the opposite.

You may think that you need to exercise, and be frustrated that you don’t. But you still don’t. Or perhaps you know that you are not saving for your retirement, but you cannot motivate yourself to start. You can tell others about the benefits of budgeting, but you don’t do it yourself.

You know that you should save money, invest for your future, create financial goals, not buy things you don’t need, etc….  You know that you should keep track of spending and live within your means. You know that debt is bad.

Challenge

Write down one thing that you don’t do even though you know you should (because it is good for you). Now write the reasons why you don’t do it, and also write down the consequences of not doing it. Spend some time thinking about this…

Find Extra Money

We’d all love some extra money I’m sure, so here are some steps to literally find it.

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Step 1 : Look at your bank statement

Look at your bank statement as well as your credit card statement for the past month and make a list of all automatic payments that are deducted (eg internet bill, mobile phone, insurance, Netflix, etc)

Step 2 : Analyze all payments

One-by-one look at each automatic payment and ask:

  • Do I need this service / subscription or whatever it is?
  • Do I need all the features I pay for? Can I downgrade at all or pay for less?
  • If it is a store card, do you need the extra’s such as insurance, magazine, etc?
  • If it is a debt repayment, how much interest am I paying? What must I do to pay it off?

Step 3 : Insurance

Pay special attention to your insurance payment. Look at your latest insurance policy or contact the company for it. Are the values correct? Now, get new quotes and see if you can find a cheaper option.

Look at optional features you may have on any insurance, store card or debt policies. Perhaps you have the same benefits offered by different policies; in that case you can cancel some.

Step 4 : Look for wasted money

Look at your monthly expenses and take special note of the following:

  • Eating Out / Take-Aways
  • Groceries
  • Clothing
  • Gifts
  • Entertaining at home
  • Alcohol bought
  • Luxuries
  • Telephone
  • Electricity
  • Internet
  • Make-up

Can you spend less on any of the above?  Try for just 1 month to spend less than the previous month and you will see that you really can survive quite easily!

Important note is that what you save today should not be spent tomorrow, don’t feel tempted to spend your savings on other things. See when saving is not really saving.

Step 5 : Be strict with yourself

Make a list of every area where you feel you can save a little and be strict with yourself over the next month to actually do this!