South Africans warned to get ready to tighten their belts

 ·23 May 2023

South Africans will have to add another hole to their ever-tightening belt as interest rates will likely reach their highest point in 14 years this week.

John Manyike, the head of financial education at Old Mutual, said that when interest rates rise, debt payments get bigger and discretionary spending becomes smaller, which will add pressure to households who have already had to deal with a slew of increases in recent months and a rising cost of living over the last few years.

“For example, a person who bought a house for R1,000,000 over 20 years and paid an R100,000 deposit would have been paying R9,137 a month. With the latest rate increase, this would increase to R9,598 (or an extra R461) a month. This is enough to upset an income already balanced on a knife edge,” said Manyike.

This Thursday (25 May), the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) is anticipated to raise the country’s interest rate by 25 or 50 basis points.

Professor Andre Roux from Stellenbosch Business School believes recent events strengthen the argument for a steeper basis point hike to maintain inflation within the target range of 3% to 6%.

Roux said that the as a result of the latest exchange rate volatility, the possibility of a higher 50 basis point hike has increased. This expectation is echoed by the Bureau for Economic Research (BER).

As a result of the extra financial burden incoming, Manyike said that households need to formulate a strict budget, focusing on reducing debt and diversifying income streams.

Old Mutual said that one of the most underrated solutions to survive high-interest rates is to leverage a side hustle.

Net salary increases are not matching the inflation rate, the group said, which means people are becoming poorer and highly indebted.

“No matter how hard you try to stick to your monthly budget, there might be no room to manoeuvre. Therefore any advice encouraging people to stick to their budgets might not be the ultimate solution. It is high time that people research alternative streams of income to save for rainy days, to reduce debts and to create wealth,” said Manyike.

In tough times, there is no harm in consolidating debts “if push comes to shove”, Manyike said. However, the financial implications of such a move need to be considered.

He added that agreeing on a payment holiday is not ideal during this interest rate cycle because it is difficult to accurately predict how long it would last.

Manyike provided the following tips and tricks for households struggling:

  • Have a budget and always have some money ready to cope with the unexpected, like rate increases.
  • Look at the total cost of a loan and the interest rate rather than the monthly payment. For example, a major retailer is currently offering a 55-inch TV for a cash price of R7,999. On credit, this means R370 a month for 36 months or R13,301 because the interest rate is 21.75%. Is paying an extra R5,302 for a TV worth it?
  • Buy down instead of up. Even if you buy in instalments, buying at a price below the maximum you can afford means you will not be stressed if rates rise. Also, it means you can pay more each month for the item, pay for it earlier and save on interest.

Read: What to expect from the Reserve Bank’s interest rate announcement this week

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