Picture: 123RF/FLYNT
Picture: 123RF/FLYNT

National Savings Month presents a fresh opportunity to do a midyear audit of your finances to ensure you're on track to reach your savings goals - be it a holiday in December, a deposit on a car, or extra money towards your retirement savings.

If you don't have any savings goals, now is the time to set some. You can make excuses, or you can make a plan.

The notion of savings goals might seem pie in the sky if you're drowning in debt, but it shouldn't be. If you've maxed out on credit, it's essential that you put aside money each month towards an emergency fund. If you don't have cash to cover unplanned expenses, and your lines of credit aren't open, you'll find yourself in an untenable situation.

Saving has nothing to do with how much you earn, but everything to do with the percentage of your income that you spend, says Noluyolo Betela, a client relationship manager at Allan Gray.

"Whether you make R4,000 or R40,000 a month, the only way to save is to spend less than that amount," she says.

Gerda van der Linde, a behavioural finance specialist, says: "Saving is about discipline and doing the right small things over a long time."

To illustrate her point she tells the real-life stories of the simple secretary and the bankrupt banker.

Sylvia Bloom, a legal secretary who worked for the same firm all her life, left $8.2m (about R115m) to a charity when she died at 96. Richard Fuscone, who had an MBA and was a top executive at Merrill Lynch, was forced to file for bankruptcy in 2010. Fuscone had retired in his 40s and was living large, reportedly spending $66,000 a month in mortgage payments.

"You can know all about asset classes and be super clever, but if you have no discipline and can't control your emotions, you will never manage to save," Van der Linde says.

Many of us adopt the optimistic approach that we will save whatever is left over at the end of the month. A better idea is to do your monthly saving upfront, along with your other expenses, and then live on the remainder of your disposable income, Betela says. Even better is to automate your saving by way of a debit order.

Saving shouldn't be viewed as a hardship. Instead, think of it as a reward to yourself for your hard work. It should be a line item in your budget.

Begin by auditing your current expenses. If you don't already use a simple spreadsheet or a free budgeting and money management tool such as 22seven, start today. Tools like these do much of the work for you.

An auditing exercise will quickly identify wastage. It may be a landline that has become redundant, or a car insurance pre-
mium that has become excessive, or a gym membership that you don't use. Slashing these expenses can enable you to divert some money towards a debt-busting strategy and some towards a savings goal.

Whether you make R4,000 or R40,000 a month, the only way to save is to spend less than that amount
Noluyolo Betela, Allan Gray client relationship manager

There are many hidden ways in which we spend money unwisely, says Pieter
Koekemoer, the head of Coronation Personal Investments.

He lists free trials that automatically convert into billings after the first month, convenience shopping because your credit card details are saved online, or upgrading to newer models when you don't really need to. "While it may take some effort to identify and close the tap on some of these running expenses, just take a moment to consider what you could do with that cash if you were to invest it. Allowing it to grow until such time that you can comfortably afford something that you really need . That is the real meaning of saving."

Recent data from First National Bank shows that middle-income earners (earning between R7,000 and R60,000 a month) spend 25% of their income just on interest.

By paying extra towards your debt - and refraining from spending more on credit - you can pay down and eventually extinguish your debt, freeing up money to save.

Sashia Sunker-Oosthuizen, who is the head of commercialisation at Nedbank Forex and Investments, says saving is about training your brain.

"The key is to start achieving small savings successes and grow them over time. The way to do that is by setting realistic savings goals," she says. A goal may be to save R100 this month as the start of an emergency fund.

"As you achieve small, realistic goals, you'll gain the confidence to reach for bigger savings successes, which will reprogramme your savings belief system over time."

Sunker-Oosthuizen says you must set short-, medium- and long-term savings goals and save towards all of them.

"Don't just save for that proverbial rainy day. Identify four or five specific savings goals and set clear time frames to achieve them. They may range from a holiday at the end of the year, to having enough money in five years' time to put down a deposit on a house or car," she says.

Once you've set your goals, you need to choose the savings vehicles that best match the growth and time requirements.

Some savings goals are easier than others. Saving for something tangible such as a property or car is sometimes easier than saving for retirement - which is a difficult concept for us to grasp, especially when we are 30 or 40 years from retirement.

But don't put off savings for your twilight years - which could be 30 years long!

Allan Gray's Betela provides this example of the cost of procrastination: "Say you wanted to have R100,000 in 10 years, and you began saving today, you could achieve this with R500 a month," she says.

"If you delay for five years, then you would have to put away R1,300 per month to achieve your goal in time. This is because the earlier you start, the better, as you let compounding do most of the heavy lifting to reach your financial goals."