Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO
Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO

If your salary is gone within five days of you receiving it, you aren't alone. As many as 56% of middle-income consumers in SA have spent all of their monthly income in five days or less of receiving it.

This is according to a recent media release issued by FNB, which defines middle-income consumers as those earning a gross monthly income of between R7,000 and R60,000. 

"These consumers tend to struggle with money management, leading to sacrifices in important areas such as emergency saving for unforeseen expenses," says the CEO of FNB Retail, Raj Makanjee.

"High spending and limited savings cause consumers to rely on credit to get through the month, making them more vulnerable to being caught in a debt trap."

More than half of consumers miss at least one debit order over a 12-month period, indicating the pressure consumers are under, says another of the bank's execs.

"For almost 40% of such customers, debt repayments make up more than half of their take-home pay, which we consider to be very high," says the CEO of FNB Consumer, Christoph Nieuwoudt.

"The main driver of this is large numbers of microlender loans and store cards that consumers take up. The ideal scenario for a consumer is to have one provider who gives them a transactional account and the right type of credit when needed."

But this advice is not helpful when you're also speaking to the other half of customers who have not missed a debit order, who have never touched a microloan and banished store cards long ago. Those who have been put on short time, taken a pay cut to keep their jobs or not been paid an inflation-linked increase in years, making them effectively poorer every year. Or medical scheme members coughing up above-inflation-linked increases in contributions and parents paying above-inflation increases in school fees. Or consumers reeling from record-high fuel increases and electricity and water tariff increases.

These consumers don't have a problem with "money management" and "high spending". They have a problem surviving once all their essential living expenses and commitments have been paid - home-loan repayments, school fees, life cover, car insurance, and contributions to medical aid, retirement annuity, and at least one discretionary saving or investment.

This year's Old Mutual Savings and Investment Monitor, which is a survey of 1,000 working metropolitan households, found that 46% of mothers describe themselves as single and only 14% report getting paternal support. So, add that to the mix. Not to mention the 27% of respondents who are supporting or helping to support their own parents.

Old Mutual has also found a growing number of working people, particularly in the middle to upper income brackets, are supplementing their incomes by having more than one job. "This reflects a global phenomenon that led to the term 'slashers' being coined, referring to the slash between their job titles": for example, writer/photographer.

Soré Cloete, a certified financial planner at Old Mutual, says a side hustle is a great thing if you can manage it, and it doesn't compromise your primary source of income.

If you aren't able to do some work on the side, downgrading your standard of living may be your only option. "Regularly look at where you're shopping, what you're buying, the car you're driving, the insurance you're paying." Rethink the schools you've chosen for your children, the number of extramural activities they participate in, and even the house you're living in.

"I travel a lot and am amazed when I come back from the East. We're used to space - big homes - and a good standard of living. We have an expectation around standard of living which is much higher than in other countries," she says.

Cloete says financial advice can add value when there's "too much month left at the end of your money".

"Any financial analysis should start with a budget. Your adviser should be able to ask you difficult questions about your lifestyle if you're living beyond your means or battling to make ends meet."

Maybe it's time that we ask ourselves the hard questions first.