BRUCE WHITFIELD’S LOCKDOWN DIARY: Time to scrutinise the ‘rewards’ programmes
What you could be doing now is using the time to review every single aspect of your finances and to understand precisely where your money is going every month
The Internet is awash with memes about Covid-19. The jokes and the quips are an outlet for the mass sense of trepidation at the thought not only of contracting a viral disease that has no cure, but also of the economic and long-lasting financial consequences the sudden stop in the economy will cause.
“Sometimes I sits and thinks,” reads one meme. “And sometimes I just sits.” I remember this quote from my childhood, but it’s doing the rounds again. A lockdown of at least three weeks, possibly more should conditions demand it, is the perfect opportunity to do those things you have been ignoring — probably for years.
There is nothing like a global pandemic to heighten your own sense of mortality. But while, if you are sensible, you are likely to emerge on the other side in one piece, your personal finances might not — which is why there is no time like the present to tackle all that stuff you have been letting pile up.
Stop procrastinating. (But more on that in a later column.)
What you could be doing now is use the time to review every single aspect of your finances and to understand precisely where your money is going every month.
After all, when times are good and cash flows are strong and certain, we tend to overlook the gym contract we haven’t used in six months, or the rewards programme that comes off our monthly salary for which we get no real benefit but think we will once we have enough time to figure it out.
Well, now is that time. If, by the end of the lockdown, you still don’t understand how you will benefit, cut it loose. Rewards systems are designed by their providers to harvest information about you for them to use in their pricing and risk models. Unless you have the time, energy and savvy to work the intricacies of paid rewards programmes, the company providing it gets greater value than you. Right here you may be able to save some useful cash.
While you’re about it, you can shop around for insurance like never before. Far too often insurance companies simply hike annual premiums, with little more than an e-mail that your policy has been “reviewed” and you should “see the attached documents”.
Many of us might move that e-mail to a “read later” file, if we don’t ignore it altogether. After all, it’s a tedious process, and who really has time to do that sort of admin or look for alternatives? Well, you do now. If your insurance company is not offering you a discount on your vehicle insurance during the lockdown, compare its pricing with one that does — and consider moving. And the convenient plus: most simple short-term insurance needs can be sorted out via e-mail and phone.
Reviewing the super-Titanium what-what
Then onto banking. Here you might want to ask yourself: do you really need your super-elite global titanium/molybdenum-or whatever other mineral is trendy this month, bundle banking product?
Sure, it’s wonderful to feel that you’re a private client with your own banker on call to manage your forex needs, tinker with your debit orders or occasionally phone for a chat about an investment idea. But really, how often do you do that stuff? Can you do with less? Probably. Perhaps for the first time ever, try to get your head around what you get for your money and shop around.
Then there is the higher-grade stuff. Now, you could do that yourself, but you’ll probably want to chat to your financial adviser and assess which investment house best weathers this crisis. Look back at how it has performed against its peers since the start of the global financial crisis a dozen years ago. Reassess whether your money is in the right place and with the right manager. Now is also the time to test the mettle of your financial adviser. Just how well structured are your affairs? How much do you pay for the advice you get, and are you satisfied with how you are being serviced, or are you just a number, getting generic e-mails telling you to stay calm and invested? Sure, that’s good advice, but is that really what you’re paying for?
The bottom line is, every rand you save in fees and invest for the long term should be for your benefit — not for someone who is hardly fulfilling their “service promise” to you.
While you’re about it, don’t forget your cellphone contract and data bundle. Right now you may not be able to do much about extricating yourself from it immediately, but you can try to understand your consumption patterns better. And revisit whether you really need the new phone that usually accompanies the typical two-year upgrade.
Ditching the new car vanity
It’s also the time to come to terms with the fact that your five-year-old car is fine. It will probably, with proper maintenance and careful driving, stand you in good stead for another five years or more. So why enter into a pricey new contract simply because you love that new-car smell and the way it makes you feel good?
Review your shopping bills. Understand what you buy and where you get it from. Is it really so hard to peel your own carrots? Do you need to pay the price of convenience food when you have time to process the stuff yourself? And, let’s face it: if there are children in the house, it’s probably time for them to learn a thing or two of how to do the stuff your parents did every day.
Besides, it’s a shared activity that may just bond you in an old-fashioned way. You might as well — for once, you’ve got all the time in the world.