Sav­ing by the bucket-load

Pretoria News Weekend - - ENTERTAINMENT -

AS DEV­AS­TAT­ING as the drought in the Western Cape is, it has re­sulted in fun­da­men­tally chang­ing hu­man be­hav­iour, which has, in many in­stances, pos­i­tively im­pacted how cit­i­zens man­age their wa­ter con­sump­tion.

There is noth­ing like a short­age of some­thing as pre­cious as wa­ter to elicit a rad­i­cal change in be­hav­iour, prov­ing that, although we may be crea­tures of habit, we are per­fectly ca­pa­ble of learn­ing new and bet­ter habits when we are forced to do so.

Our wa­ter-sav­ing jour­ney over the past 24 months has led me to re­con­sider our at­ti­tude to sav­ing, and how our wa­ter­sav­ing tech­niques could be ap­plied to our per­sonal money man­age­ment.

As a fam­ily, we have put an enor­mous ef­fort into sav­ing more wa­ter ev­ery month, demon­strat­ing that, even when we thought we could not save any more, we could – and we con­tinue to do so. Our wa­ter-sav­ing strate­gies are, in some ways, com­pa­ra­ble to our money-sav­ing habits:

• Know­ing where it’s go­ing.

Un­til the drought, many of us had very lit­tle aware­ness of ex­actly how much wa­ter we con­sumed and how much wa­ter ap­pli­ances such as dish­wash­ers and wash­ing machines ac­tu­ally used.

The im­ple­men­ta­tion of wa­ter re­stric­tions caused many of us to anal­yse the wa­ter con­sump­tion of the var­i­ous wash cy­cles, how of­ten we did wash­ing, how long it took for the hot wa­ter to reach the shower, and how many times we flushed the toi­let each day. We all un­doubt­edly found some sur­prises in our wa­ter us­age that prompted be­hav­iour change.

Sim­i­larly, know­ing where our money goes ev­ery month should be the start­ing point for our money-sav­ing jour­ney. Keep­ing track of our ex­penses, par­tic­u­larly of on-the-fly pur­chases, bank charges and sub­scrip­tions, will arm us with a log­book of where our money is be­ing di­rected ev­ery month.

• Check­ing the state­ments.

Be­fore the drought, our wa­ter bill was noth­ing more than a line item in our monthly bud­get, and it was never an­a­lysed – a re­ac­tive and in­ef­fi­cient way of man­ag­ing any­thing.

The wa­ter re­stric­tions (and the as­so­ci­ated threat of penal­ties) have forced us to pay closer at­ten­tion to our monthly wa­ter ac­count, check­ing it against our wa­ter-me­ter read­ings and pre­vi­ous state­ments. The re­sult is that we now fully un­der­stand the billing sys­tem, how our me­ter works and ex­actly how much we are pay­ing for ser­vices, and we can eas­ily de­tect if any­thing looks awry.

Our bank and credit card state­ments de­serve the same scru­tiny if we are se­ri­ous about sav­ing for the fu­ture. Re­tail and bank ac­counts are not im­mune to er­rors, over-charg­ing and “fee creep”, and we would do well to check these more reg­u­larly. Ev­ery drop counts, and ev­ery penny does too.

• Stop­ping the leaks.

Armed with a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of our wa­ter con­sump­tion and how we are be­ing billed, our next step was to stop the leaks – the drip­ping tap, the ill-fit­ting plug and the run­ning cis­tern. This prompted me to look for the “drip­ping taps” in our bud­get and to plug the leaks. Go­ing for­ward, how­ever, it makes more sense to do proac­tive main­te­nance to our bud­get, to pre­vent “taps” from “drip­ping” in the first place.

• Us­ing less.

Con­sider our 87 litres per per­son per day as our fam­ily’s net in­come. We will be pe­nalised for us­ing more than we have been al­lo­cated, and it is in our best in­ter­ests to use less than our quota. Sim­i­larly, our spend­ing should re­main within the bound­aries of what we earn, fail­ing which we will be pe­nalised with high in­ter­est rates and the bur­den of debt.

• Re­cy­cling and reusing.

The drought has cre­ated a new ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the num­ber of times wa­ter can be re-used and re­cy­cled, and we, as a fam­ily, have learnt valu­able fi­nan­cial lessons from this.

In our “throw-away” gen­er­a­tion, where it is eas­ier to re­place than to re­pair, we have be­come more con­scious of how items can be re-pur­posed and re-used, not only to re­duce costs, but also to be kin­der to the world we in­habit.

• Sav­ing.

Wa­ter scarcity has given rise to a more de­ter­mined drive to save and store wa­ter. Now that we are more con­scious of the need to save wa­ter, we have im­ple­mented in­no­va­tive wa­ter­stor­age so­lu­tions in our homes and places of work. In do­ing so, we have max­imised wa­ter­stor­ing ef­fi­ciency and mas­sively re­duced con­sump­tion.

It lies within us all to be more in­ten­tional and cre­ative when it comes to sav­ing for our fu­tures. When pressed, and with some cre­ative thought, we should be able to find sav­ings ca­pac­ity within our bud­gets.

• Har­vest­ing.

Har­vest­ing our wa­ter re­duces our de­pen­dence on the mu­nic­i­pal wa­ter sup­ply and spreads the risk against ei­ther of the sup­plies run­ning out. Ex­pand­ing on this anal­ogy, cre­at­ing al­ter­na­tive sources of in­come (specif­i­cally pas­sive or an­nu­ity in­come) re­duces a house­hold’s de­pen­dency on a sin­gle source of in­come and al­le­vi­ates fi­nan­cial pres­sure. A pas­sive in­come pro­vides breath­ing-room and can ter­mi­nate the cy­cle of liv­ing from pay-cheque to pay-cheque.

• Plan­ning for the fu­ture.

Pre­vi­ously, we did not have to think about where next month’s sup­ply of wa­ter would come from. But with dam lev­els ris­ing only 0.3% this past week, dur­ing what is his­tor­i­cally the fourth wettest month in the Western Cape, we are start­ing to plan se­ri­ously for Day Zero.

In the con­text of our re­tire­ment plan­ning, what is our Day Zero? How long will our money last? When will it run out?

• Pri­ori­tis­ing.

Now that we are re­stricted to us­ing a lim­ited quan­tity of wa­ter a day, we have learnt the art of pri­ori­tis­ing our wa­ter con­sump­tion. Nat­u­rally, drink­ing and cook­ing take pri­or­ity, fol­lowed by per­sonal hy­giene and ablu­tions. There­after, we have to pri­ori­tise ac­cord­ingly.

In a world of in­fi­nite choice, the drought has prof­fered valu­able lessons in iden­ti­fy­ing what is im­por­tant to us and mak­ing in­formed choices. The same prin­ci­ples ap­ply to how we pri­ori­tise our spend­ing, mak­ing care­fully con­sid­ered pur­chases that align with our goals.

• Stay­ing ed­u­cated.

If noth­ing else, the drought has been a cat­a­lyst for in­creased ed­u­ca­tion and aware­ness of weather pat­terns, cli­mate change and wa­ter treat­ment op­tions. We are all the bet­ter for know­ing where our wa­ter is stored, how it reaches us and the fu­ture op­tions avail­able to ad­dress the cri­sis.

With most South Africans be­ing un­der-funded for re­tire­ment, there has never been a greater need for in­vestor ed­u­ca­tion as a way of ad­dress­ing the sav­ings cri­sis we face.

Na­ture has many valu­able lessons to teach us, least of which is that we can change our be­hav­iour and form new habits that are friend­lier to our goals. We can adapt, cre­ate and in­no­vate to en­sure bet­ter out­comes in times of cri­sis. We can be ro­bust, re­silient and re­source­ful in times of scarcity. Sue Torr is the man­ag­ing direc­tor of Cape Town ad­vi­sory firm Crue In­vest.

Capeto­ni­ans stand in a queue to col­lect nat­u­ral spring wa­ter from the Brew­ery Spring in New­lands.

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