SANTA ON RACK
Price hikes herald restive season
● South Africans are bracing themselves for an un-merry Christmas — and a nasty dose of Januworry — as unrelenting price rises leave them with broken budgets and empty pockets.
On top of record fuel prices, they can look forward to inflation-busting increases next year in school fees and medical aid bills — leaving many families putting their monthly commitments under the microscope to find savings.
Richard and Ruth Lundie from Cape Town, who work in the nonprofit sector and have three children under the age of 10, said they planned to cut back on domestic help and life cover.
The Meadowridge couple said their home loan was their only debt. “But even with all our saving measures, we’ve found that over the past few months it’s harder to make cash stretch.”
This Christmas they will be economising on presents. “We will be cutting back on our spending to save for school uniforms and kids’ stationery in January,” said Ruth.
The Lundies have swopped banks to save on charges and rarely spend money on fast food or meals at restaurants.
“We don’t have TV, so we aren’t paying for a licence or DStv subscription. Cancelling our landline and opting for fibre has also saved us money. Choosing cheaper cellphone packages has, too,” said Ruth.
“We’re also very selective about where we shop, looking for specials. We seldom buy red meat and have a chicken dish once a week. We’ve substituted mince with lentils.”
The Lundies and millions of families like them will be unable to avoid medical aid increases averaging 9%, on top of school fee hikes of about 10% — and no one can avoid the knock-on effects of record fuel prices, which will raise transport costs and food prices.
The Southern African Bus Operators Association described this week’s R1/l fuel increase as “devastating”.
Spokesperson Sarah Setlaelo said it put the industry in a difficult situation as most bus companies had already increased their fares this year and would have “major difficulty doing so again … especially in light of the very tough financial situation that many consumers find themselves in and the poor performance of the South African economy”.
Petrol price increases so far this year have added R2.36 to the cost of a litre, on top of 2017’s R1.90. Unisa economist Jacolize Meiring said petrol now costs 22.6% more than it did a year ago.
Meiring warned consumers to plan a frugal Christmas and not fall into a “euphoria trap” over the holidays. “Consumers tend to live beyond their means and this causes them to take up more debt if they do not have any savings,” she said.
If they were lucky enough to receive a bonus, they should repay any outstanding debt, pay accounts such as school fees in advance, put some away for a rainy day … and only then spend.
Cape Town mother-of-three Patricie Karengera, who works part-time as a caregiver, knows how hard it is to save.
“We try but it’s very hard now because even bread is expensive. With three children at school, we have a lot of expenses,” she said. “It’s better to shop only once a week and we save money by having a meal plan. We always look at what is on special and eat meat only twice a week.”
Political economy analyst Zamikhaya Maseti said consumers should tackle unnecessary spending by differentiating between needs and wants.
“One can cut back by downgrading from DStv’s premium package or from an expensive cellphone contract, and throw the money saved into a savings account that could be used for kids’ schooling, for instance,” he said.
“People should also embrace technology and shop online rather than going to the physical store, as it’s cheaper.”
WesBank spokesperson Ghana Msibi said the easiest way to cushion the fuel price increase was to drive less. “Consumers should evaluate the need for long-distance travel this holiday season. If the cost of far-off destinations isn’t absolutely necessary, then a holiday at home could be a consideration.”
We shop once a week, always look at what is on special, have a meal plan and eat meat only twice a week
Patricie Karengera Mother of three school-going children