Free things smart people do in tough times
With uncertainty greeting us every day, it can feel near impossible to plan for the future. Don’t fall for this trap. Now’s the time to refocus by taking proactive steps for your career, finances and health, without it costing a thing. Read on to find out how.
Our economy has endured a thrashing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even prior to the nationwide lockdown, we were going through tough times. Towards the beginning of the year, the International Monetary Fund forecast South Africa’s economic growth for 2020 at just 0.8%, and unemployment was sitting at nearly a third of the population.
Then, in the fourth week of the lockdown, Stats SA released its ‘Business impact survey of the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa’, which indicated that less than a third of businesses were certain they would survive the lockdown; not surprising, since it’s said to have cost the country an estimated R14 billion a day. Even once we all return to ‘business as usual’, it’ll be embraced in its loosest interpretation, with the recession being felt in every business and household.
But if you choose to look beyond the challenges and tough times, you could find the opportunity for future success. Consultancy company Arete Advisors, in collaboration with The Finance Ghost, comments:
“While we can draw endless charts of infection rates, recovery rates and the likely resultant impact on economic indicators, there are some things that are even more important which cannot be graphed. Perhaps the most important of all is the human spirit.
“There will be those who emerge from this crisis stronger than ever, having used this opportunity to finally make their dreams a reality. Whilst we can’t be certain of what their key ingredient for success will be, we are confident that the search for meaning holds strong clues.”
Now’s the time to make choices that will help you write your own success story – for your career, finances, health and more.
Choice #1: Keep moving
If you regularly visited your gym or yoga studio before lockdown, you probably felt the physical and mental effects more intensely when gyms and studios had to close doors to encourage social distancing. There are ways to buffer these effects, and they cost nothing. Even if your movement is restricted, running or speed-walking a few laps around your garden or lounge can do you a world of good. Not up to running? Walking is good too; but think about using a step counter to fit in as much exercise as you can in a day.
Not only will activity keep you physically healthy, but your mental health will benefit too. Improved stress relief, increased energy, better mood and increased alertness are just some of the benefits you can look forward to, according to a study in The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
Steel yourself against the tough times ahead by being intentional in your physical exercise, increasing your heart rate, and, in turn, improving your mental health. Michelle Merand, head coach and director and FitBox Tygervalley, suggests at least 30 minutes of movement every day, which can include basic home workouts and stretching.
Click here to learn how your gym benefit discounts are protected during lockdown.
Choice #2: Reach out
Another way to keep yourself in the right headspace during tough times is to maintain and strengthen connections with family, friends and colleagues. “Reach out and stay social – human interaction is so important for the soul,” says Merand. Exercise will help with this too; it’s been shown to alleviate symptoms like social withdrawal in people diagnosed with mental illness.
Don’t underestimate the value of maintaining connections with your family, friends and co-workers. Writing for the Stanford Medicine Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, Dr Emma Seppälä says it leads to a 50% increased chance of longevity.
Choice #3: Keep eating in
With restaurants and fast-food outlets closed, and food-delivery services off the streets, the lockdown pushed almost every household to get back in the kitchen and start cooking home-made meals from scratch again. Just because restaurant and fast food delivery restrictions have been lifted, it doesn’t mean you should return to ordering in meals every week.
Stick to your new habit and watch how it saves you money over the months ahead, while improving your diet too.
Reality Club and Reality Access for Sanlam Group Risk members enjoy free discount coupons to help lower their grocery bill every month.
Choice #4: Future-proof your career
The recession has compromised job security for many South Africans (perhaps you’ve been retrenched, or are working reduced hours), but that doesn’t need to spell the end of an income for you.
Be smart with the extra time on your hands by upskilling to boost your CV. Is there a certain area of growth in your industry that you’ve always wanted to explore? Now’s the time. Local universities have made free courses available online, making it more accessible to upskill and future-proof your career. Plenty of them are self-paced, creating flexibility for you if you’re working part-time, or you spend a portion of your day on job searching.
Check out some of the online portals below for opportunities to learn from top local universities, for free:
Choice #5: Look forward
We’re living in unprecedented times, with the financial pinch becoming an increasingly common daily reminder of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s why it’s even more important now to consult your financial planner and regroup your financial plan, adjusting it based on the impact your income may have suffered. It could be time to review your goals to help ease the pressure on your pocket. “The structured processes that you follow when working with a professional in this field will help you to fully understand all the options available to you and make the best choices for yourself and your family,” says Andre Wentzel, Solutions Manager for Sanlam Personal Finance’s Recurring Savings.
“The pandemic has been a social and psychological shock for many of us; and your perspectives on life and what means the most to you may have changed,” he says. “So, you may also need to re-evaluate your goals and re-think how you prioritise these.” Among other goals, think about your retirement savings, your children’s education, your emergency fund and any other dreams for your family to explore in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Choice #6: Don’t stop saving
This can seem like a tough choice to make, but your future self will thank you for having stuck to your guns to prepare for the financial blow you may suffer down the line. If you’ve been fortunate enough to work from home during the lockdown, you may have saved cash from cutting out luxuries or spending less on travel while continuing to earn. “You could use this extra money to build up your emergency fund,” says Wentzel. “Typically, you should aim to save three to six months’ worth of expenses.”
An emergency fund is less a nice-to-have, and more a necessity for when times get tough – and they will. “Creating or maintaining an emergency fund is important to ensure that you have a buffer to withstand any financial knocks that affect your ability to meet your needs,” adds Wentzel. When the time comes to dip into it, be honest with yourself about what you choose to spend it on. “Make sure you are only using your emergency fund for things you cannot do without, to help ensure that it can cover you for as long as possible,” he says.
Does saving feel like a big ask right now? Even if you need to scale back your savings account contributions, stick to it. Here are 5 simple lifestyle changes to help you save up to R500 to get you started.
Choice #7: Be smart about your assets and debt
Depending on the stage of life you’re in – a young family start out, or approaching retirement – the thinking you apply to your investments will vary. Whichever boat you’re in, a financial planner can help you evaluate which of your investments are most affected by the current local and global market conditions, says Wentzel. To book a meeting, click here.
Young investors with long investment horizons
“As always, saving over a recurring basis is a sound strategy for building financial security,” says Wentzel. “This is good news for investors with long investment horizons, such as younger people saving for retirement.”
Investors nearing retirement
It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but holding off on retirement could be the smartest route to ensure your future savings will sustain you adequately. “Now is the time to avoid locking in any investment losses,” cautions Wentzel. “This may mean delaying retirement or finding other sources of income, so you don’t have to dip into retirement savings. Speaking to a professional will help you to chart the best course forward.”
Sanlam has created a guide to navigating retirement during tough times – explore its tips and videos, here.
Take advantage of the repo rate cut now by getting ahead with your debt repayments. The Reserve Bank announced the interest rate drop creating an opportunity for consumers like you to fast-track the route to freedom form debt, and breathe a little easier amid financial pressure.
For a detailed guide to taking advantage of interest rate drops, read our article on this here.
Book a meeting with a qualified financial planner today to help you make smart decisions to secure your future, even in uncertain times.
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