Times are tough for South African families. The petrol price continues to climb steadily with the price of food not far behind. Globally, world financial markets are still battling the ever-present threat of recession. As a personal financial planner I have only one word of advice for my clients and that is to save as much as they can afford to, be it in unit trusts or endowment policies or any other suitable investment vehicle.
Our best defence against an uncertain economy is savings. As individuals we must save to protect against retrenchment, for example, or against increases in the cost of living, from food to petrol prices. Even in the best of economic times we should be saving, for our retirement, our children's education and towards an emergency fund.
South Africans are not a nation of savers. The World Economic Forums' 2011/12 Global Competitiveness Report ranks South Africa 72nd in the world for its gross national savings rate. This is well behind other BRICS counties like China, India and Russia.
To become better savers we need to understand why we have not developed a culture of savings in South Africa. Experts point to many reasons. Some say we are not motivated to save because we have such easy access to credit why save for something when you can buy it with your credit card or a store card for example?
Others say that we are status obsessed and will not hesitate to buy the latest cell phone or car even if we cannot afford it and even if a cheaper version of either would do the job just as well. In a nutshell, we have become a nation of consumers and not savers. The key lies in drawing up a budget, scrutinising your expenses and see what you can and cannot afford and what monthly costs can be reduced or even eliminated.
For many industry commentators the answer lies in education, in teaching people about the importance of saving, how much they need to save and explaining the many investment options available to them.
I often recommend unit trusts to my clients. They are an attractive investment option for many reasons. With unit trusts, individual investors can invest in and reap the benefits of the stock exchange without any expert knowledge as the funds you invest in are managed and monitored by experienced fund managers. You can also withdraw funds at any time without incurring any penalties. Finally, because your funds are invested in a number of different funds or assets your investment is diversified and your risk is spread.
In good times or in bad, saving should be a priority for every South African family. It is never too late to start saving and work towards securing your financial future.