26 December 2012

Before you apply for a personal loan...

It’s that time of year where our finances can easily go downhill. A quick personal loan can be a great relief if ends just won’t meet after your holiday, Christmas and entertaining the family. Of course it is better not to over spend in the first place, but it happens.

Shop around before deciding on a loan. Fast personal loans like payday loans are expensive because credit providers charge high interest rates and admin fees. Banks’ personal loans are standardized, but it’s still worth looking into the different kinds of loans.

Some consumers opt for consolidation loans to make their debt more manageable instead of getting a loan to afford their living expenses. This is a very good idea. When consolidating your debt you can make your debt more affordable by applying for a secured loan with the lowest possible interest rates.

When you consolidate your credit you only have one repayment per month which makes it easier to avoid debt collectors as you will only have one loan to repay and keep track of. The new loan’s repayments can be less than the combination of your current small loans, credit cards, store accounts and other credit facilities.

This sounds like great news, but only if you can qualify for a secured loan. If you are already overcommitted or if you have a bad credit record you won’t be able to get a consolidation loan and save this way. You can apply to have your debt restructured, however, and get the same benefits as you would have enjoyed with a consolidation loan.

This easy alternative to personal loans or consolidation loans makes it possible, even for blacklisted people, to make your debt affordable and to only have a single repayment each month. A credit counsellor reviews your debt repayments and negotiates a new, affordable payment structure with your creditors.

Debt restructuring is the most affordable form of debt management in South Africa as your debt counsellor’s fee will depend entirely on your affordability. 9 out of 10 South Africans who opted for debt restructuring experienced debt relief and were glad that they opted for the help of a credit counsellor instead of another personal loan.

What to do with debt: Three ways to be on-top of your finances again

Stick to a budget 

It’s really not a good feeling when you realize that your debt is spiralling out of control. For most people it’s hard to cut back on living expenses, but it’s still important to stick to a budget until your debt is under control again. Think of it as a debt diet: you want to learn how to live within your means so you can stay on-top of your debt.

Why not get the help of a debt counsellor? They can work out a budget and help you to stick to it. It’s also perfect for that debt diet as you cannot get loans while under debt review.

Consolidate your debt

You can make your debt more affordable by consolidating your credit with a debt consolidation loan. A debt consolidation loan should have lower interest rates and the repayments can also cost less than you are currently paying towards your debt every month.

When you take on a secured loan to pay back small loans, credit cards, store cards and other debts you can save on interest rates and a single debt repayment is much more manageable than numerous debts.

Get your debt restructured 

If you cannot cut back on your living expenses and you don’t qualify for a secured loan to get the full benefits of debt consolidation, you can apply to have your debt restructured.

Debt restructuring is summed up in these five steps to pay off your debt, only two of which you will have to see to:

1) Contacting a debt counsellor and providing them with your financial information so they can prove to your creditors that you are over committed and

5) paying the now affordable, restructured debt repayment every month. 

What do you think will work best for you? We’ll be happy to answer any of your questions in the comments below.

14 December 2012

Don’t be an over-spender these holidays

Shocking statistics predict that South Africans will pick up an average of 2kgs in body weight this festive season. Heartburn medication sales are at their highest this time of year as well. Other studies show that a big portion of consumers spend more on food during the holiday season than the entire year!

Are South Africans living in excess without regard for their health and financial security? It very well may be the case. We have the idea that the holiday season can only be celebrated if there’s an abundance and even an excess of everything that makes us feel good momentarily. Food and gifts are at the top of the list during the holiday season. 

I’m the last person to shy away from a good meal or a holiday trip, but I think it’s time that we take a look at our over-spending and over-eating. There are ways to enjoy yourself this holiday season without setting yourself up for financial ruin early next year. 

We live in a country where there is a great inequality between classes and it would be great if, instead of gorging ourselves for days and finding all kinds of ways to spend money this holiday season, we give back to the community, support and animal charity or at least curb our spending so we don’t have to make new debt at the end of December or January. 

Over-eating and frivolous spending is a big part of holiday culture around the world. We may have forgotten how to enjoy ourselves without it. Start by finding what it is you enjoy or why you’re not enjoying the simple things in life. Read 12 Common Causes and Proven Cures for Unhappiness by the motivational geniuses at Marc and Angel Hack Life. 

You might not be able to change the face of holidays, but you can make all the difference in your own life and the people closest to you. Remember that this is the time of year when businesses depend on people spending more than they can and soon the quick loan companies are smiling and consumers are the ones with the regrets. 

If you can afford to, it might be just the break you deserve to take your family to Sun City or a weekend getaway, but keep in mind that it’s usually the small expenses that amount to big problems and not the planned expenses. Looking at ways to make transport, dining and entertainment more affordable for the holiday you are planning can make all the difference to your budget.

Decorating on a budget

Cape Town: Debt Help Right to Your Door

I'm so excited about a new site I designed (well, kind of, I used a template) for Debt Counsellors Cape Town. I think it looks really clean and modern! Don't hesitate to click through for debt counsellors in Cape Town.

22 November 2012

Get Your Money Back

Some marketers will sell you something by making you believe you really need and want their product. While I admire their skill, I hate the sinking feeling when I walk away and realized I just spent way more than I wanted to on something I don’t truly need and didn't even want before they go hold of me.

Most of the time I’m good at deflecting their advances, but in times when I've given in and somehow signed up for something I no longer want, I've found ways to backtrack. It’s not always possible and the best answer would be not to let yourself be convinced that they are selling you the greater good.

Getting your money back can be tricky, but I’ll break it down for you. I also look at returns and I take a no-nonsense approach when it comes to taking back goods that aren't working properly. You can save quite a bit by simply doing these things:

Keep record

If you've signed up for something by debit order, keep a record of the marketer’s number. If it was a policy you signed up for, keep your policy number. If it’s something you bought, keep the slips and keep the tags on. Even if they are really difficult about refunds, most places are fine with exchanges if the goods are undamaged and you have your proof of payment.

You didn't know you need tubular ice creams until now
It’s a good idea to keep your proof of payment whenever you are buying something electronic or worth more than R100. I’m not shy to take something back when it didn't perform the way I wanted or something broke. I even returned my birthday present from my mom. The hairdryer looked fine encased in plastic with its nifty attachments, but after taking it out of the packaging one attachment came apart. I could also tell that the hairdryer itself was flimsy.

I took it back the next day and got a different model. I had to pay more, but it’s more important to have something that lasts if you’re going to use it every day.

Keeping record of all the beneficiaries of your monthly debit orders is smart. Sometimes small payments accumulate and you cannot just cancel them because you’re not even sure where they are going.

Go back in time

No, not time travel, although that would be useful. Remind yourself to get back to cancel a subscription before the first debit order is cleared, to see if you can get a refund on the expensive foundation within the time of the store’s exchange policy or to return goods you are unhappy with before the guarantee expires.
If you've booked holiday accommodation and you find it cheaper somewhere else you can usually cancel your booking if it is done in time. Find out what their policy is. Waiting too long can cost you in the form of losing your deposit and not booking when you think you've found the best deal can mean disappointment.

Be firm

I've also found that some places ask you a lot of questions when you try and cancel a subscription. One offered me a reduced monthly payment, but the initial sign-up was still very expensive. If you’re like me and find it hard to be firm with strangers, give it a try. It really works and I even felt good about my new-found assertiveness.

I hope you can get your money back next time something goes wrong with a purchase or you have changed your mind. If you’re out of ideas of how to save money and just want to make ends meet for a change, read my post on Applications for debt review and to consolidate your debt.

16 November 2012

Attract a debt free life

We’re approaching something a bit more philosophical in this post and people who believe in the laws of attraction will catch on to where I’m getting at. If this is all too airy fairy for you, read on. Maybe you feel like giving something new a try. The advice is free and harnessing your personal energy has helped many other people, so you might as well give it a shot!

The basis of the law of attraction is the belief that your mind can control your destiny beyond the obvious decisions we make. Scientists have seen the mind change the structure of atoms in water, so the notion that we have energy coming from us is more than just a hippy idea. If you've ever felt depressed, anxious or comforted in a stranger’s presence for no reason then you've experienced something of this energy.

If we can influence matter and each other, then why not try and influence yourself and your life? It’s just a matter of using your thoughts in a constructive way. There’s nothing new to do here, the trick is just to focus on thinking things that will nurture you and contribute to living the best possible life instead of longing for a life you cannot have. 

When you are wishing for something, you are saying you don’t have it and these thoughts attract more energy into your life that will match your energy where you don’t have what you want. If you can use your mind to visualize what you want and use your imagination to experience this in detail, the energy you are sending out is having what you want and soon enough you will have what you desire.

Let’s take debt as a practical example. Your goal is to live debt free. But is having a goal enough? You might be doing all the things you think you should be doing to gear yourself towards financial freedom, but things are still not working for you. Actions are still very important if you’re going to rely on attracting what you want, because when we act we are also using our energy towards something. So there must be something missing if you’re still falling short of living your dreams.

Erin Pavlina's view on harnessing your mind’s ability to attract the things you want also stresses the importance of your actions being in line with your desires. Check out her post How to Become a Vibrational Match for your Desire. She explains the relation between your desires, your actions and your mind perfectly in the section Jump on Opportunities.

An interesting facet of attracting what you want according to Pavlina is making sure you really want what you are dreaming of. It’s worth doing some self-evaluation to determine if there is a reason why you aren't changing your thoughts and actions to accommodate the direction you want your life to take.

Is there some kind of pay-off to being over indebted? Having things you cannot afford, avoiding other issues in your life by worrying about your finances, nurturing the belief that you will never be good with money and many more factors can be keeping you from saving or paying back your debt.

If you’re sure this is not the case, let yourself daydream about your life after debt. Feel how it feels to live a better life with abundant wealth. Experience it and use the power of your imagination to make yourself open to receiving new things by creating space for them in your mind. If you can really dream it without second-guessing or yearning for it, you can live that dream. 

Pavlina calls it getting your shopping cart ready for everything you are asking for from the universe. It’s good to want new things and act to get them, but if you’re not ready to receive them the universe will hold onto your goods until you are ready.

If you take just one thing from this, remember to keep dreaming and feeling yourself living the life you want. Let go of longing for what you cannot have and work on being a match for what you desire. According to the law of attraction, yearning only attracts more yearning and negativity more negativity. Use your imagination to be positive and active in attracting what you want.

Taking Stock of 2012

If you’re looking for your debt advice fix, I've got just the thing for you over at a post I did for Debt & Credit Restructuring this week, but I want to do a more personal post today.

For the last few months I've been blogging about getting out of debt and when I thought about what to write about today I realized you don’t know anything about me. I’m sure some readers could make some assumptions about my interests and my approach to life. I try to approach the debt free journey from all sides and I hope you could tell that I appreciate humans being multi-faceted. We all have different needs, vices and opportunities. I hope I've covered something for everyone in the last few months.

We don’t always think of the opportunities life gives us, but making a conscious decision to be grateful for my life got me thinking about everything that happened this year.  When I first thought back to the last ten and a half months it seemed that not a lot happened in 2012. It was just another year, another set of routines with fun thrown into the mix.

But then the firsts came to me: My first time in another country when I took a trip to India. My first yoga class. My first time going to a trance festival. There are others that are more personal but the list just grew and then I had to write it down.

Sure, some firsts came with some growing pains and having to let go, but overall it’s been a good year and taking stock of what I've been up to made me continue writing my list – no gap and no subheadings – to include the things I still want to do this year. Some are more easy than others.

Tomorrow I’m attending my first Tai Chi class. I don’t know what to expect, but I’m sure it’s going to be great. I’m going with a friend I met at a spiritual group – attending this group was another first. I saw a pattern in the firsts that had an impact on my life, the things I’m glad I tried or happened: they’re moving me in the direction I need to go.

Continuing with my list is a way to consciously invite change in my life and it made me realize that there’s a lot more I want to achieve. I usually just drift through life with my goals zooming in and out of my focus because I can’t be bothered to take steps to achieve them, but this year was different. I challenged myself to try new things, to push my body and mind with exercise and reach out to people I had a good feeling about.

Think about the firsts you've experienced this year, things that you’re glad crossed your path. If you’re not where you want to be, that’s fine too. For instance, if you want to pay back debt, focus on the solutions when you’re in debt, rather than looking at the mountain before you. You will have to get over it, so rather break your journey into smaller pieces than avoiding it altogether. Also look at how far you've come with every aspect of your life. What do you want to try differently and most importantly: what have you learned from making mistakes, going too slow or not acting at all?

Here’s to 2012 and making the most of the last few weeks. Success is great, but failure teaches us much more and prepares us for the future. Be grateful for all the lessons the year has brought on your path.

5 November 2012

Reward yourself with a weekend away

Passport to Paradise
Just like exercise, keeping your mind balanced and eating right, a holiday is very valuable to your over-all well being  It helps us relax and gain a new perspective on life.

Because times are tough, people are taking shorter holiday trips closer to home to save on accommodation and travel costs. Shorter, more frequent trips like these can be better for you as well. It means less stress about transport and time spent making travel arrangements and more time to unwind. It has been proven that short, more frequent holidays are more effective for stress management.

Long weekend trips are very popular and if you are planning on going away for a long weekend, it’s important to book in advance. For popular destinations, booking around three months in advance is usually necessary if your trip falls on a long weekend. To avoid this you can take a Friday or a Monday off work for a long weekend trip without the traffic.

Even when you are aiming to save and cut back on expenses, a reward once in a while can be good for your financial morale. Use a weekend away as motivation to save more or reward yourself for saving when you can afford to go away for a little while. We’re not talking five star accommodation here, because self-catering or camping can be a lot of fun at a fraction of the price.

Although, if you can afford to stay at a hotel, make sure you book in advance to get the best prices and ask about discounts. Sun City give considerable discounts if you book for longer than four days. Their most affordable hotel is the Cabanas Hotel.

Sun City's Cabanas Hotel, South AfricaFebruary isn't a bad time to get away. It’s still in the thick of summer and if you jump now you might discover very exciting holiday spots at good prices that aren't fully booked yet.

I wrote this article on Travel Safety in South Africa. It’s worth reading if you haven’t travelled in South Africa before.

25 September 2012

Cheap Holidays in South Africa

Whether you’re from South Africa or interested in seeing this beautiful country, I’ll give you the inside scoop on travelling on a budget, experiencing the local culture and making the most of your time travelling.

South Africa has great weather, a vast amount of cultures and influences from all over the world and we’re always happy to go the extra mile to give tourists an experience they’ll never forget. Unfortunately, tourist hot spots are very expensive and don’t always represent the truly South African way of life. It’s either too lavish and clean-cut or creates a world where African culture is made a tourist attraction rather than an authentic representation of how some of us might be living.

It’s not easy to summarize South African culture or to see it in a single trip because there are so many cultures and diversity is the only thing every town has in common! Therefore it’s wise to settle on one area for a few days at a time. You will learn much more about that place’s way of life and you can really dig below the surface of tourist attractions. The best experiences are usually had when mixing with the locals and doing what they enjoy doing. After all, it’s their town so they know their way around it.

Small towns usually have the stranger characters and fun things to do in nature. Visiting small towns can also save a lot of money. Smaller towns have more affordable accommodation than big cities, the people are usually more eager to talk to the visitors and the cost of living for tourists is less once you’ve figured out where the locals go for food, entertainment and shopping.

If small town living isn’t your thing and you’re looking for more excitement, hook up with a local adventure booking agency that arranges packaged tours in South Africa at discount prices. Ask them to arrange adventures like shark cage diving, mountaineering and boating around your budget. You can see this list of some of the fun activities travelers can look forward to in Cape Town alone.

How have you saved while travelling to South Africa and what can you recommend for other tourists who want to save?

17 September 2012

What yoga can teach you about yourself

"In today’s rush we all think too much - seek too much - want too much - and forget about the joy of just being." - Eckhart Tolle

Debt Free Living looks at ways to live a life that is rewarding and financially efficient at the same time. For this strategy to work, we have to reward ourselves in ways that aren’t material. We have to be grateful for our lives and not just take pride in our things. We have to stay true to who we are and where we’re going and not what we want to buy.

Good morning yoga sequence - something everybody can try.
Be sure to find instructions that tell you how to do
 yoga safely or attend a few classes to start with
That’s a lot to take in, I know. But you’ll see what I mean soon enough!

One of the biggest rewards you can give yourself is time alone. Time spent with your mind in a calm place can help you come to terms with who you are and where you are. Reflecting on what you have and what you really want can make you a better person to be around. So it’s not selfish to take time alone when you have a family.

From personal experience, you cannot find this time in a busy home with your family going about their things. You don’t need a lot of time, a few minutes a few times a week are enough, but for that time your mind should truly be at ease and away from the daily hustle and bustle.

I've found that yoga helps me with this. The instructors that focus on the mind-body connection know that when your mind is free and calm you can be more in tune with your body and when your body is working hard it needs your mind to focus to be more efficient. Through concentrating on doing more difficult poses, you not only strengthen your  body, but also your mind. You even feel stronger as a person and proud of yourself when you find you can hold poses for longer or your form improves.

To start the process of tuning in to your body, we first sit still for a few minutes and imagine any thought that comes to mind to drift through on a cloud. This helps a lot. Our minds are so used to always being full of random thoughts that we’re surprized by how hard it is not to think. But when you can let the thoughts go it gets easier and easier to and feel at peace with yourself.

After the exercising part we relax again and let the tension that might still be left from the work out go. It’s really surprizing: I’ve felt my muscles’ pain evaporate by taking my mind to that spot and only focussing on relaxing it. It made me wonder how many times I’ve held tension in my body and felt uncomfortable when I could have released it by simple tuning in to my body.

Yoga class with women doing simple yoga poseIn our day-to-day lives we aren’t tuned in to our physical being or to our spiritual side. We are just thinking logically, imagining the future or the past and running around to get things done. Yoga is the opposite of all this and that’s why it’s so rewarding. For a few minutes you are really present and content with what your body is doing for you. When you start if might not feel like you’re doing much with your mind, but that’s the point. As you get more and more in tune with your body, your mind will find it easier to go into that meditative, peaceful state.

Practicing yoga can put a lot of things into perspective.

When you feel content and happy by doing something that doesn’t cost you anything, you begin to wonder why you were spending so much time and money on entertainment that only left you more nervous or tired than before you started. You might wonder why you have so many things you don’t really need when your life can be fulfilling if you just become grateful for what you have. 

Debt management like debt counselling helps you to gain control of your finances, but what will ultimately determine whether you get and stay out of debt is your mind-set and lifestyle. You have to change in order to change your ways. Even just deciding to learn new saving habits is deciding to change and putting them into action is also changing your mind-set because every time you want to go back to your old ways you have to remind yourself of your goal and so you learn a new way of thinking.

I hope the connection between our minds, our focus and our financial well-being is clearer now. Have you found a way to get in touch with yourself? I’d love to hear from you! We can all learn from each other.

13 September 2012

Deciding on the perfect craft for presents

Homemade presents that your friends or family members will love aren't a figment of your imagination!

The trick is finding something you are good at and then taking inspiration from the person who you want to give the gift to. It’s also useful for Christmas time to find one unisex craft that you can make quite a lot of with variations to suit the person’s style that you’re giving it to. Take inspiration from your friend’s home. Look at what colours or patterns they prefer or where they need something to make their life easier.

A little thought goes a long way to giving great gifts.

Typically crafts that make good gifts are something for someone’s home, car or braai area that they can use. Practicality is important.  When you have a good idea for a present that you believe you can execute you’re already halfway there. You can always practice until it looks right and then you’re set for the whole Christmas season, the next years’ birthdays or your friends’ kitchen teas coming up.

One present shouldn’t take you more than an hour or an hour and a half, or you’re setting yourself up for a lot of frustration in the future! If you’re going to be knitting something and don’t have loads of time on your hands you want to go for something small. Your only limit should be your creativity.

Last Christmas we made mosaic creations for my family. It wasn’t exactly cheap, but it definitely looks a whole deal better than buying a present of the same price. With mosaic you have so many options. We made pot stands, mirrors in heart shaped frames and just the odd pretty thing to hang against a wall. I tried to be practical, but then I started making these hearts moulds and they aren’t exactly a friendly surface for a pot.

The picture was taken while the grouting was still wet.
When it dried I applied a sealant which made it much more shiny
Luckily crafts are very fashionable. Pinterest is a world of inspiration but like the first image warns, you shouldn't take these instructions as they are. They’re usually too vague and you have to do more research to make a success of your project. Get the inspiration on Pinterest and look to blogs and websites dedicated to the craft you've chosen for the how-to.

Young South Africans are struggling financially and the Millennial Generation are often referred to as Generation Debt, which is all the more reason to get in touch with your crafty side from a young age. You can save money by not reaching for that credit card or using a store account while still making your friends and family feel special. There’s this trend among young people not to give gifts, not even to their closest friends. It’s understandable, as time and money is limited, but if you really want to you can make presents or at least cards for your friends and loved ones for special occasions. Showing some love shouldn’t be limited to the off chance that you have a love interest on Valentine’s Day!

11 September 2012

How to cope when you lose friends and alienate people

How to lose friends and alienate people? Find a new direction in life and stick to it. It’s often as simple as that.  Speak about new-found interests with friends who don’t care and enjoy activities they don’t understand. You can further alienate them by being passionate about things they don’t find very cool or relevant at all.

Surround yourself with people who believe in your dreams

Friendship has this way of not always accommodating both parties if one starts to dance to a different tune. Where you were a pair of feet, suddenly you are both right feet. As our ideas about life changes, we can’t always agree on what is right! Or relevant, or necessary, or enjoyable - but you get the idea. We invest so much in friendships and when we grow apart it can be really painful. Sometimes it’s slow and gradual and sometimes friction causes you to avoid hurting each other’s feelings by avoiding your friend’s company.

How do we deal with this? There’s no easy answer, but I’ve lost my fair share of close friends, so I can share my own ways of coming to terms with this kind of loss. Sometimes I wasn’t the one who needed new things in my life and I was on the end feeling alienated, but most of the time I’ve been doing the alienating. Both of these can be really painful. By alienating your friends with your new ideas or past times you often feel like you think you are better than them for making different decisions. When you feel your friend pulling away you might feel like you did something wrong.

Billy wasn't always interested in Gina's branch of philosophy

Or maybe it’s just me; I try to look for the problem with myself first! And then with the other person. But in time I’ve learned that this is not the right way to go about it. When you start looking for causes you start to shift the blame one way or another. Who needs that? It’s better to accept that the friendship dynamic has changed because people change all the time. Our relationships with other people shouldn’t hold us back from pursuing what we want in life. Unless you want to pursue a full-time singing career when you are the poster child of generation debt, you didn’t make it through the first round of Idols auditions and your choir teacher asks you to sing a bit softer. Then you might want to listen to your friends.

You have to give yourself permission to choose

We learn so much about life and ourselves through our relationships with other people and even more in coping with the loss of a friend that you deemed a very important part of your life. As an introvert, I don’t make friends easily and the friendships that I invest time and love in are really dear to me. So losing a friend can leave me as hurt as some might feel after breaking up a romantic relationship. Therefore it’s important to remind myself that I am doing the best I can.

I also look at where I went wrong to be more compassionate and understanding in the future. Often I alienate people because they don’t understand me, but this isn’t necessary when you can respect each other’s differences. Of course, people’s idea of what it means to respect differences also varies, so nothing is ever simple!

Focus on the things in your life that are making your new decisions worthwhile, be grateful for people who are willing to accept you even though you have changed in some way and focus on learning more about yourself.

By putting yourself out there and doing things you love, you often get the chance to meet people who share the same interest as you, so you might end up gaining more than you thought you were losing! It’s not that friends are replaceable, but I feel that a friendship comes into our lives when we need it and leaves when we should stand on our own two feet. Maybe you don’t need to dance to the same tune after all.

7 September 2012

Three easy ways to save today

We haven’t shared saving tips in a while and I think it’s time for an update. I found some great ways to cut back on everyday expenses and they’re too simple not to share. 

If you’re not sure what you should be saving for, you’re one of the lucky few. The rest of us are trying to manage debt repayments or building on our meagre retirement fund.

Take a look at our saving tips
We’re three months away from the holiday season, so now is the time to start saving if you want to do something exciting this year. Travelling is always an amazing experience and it will make all the saving and scratching together of pennies very rewarding.

Let’s jump right in: here are some tips to save money in the months leading up to the holiday season.

Shop during sales

Shop at sales this time of year as shops are clearing out their summer stock and it’s the best time to get bargains. It’s not just clothing stores that revolve their stock between winter and summer. You’re not going to get this opportunity once everyone is singing ‘tis the season to be jolly. But there’s also a big don’t when it comes to shopping at sales: only buy what you need around the house, for presents, for your children and not what you would like.

Sales trick us into buying things we wouldn’t ordinarily give a second thought to. But suddenly, when it’s affordable, you think you are saving by buying it. This is not the case. Stick to a shopping list when you go to the shops. If you are doing Christmas shopping, write everyone’s name down on a list so you can keep up with what you need to buy.

In the previous tips for saving money we go into another money-saving way to go around Christmas shopping, so you can combine this strategy of picking who buys presents for who with buying presents when they are affordable!

Re-evaluate your cell phone contract

Thanks to Nice Girl Notes for this one! Most people buy cell phones on contract these days. Well, if you’re not using all you SMS’s, data and airtime you are paying for, it might be time to look for a different payment plan. The same goes for your internet service provider: stop paying for data you’re not using by downgrading or see if topping up is necessary when uncapped could be cheaper.

How much saving does it take to change a light bulb?

Save money with CFL light bulbs

If the promise of shaving hundreds of Rands off your electricity bill sounds promising, change your incandescent light bulbs to Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs. They’re usually weird looking bulbs. The ones we have are longer and thinner than normal light bulbs and look like two pipes bent into a rectangle shape instead of the traditional round bulbs. They use a lot less power than normal light bulbs.

While we’re on the topic of saving electricity, make a point of switching off appliances, TV’s and lights when you aren’t using them. Unplugging electronics that go to standby mode can save you too. All the little bits add up at the end of the day!

Do you have any more simple tips for saving? We’d love to hear them below!

4 September 2012

Do what makes you happy?

I’ve seen motivational images declaring “Do what makes you happy” everywhere the last few days. Which left me wondering: Will doing what makes you happy now really make you happy in the long run?

I’m not being cynical; I think there’s a difference between happiness and contentment. Happiness is short-lived and it’s a passing emotion. Therefore, to be happy all the time you need to constantly work for it by doing what makes you happy in the now.

I think what most of us really want is to be content. This is a peaceful state of mind. It might slip from time to time, but for the most part you are happy with your life because you are grateful and you know you are on the right path. It’s not the kind of happiness that you have to focus on achieving every day. The real achievement here is staying in the present and staying on course. If you do these two things, you will become grateful for the life you have and find that everything you need finds you.

Focussing on doing what makes you happy sounds like an awful lot of effort. It implies a lot of “doing” and not “being” - of searching and not being content with what you have in this moment. If buying lots of shoes makes you happy, that’s fine, but it’s a short-lived happiness and you cannot expect to be content if you base the value of your life on material things. Most of us can’t afford this either and over-spending can lead to feelings of guilt, having failed yourself financially and being too ashamed to apply for debt management.

Where I do agree with the sentiment of doing what makes you happy is when it comes to sticking to your guns in the face of adversity. Sometimes doing what is right in the eyes of others or what you think is socially acceptable is very far removed from what you need to be content.

Maybe we should change it to “stick to what makes you happy”. I also fell like making one that says “be grateful, be present, be content”. What do you think?

31 August 2012

Forget about debt

If you want to stay out of debt you need to forget about minimizing debt and start paying back debt.

Kick into a different gear and explore other possibilities to make your finances flourish.

Thinking about your finances simply as debt management will get you stuck in a rut of only being able to manage debt and never moving forward to greater things says financial guru Vanessa Summers.
These can be things such as:
Getting a meaningful job
Planning for retirement
Having some financial freedom
Seeing a different country
Visiting family you haven't seen in ages
Investing in your children's future
Getting involved in a club or charity

Forget about debt and focus on a better financial life.

Summers says that Americans don't educate themselves about financial planning in a holistic way and learn by their mistakes – this mistake being how they handle debt. So there are a lot of consumers who are very well-versed in only one area of personal finances.

For South Africans who are even worse at saving it's no different.

To break this cycle you have to set the bar higher and strive to do more with your income than simply getting out of the red one day.

As adults we have to educate ourselves about money and finance, we can’t expect someone to lead us by the hand. In the media we are constantly bombarded with ways of making money quickly, insurance policies and payday loans, but the companies “teaching” us about money are the very institutions that rely on people's gullibility, fears and materialistic nature. 

Of course, we don't always realise this, we think that we are only doing what is best for us.
Summers says that shifting your attention to making more money in a reliable manner like a second job or a passive income and making your money go further you will "start overhauling your financial programming".

Suddenly you will start to learn more about other facets of finance, see opportunities when they arise because you have your feelers out and instead of stressing about your debt you will be optimistic about your future and build on your skills, like developing your entrepreneurial skills or becoming better at financial planning and investing.

Focus on the future when you are under debt review and forget about mistakes you made getting into debt.

If you're already under debt review you have all the more reason to relax as a debt counsellor has your situation under control and you can focus on not only saving but finding an opportunity where you can earn more income.

So, forget about debt. Don't feel guilty about your past mistakes. Remember that you are not the same person you were yesterday and that change can be exciting. 

26 August 2012

The best frugal entertainment ideas

Pinching pennies doesn't mean you have collect dust in front of the TV every weekend. We have some ideas to avoid being bored stiff while trying to save or stick to your budget

Frugal entertainment while making money, work at a music concert

While you're saving, wouldn't it be great to make money as well? Work at concerts and other performances and you get to make money while being entertained! When international acts come to the country the organizers need a temporary team to man food stalls or usher, so this can be a fun source of income if you live in a big city. 

If you're a family or a group of people you can entertain everyone without spending a dime by taking advantage of factories, farms or local business that make tours available to the public. This is great for kids as these trips can be very educational. Depending on your children's interests, they might enjoy airplane hangers, radio stations, toy factories or animal rescue organizations. Some farms offer wine tours if there aren't kids to entertain or opt for a farm that do pick-you-own and pick berries with the kids. 

Fruit-picking is great, affordable fun for the whole family

If the weather allows it, visit local parks or nature reserves for picnics, kicking a ball around, walking the dogs or hiking. You can get season passes to most nature reserves that are very affordable if you're going to make a regular outing of this. And why shouldn't you? If you have a bicycle, go for a ride along a scenic route suitable for bikes and have a picnic along the way. 

Community events can be fun and super affordable. Check the local paper or your area's website for what's happening on the community calender. These events are aimed at any or all ages, so ignore the country singers on stilts and just keep looking until you find something you're interested in.

Camping can be very affordable if you already have the gear. Setting up tent in nature is a great way to relax on a budget. Look for campsites close-by that charge the most affordable rates and rough it for the weekend. Still too expensive? Camp in someone's backyard. But ask them permission first! 

Setting up a tent in nature is a great way to relax on a budget

Host a movie night for friends and rent movies from the budget section. There are usually classic gems hidden in there! Be sure to compare different DVD rental place's prices as some don't have a budget section at all. Ask everyone to bring a snack and share. If your friends are too lairy to sit still and watch movies together you can host a swap party: read how in Party your way out of debt.

If you have any more ideas, feel free to share them in the comments section and we'll add them to our list and credit you. We hope your next weekend is amazing.

20 August 2012

The three ways friends make you poor

A few months ago we wrote about keeping stress about money problems out of your relationships in the post Don't Let Finances Ruin Your Relationship. This applies to relationships with friends as well as romantic relationships. In this post we explore the other side of this coin: people who we care about ruining our financial well-being. It's nice to spoil our loved ones once in a while, but it's the more subtle ways in which they might be sabotaging your saving resolutions that really make a difference in your spending habits.

Two blonde girls come to a crossroads in their friendship.

Jess couldn't believe she missed the sale.
Carla couldn't believe those prices were the sale.
This is not about blaming those we love for our financial difficulties, but realizing how their presence in your life affects your spending so you can find a practical solution that doesn't end in a disagreement. Only by assuming full responsibility for your spending is it possible to make better choices. So let us look at common ways in which the people closest to us affect our spending and how you can avoid over-spending because of this.

By impressing
By trying to impress someone by buying them gifts, taking them to expensive restaurants and the like, you can really sabotage your monthly budget. While it is nice to treat someone, don't make this the basis of your relationship. If someone really cares about you and there's a connection, it doesn't matter if you're eating home made sandwiches in the park or drinking French champagne on a yacht: you will enjoy each others' company and the time you spend together.

The real trick here is to keep things interesting without looking to "romantic date" scenarios. For some reason romance is associated with spending mega bucks. This is silly. Romance is being thoughtful and sweet, not trying to be a Richard Gere to your Pretty Woman. (I'm pretty sure he gave her his credit card to go shopping at one point...avoid this.) Get to know the person so you know what they will find thoughtful and sweet!

By mirroring
This is when you start to spend like your friends when you can't afford to. Remember, your worth does not depend on anything you can buy and if you feel left out among your friends because of having less, either they are snobs who belittle people with less money, so ridiculously rich that you can't help but feel left out or you have insecurities. It's not the end of the world: there must be a reason why they are your friends. Focus on that and avoid tagging along with them to super-expensive places. Introduce them to fun places that aren't over the top and maybe they even enjoy the change of scenery.

By compromising
When you want to change your spending habits and your friends don't want to, you will probably end up compromising and losing sight of your saving goal. To avoid this, avoid doing expensive things with your friends for a while. It seems harsh, but seeing them less might help you in two ways: figure out why they won't make an effort to see you outside of that activity and save you money. Heck, you can even learn a new skill in your new-found free time and make money!

If you want to apply for debt counselling, but your spouse doesn't want to be blacklisted until the debt review is finished, you will probably try some other alternative. Unfortunately, the alternatives aren't always as effective as plan A and you don't want to end up resenting your partner or friends for being instrumental to your financial troubles. If you need to get debt help, do your best to convince your partner that it is the best solution for you in the long run and keep reminding them that the quicker you take serious steps to getting back control, the quicker you will be able to live without the burden of being over indebted.

Gift bags for next-to-nothing

The gift bags you buy in the shops can set you back quite a bit. Or maybe that's just in South Africa. To solve this problem, explore new ways with wrapping paper and make your own gift bags. It looks better than just wrapping a gift and you can save even more if you buy wrapping paper from the R5 store or reuse a poster, a newspaper, a magazine taped together...the possibilities are endless and your final product will be totally unique. If you're like me and like coordinating the wrapping and card to the theme of the gift, this is revolutionary.

I bought a sari in India and the shop put it in a bag like this made from old newspapers. So unique, it was like a souvenir and I used it to "wrap" the kaftan I bought for my aunt. It was very sturdy, they must have folded it over a few times in Step 1!

Head on over to Hello Sandwich for this tutorial! Keep in mind, step 1's instructions go with the picture in the intro. I was confused there for a bit!

16 August 2012

The Ins and Outs of Debt Consolidation

Too many credit cards and small loans?

Debt consolidation has become something of a buzz word in South Africa. But what is a debt consolidation and can it really help you? The short answer is yes! Sweeping up all the smaller loans and store card debt that you have with a consolidation loan can make your life easier and save you money. Smaller loans generally have higher interest rates and different payment dates during the month which can mean a lot of running around. By consolidating your debt,  the aim is to pay less interest and spend less time sorting out your credit responsibilities in the future.

When you approach a debt consolidation lender, arrange that your new monthly repayment be subtracted from your account first thing after receiving your income. This way, you will have a clear idea of the money you have left for the month and you can budget accordingly without worries about paying creditors.

To qualify for a consolidation loan you will have to go through the same process as applying for any other loan and the credit provider will do a credit check. Usually, consolidation loans require equity to secure the lowest interest rates. People with impaired credit records and those who are over indebted or blacklisted won't qualify for debt consolidation. They can apply for debt review, which is essentially the restructuring of one's debt into one repayment according to your affordability.

You can contact a debt counsellor and they will handle your creditors from there. Your main responsibilities will be filling in the application form and from there managing your finances within the budget you have as clients under debt review cannot get any new credit.

10 August 2012

Vision board III: You have the life you want now

In Vision board part I: To get the life you want now we discussed ways in which to enhance your life by setting goals of things you want. A vision board is a collection of images that helps you mind to see things in a new way or to see opportunities in the future. A visual representation of a need or desire can bring a new perspective when it is illustrated and make you discover exactly how much, or how little, you care to achieve a certain goal. If the desire fades as you imagine yourself having achieved your goal, it might be that your priorities changed.

Listen to your gut instinct. If you can't imagine yourself being more content after achieving the goal, your vision board was just as successful as when it made you realize how much you want something. Being content does not mean you are happy, it means you are grateful and at peace. Happiness can come and go and is just a feeling. Feelings come and go and it's not humanly possible to hold onto them. Too often we strive to become happy instead of just being happy. 

Living With Less is our Facebook page with inspiration on minimalism and being content

Your vision board can remind you that you are, in fact, content with where you are when you can't imagine yourself being in a better place after achieving a goal. Goals are often empty desires that we chase to fill our lives with a sense of purpose. A goal that does not stem from desire, but from being content, will be truly rewarding. 

Once you accept where you are, you can start to let the present guide you. When you don't chase goals that are outside yourself and strive to be more in tune with your inner self, the bliss you feel stays with you. When your goal is buying a car, the novelty will wear off soon enough and you will still be the person you were before, most likely looking to fulfil a new desire. One can see how this has caused a surge in people applying for debt counselling! This is no way to live, but it is totally normal and acceptable. In fact, it is expected of us to always desire more and better things and situations in our lives.

Debt counselling is a process of budgeting to get out of debt and learning to enjoy the value of a debt-free life

The most powerful thing you can do is to create a mind-set for yourself where you are content with every moment as it comes. A vision board can help. Let the images you gather guide you towards being content with your life as it is. Collect images that remind you of things, people, places, experiences and so forth that have made you the person that you are. It's like counting your blessings or taking stock of where you are. 

2 August 2012

Don’t let money hold you back

Does money make the world go round? Some of us might say it makes the world stand still. When you don't have the means to afford what you need, such as a home, three meals a day and living in reasonable comfort, your life is ruled by the lack of money. Surviving in a capitalist society will always come back to needing money.

The need for money is, for some, so desperate that they will do nearly anything as it equals their survival or the survival of their children. One can imagine that it is hard to live life to the fullest and be the best you can be when your existence is threatened, or at least strictly controlled, by your lack of money.

Yet, those of us who have what we need to live lives that don't lack basic comforts are not easily satisfied for the most part. We have been taught that the more money you have, the more successful you are and the better your life will be because you can afford better things. Things that aren't necessary for survival, but we feel we need them to live comfortably. These things have never equaled contentment or happiness in the long run, as they are not necessary for survival and their value to our lives depend entirely on how we use them.

Sometimes it feels like things start to use us: we develop a dependence on things like cars, cell phones, computers or how we look that can be hard to break. If you can imagine yourself giving up all of the things you are dependent on with ease, you are very lucky. It means that you are happy with having what you need and not what you want and that you are content with who you are outside of all these things.

It means that your world does not revolve around money and what it bought for you. When your life revolves around money, the man with everything he needs is just as controlled and restricted as someone who doesn't know where their next meal will come from.

It is therefore no surprise that people have rediscovered the value of nature and how disconnecting from society and gadgets can bring them the comfort that they were looking for in the first place. Living stress-free is much more comforting than worrying about how you're going to get out of debt, when you will be able to relax or how you're going to reconnect with the people in your life.

Many people have made the conscious decision to be happy with earning less than they can because it means that they get to make time for things that truly matter to them. Appreciating the money that you have instead of wishing for more and more can only make you more peaceful and content. Then, money is a tool in your life, a necessary evil, and not the beginning and end of who you are and where you're going.

25 July 2012

Affording companion animals

When people are struggling financially it is often their pets who get a raw deal. Not that animal abuse and the neglect of pets are only limited to the cash-strapped, not at all, but when people cannot afford their own food or healthcare, the animals they are responsible for suffer as well. Animal clinics charge almost as much as human doctors, which is only fair since vets also study many years and animal medicines are also expensive. Getting a companion animal should therefore not be considered lightly.

I am the first to agree that a dog that is well-fed and loved by people who are not well off is much better off than an abused or homeless dog, but we also have to think what will happen to the animal if things go downhill for the owners or the dog gets sick? Jason Garner, a financial planning coach, says, "We have to understand exactly what our responsibilities are to the health and happiness of that animal and then take the necessary steps to ensure that we can fulfil our obligation without unnecessarily burdening ourselves or being forced to make decisions that cause financial distress."

A dog and cat share a crate
Our local animal welfare is situated near a township and people often bring in their pets that they cannot afford vet bills for when they are sick or get hurt. In these instances they get discounts or the animal gets treated by use of donations from the public. Another thing that happens is that animals that got injured are surrendered and rehomed once they are healed again. Some animals are not so lucky: one dog’s owner brought him in days after he was hit by a car and he had to be put to sleep because his infection was that severe.

It is therefore extremely important that you have a plan in the event that your companion animal needs medical attention. No being deserves to suffer and humans do not have a good reputation when it comes to looking after the animals they choose to share their homes with. You don’t want to be a part of the problem, even if it is because you are over indebted or struggling financially. Be sure to take note of the animal welfares in your area that offer discount services to people who cannot afford vet care or look into medical aid for your pet. You can look here for quotes on health insurance for animals. It can save your furry or feathered friend’s life.

23 July 2012

The more repaired, the less wasted

I heard someone say “I’ll just leave it to professionals to clean” a few days ago and it struck me that I have never given any thought to professional cleaners! Growing up my mom always had tips and tricks for cleaning every stubborn stain from blood to red wine. In general, my family has always been very DIY about things.

My dad often repairs electronics, our cars (for simpler mishaps) and other gadgets. He even goes so far as to buy broken electronics off the internet and fixing them. He bought a working digital camera for next-to-nothing because the previous owner didn’t think to check if the rechargeable batteries were still okay before deciding that the camera is “broken”. He simply put other batteries in and voila. It’s not always that simple, but it did surprize me that people don’t try to fix things themselves.

While my family are thrifty in this regard and we’ve saved money by repairing many things from clothing to luggage to furniture, many people don’t develop those skills. And even worse, it’s becoming more and more prevalent that corporations are cashing in on the fact that people don’t insist on gadgets being repairable.

In this article, Jaymi Heimbuch says that if this is the case, you are simply renting that product. You can’t customise it, repair it or hack it to better serve your idea of what it should be doing. Not only do you have to pay to own it, but if it breaks, your only options are to either buy a new one or pay the manufacturer top dollar to fix it (and anyone that has experienced this knows how expensive it can be) or live without it.

If you do manage to repair or modify your device, there’s also a catch. The manufacturers usually put seals on everything so they can tell if you’ve “tampered” with your own property and then your warranty expires. This makes it virtually impossible for repairers who do know their CPU from their LCD to repair your electronics.

Heimbuch’s article makes very valid points about gadget repairability making jobs possible for small businesses and how it is a much more environmentally conscious route for manufacturers to go. We can deduce from this that companies who manufacture unrepairable gadgets are looking to milk the consumer for all they’re worth and don’t support an environmentally friendly culture of “reusing” as a gadget that is not repaired will only be disposed of.
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