It’s the time of year when it’s impossible to get parking at the gym, Parkruns are more crowded and lycra-wrapped cyclists emerge everywhere as people start exercising to lose a bit of winter flab and get fit for summer. 

It’s also a good time to work on your financial fitness, says Benay Sager, DebtBusters’ Chief Operating Officer.

“Just like keeping in shape physically, it’s always easier to stay financially fit if you constantly work at it. If you have neglected your financial workouts for the past few months, now is the time to get back into shape.”

He says that DebtBusters always sees a significant spike in enquiries in January and February because people overstretch themselves during the summer break.

Here are his tips for getting into financial shape.

Build a budget

Think of this as a financial fitness assessment. It’ll help you work out where you are, set achievable financial goals and keep track of progress.

It may sound daunting, but other than taking a bit of time, it’s an easy thing to do. There are plenty of online tools such as https://www.debtbusters.co.za/tip/budget-calculator/ you can use.

Alternatively draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper and list all your income on the left and all your expenses on the right.

Be as honest and thorough as you can.  Your bank statements for the past few months, bills and receipts can all help build an accurate picture of how much you’re spending and on what.

Revisit and update your budget each month. This will enable you to track progress.

Set goals

These will differ from person to person, but it’s important to have realistic goals, a timeline and plan for achieving them.

If you’ve never run more than 5km, it’s unrealistic to think that you’ll be able to complete a marathon if you train hard for a month. Instead you’ll need to gradually build fitness over time until you’re ready to run 42km. 

Similarly, when setting your financial goals, starting with a series of achievable goals is better than setting yourself a huge challenge and getting disheartened.

For example, settle an account. It doesn’t matter which although usually the one with the smallest balance will be easiest. This may give you the encouragement you need to start setting other goals.

Eventually you may be able to start saving some money each month to build a cushion to cover unexpected expenses.

Once you’ve won some smaller victories you might decide to focus on a single, major goal such as owning your own home.

Get expert help sooner rather than later

If your monthly spending regularly exceeds your income and you can’t find a way to make ends meet you may need help. A free debt assessment will show whether or not you should consider a debt management solution such as debt counselling. 

This is a process regulated by the National Credit Act and allows consumers to pay off their debt at lower interest rates and extended payment periods. For more information visit www.debtbusters.co.za

“Just as it can be difficult to get off the couch if you haven’t exercised for a while, so it can be hard to take control of your finances. As with exercise once you get started and begin to reach some of your goals it can be immensely rewarding,” says Benay.

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