With the average South African household income under pressure and many consumers struggling to service debt, Elias Masilela, chairman of the South African Savings Institute (SASI), believes the current environment will condition consumers to manage the relationship between consumption and saving.
Masilela launched Savings Month yesterday. He says: "It is understandable and perhaps even logical, that many commentators are questioning whether it makes sense to encourage savings under such dire circumstances.
"Indeed, this question was also asked last year, a time when economic agents were already under significant pressure. The answer last year was ‘yes’. And the answer this year remains ‘yes’. Despite the depressed economic climate, promoting savings remains a relevant and critical agenda."
The theme for this year’s Savings Month is Tighten Your Savings Belt. In the face of severe economic pressure, a downturn in world markets, job losses and a recession, South Africans need to minimise spending in order to come out of the credit crunch that could wipe out income in the absence of a savings plan.
Masilela adds: "We understand that you can only save what you have not consumed – a trade off few, if any, of us would dispute. This inverse relationship between consumption on the one hand and saving on the other has played itself out very convincingly in recent years. Rising debt levels have been accompanied by dis-saving at the household level. Our motto is asking South Africans to take a sober assessment of their expenditure with a view to increase their savings."
As in previous years, SASI has partnered with key stakeholders in the South African financial services and education community such as National Treasury, the Department of Education, financial regulators, lending institutions, non-governmental institutions and others who strive to bring about a lasting saving culture in South Africa.
Promoting savings, even in the current climate remains critical and relevant to the recovery of the economy.
"Throughout Savings Month and beyond, we will continue to highlight that building a prosperous South Africa in the long term will require that savings are pursued even during seasons of economic downturn," says Masilela.
He believes, despite the current depressed financial environment, positive moves like the reductions of interest rates in the last six months, a decline on the year on year inflation rate and the improved framework to assist individuals facing difficulties will make saving an attainable goal.
Positive signs of improved savings are already coming through with the first quarter of 2008 having seeing an increase in the gross saving to GDP ratio at 14,3%. This has risen to 17,1% in the first quarter of 2009. Building and nurturing a culture of savings in South Africa is starting to gain momentum, with the message filtering from the youngest in society through the upcoming Teach Children to Save South Africa campaign through to breadwinners in families who need to sustain the livelihood of their families.
During Savings Month, SASI in conjunction with its partners has embarked on an aggressive campaign with various activities planned throughout the country. SASI also aims to give South African’s practical savings tips, including a five step savings guide that is based on long term planning, goal setting and budgeting. Various industry professionals and experts across the financial sector will lend their knowledge and skills to contributing towards building a nation of savers.
Masilela says that positive moves like this will encourage a culture of saving now and in future generations laying a firm foundation for growth in years to come. "Gone are the days of ‘I want it all and I want it now'," says Masilela, "Our tune now has to be ‘I don’t need it all and I don’t need it now'."