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Is saving in the current recession viable?

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The month of July is labelled as National Savings Month by the South African Savings Institute – but just one month ago South Africa entered a technical recession.
Nosibusiso Ngqondoyi, head of research at Novare Investments, reflects on the significance of saving and investing during tough economic times, and whether it is still a viable option.
South Africa’s economy continues to be stifled by weak growth with more work to be done to overcome the current economic inequalities and recession challenges. With South Africa’s unemployment rate at 27,7% [Statistics SA (2017)] and the workforce growth continuing to stagnate, many individuals are forced to work for ‘right now’, as opposed to planning and saving for the future.
The country recently dropped into its second recession in eight years but there is a belief that saving could assist in its recovery. South Africa needs to foster the growth of a savings mentality and culture among South Africans. The importance of which is only elevated with South Africa’s economy being continuously gripped by slow growth, increasing inflation, and macroeconomic imbalances.
People are increasingly becoming aware that a financially secure future is not a given and it is important for individuals to take ownership of their financial future. In the current unsteady economic climate, it becomes even more important to save as the probability of unforeseen events that can or will impact financial markets, increases.
One could differentiate saving and investment in that saving involves putting money away with a target in mind and is usually short-term in nature. Investments, on the other hand, are long-term in nature and shouldn’t be money one would rely on for a rainy day or emergency.
It’s best to start saving as early as possible, the sooner one adopts the habit the better since money needs time to grow and reap the rewards of compounding growth. However, many South Africans are still not aware of the positive long-term effects of proper financial planning.
Learning how to save money is a skill a person can learn from an early age and the earlier the lessons begin, the better individuals are likely to be at it and the more likely they are to adopt other forms of savings and investing in the future. For instance: piggy banks are the best way to introduce children into the habit of saving. Saving should otherwise begin with one’s very first salary as it then becomes a challenge having to cut down on expenses and a lifestyle you’ve become accustomed to.
Traditionally, there is no better time to start saving than now, regardless of the recession we are experiencing or the current economic climate. While a recession might raise concerns around investments delivering lower yields, as well as higher risks (which is generally associated with investing in financial markets like equities) this should not deter people from putting money away for the future.
Since overall interest rates tend to be lowered during periods of weak economic growth in a bid to revive the economy, people often stop saving or investing. When the economy stabilises, interest rates normalise and financial markets start trending upwards, people start again. This can be a costly exercise/gap in your overall financial planning as lost time cannot be recovered. Timing the market is nearly impossible to do successfully.
Periods of economic distress can present an opportunity for investors to buy quality assets at cheaper prices. By remaining invested and adopting a long-term outlook on these investments, investors can benefit greatly.
It’s important to note that as interest rates earned on savings go down so too does one’s debt servicing costs. So, what you lose by way of interest, you gain by benefitting from lower interest on debt like mortgage bond, or bank loans, meaning your overall financial well-being should remain unchanged.
Additionally, weaker interest rates normally lead to higher investments from the private sector as companies benefit from lower investment costs. This presents an opportunity for financial markets, like equities, to do well and therefore bodes well for investors with a long-term outlook.
Risk-adverse investors can also remain invested during periods of increased uncertainty as we are experiencing currently. Money market funds provide one of the safest investment vehicles, as they pose little to no risk.
Local money market and most income funds currently offer attractive yields and can play an integral part of long-term financial planning. This is more so since they offer returns that are higher than inflation, meaning your money continues to grow in real terms, despite the prevailing low return environment in general financial markets.
The current economy may be “unsteady” but through careful research and discipline, South Africans can, and should, start saving today.