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The lifestyles of South Africans are changing in the face of changing financial conditions, but they continue to grapple with high debt and low savings, the latest Old Mutual Savings & Investment Monitor has found.
The monitor shows that an increasing number of people – what it calls the “sandwich generation” – are supporting both their children and their parents, but these people in turn expect their children or government to support them in their old age.
The results of the monitor are based on the opinions and lifestyles of 1 000 metropolitan dwellers.
A significant change since the previous monitor was published six months ago is the rising number of adults who live with their parents to increasingly older ages. The percentage of adults who live in the family home has increased from 21 percent to 29 percent in the past year.
However, the latest monitor also found that more people are starting to deal with the reality of the current economic climate.
Old Mutual researcher Lynette Nicholson says a trend, picked up in the previous monitor, of a shift from panic (“I can’t afford the cost of living!”) to action (actually cutting back on spending and paying down or avoiding debt) is again evident.
There are early indications that more metro dwellers are saving more or are saving for the first time, Nicholson says.
Savings as a percentage of household income has increased, and the increase is most evident among lower-income earners (albeit off a low base).
However, the 31 percent of metro households who say they are saving more is still outweighed by 37 percent who say they are saving less.
The dip in the use of informal savings vehicles, which was detected in the November 2011 monitor, has reversed, but apart from this, there is little in the latest monitor to indicate a swing in favour of a particular type of savings vehicle.
When it comes to debt among South Africans, the fall in credit card penetration seen in November 2011 has been maintained.
“There is, however, little change in the repayment patterns of either credit card users or store card holders. The default position remains payment of the minimum required, with the proportion of consumers who settle in full or try to pay extra holding relatively steady.
“The drop-off in other (non-card) short- to medium-term credit, which we saw in November 2011, has, by and large, reversed. Higher-income consumers have increased their take-up of car finance and overdraft facilities, while credit extension in the form of personal loans and hire purchase has grown in the middle- and lower-income brackets respectively,” Nicholson says.
However, she says, an increase in credit take-up may indicate that consumer confidence is growing.
Although the latest monitor appears to reflect a mood of consolidation and a firming in confidence – albeit still fragile – it is of concern that an increasing percentage of respondents see either government or family as the source of future financial support, Nicholson says.
The focus on women in the latest monitor revealed the vulnerable financial position of single mothers. It also highlighted the attention (and funds) lavished by mothers on their homes and children, often at the expense of long-term saving for themselves.