4 money traps you can rid yourself of today
If you don’t pay attention to the fine print on your accounts and policies, you’ll almost certainly lose money that could be used more beneficially. Brett Mackay, an investment consultant at 10X Investments, outlines a few simple steps to neutralise hidden fees and build up your savings.
It’s a sad fact of our consumption-focused lives that hidden fees lurk everywhere. Unlike the hazards we encounter in traffic, there are seldom warning signs. From cellphone contracts to car finance, you’re probably paying fees that could be avoided. Why not spend a little time identifying and neutralising these unnecessary charges, and redirecting that money towards something worthwhile, such as your retirement fund or other long-term savings goals?
Money trap #1: Telecomms
In today’s connected world, it’s difficult to go a day without sending a message from your smartphone, browsing the internet or posting to social media. Unfortunately, the costs of these seemingly everyday activities can add up, especially if each service is with a different provider.
What to do: Shop around for the best provider and package for your needs. Be aware of what you use and when. That uncapped anytime mobile data contract might sound attractive, but if you’re using your office or home Wifi most of the time, you probably only need a fraction of what it offers for those days when you’re out and about. If you’re often on calls, opt for a bundled data and voice call package at the same price or less. If you’ve ever signed up for a subscription to receive “free” ringtones or daily horoscopes, you might not be aware that some features are paid. These third-party subscriptions, also known as Wasps, could be the reason you find yourself always having to buy airtime or data. Contact your service provider and ask them how to opt-out. For smartphone users, apps running in the background could also be using your data without you being aware. Go to your device’s settings and check which apps are using data then turn off background data for apps that don’t require this. The money you save on these repeat services could – and should – be working hard for you in a long-term savings account.
Money trap #2: Car finance
Cars were designed to get us places but, over time, they’ve also become symbols of success. Succumbing to peer pressure and buying a fancy car could mean you’re paying thousands every month on a depreciating asset. When choosing a car, consider the additional costs of owning a vehicle: insurance, fuel, tyres, servicing and so on. A car with a monthly premium of R10,000 can end up costing R15,000 per month all-in.
What to do: Ask the salesperson about balloon payments, extended warranties, insurance costs and delivery charges. Add-ons can cost a lot, but some can also be big money savers in the long run. Ask questions, read the fine print and choose carefully. You can also consider buying a demo model or a secondhand car. It’s well-known that a new car loses value as you drive it off the showroom floor and, according to the Automobile Association (AA), a new car will have lost around 40% of its value by the end of the first year. Why not let someone else take that loss and buy a car that’s a year or two old? You can then take the money you save and put it towards your retirement fund instead.
Money trap #3: Bank charges
Banking fees can be complicated and confusing, with some charges included in transactions as a set fee or a percentage of the bill, and other fees levied monthly or annually. It can be difficult to know what your bank account is costing you, especially if you aren’t regularly checking your statements.
What to do: Download three months’ worth of statements (or get printouts from the bank or an ATM) and go through them line by line. Understand what every entry is, then use spreadsheet columns or different coloured highlighters to group essential and non-essential spending. Tally up all the bank costs for each month to see the average amount you’re spending. Some bank fees are only levied after you’ve reached a specific threshold, so be sure to note this as well. If in doubt, call your bank’s customer service line and ask for help breaking down the line items. It might be a big wake-up call to see how all the little items add up. Perhaps you could be saving a couple of hundred rands every month by withdrawing less frequently, using only certain ATMs or accessing online banking instead of receiving paper statements. Almost everyone who does this exercise for the first time realises they have duplicate insurance cover or forgotten subscriptions and memberships they thought they’d cancelled. If there are costs that still look unfamiliar, chat to someone at the bank. You could be the victim of a bank error, duplicated charges from a service provider, or even fraud.
Money trap #4: Retirement products
When it comes to your retirement fund, fees are the single most reliable predictor of investment performance. According to Morningstar, the respected global financial research firm, “the cheapest funds” are “two to three times more likely to succeed than the priciest funds”. Despite the significant role played by fees in building up wealth, 10X Investments’ Retirement Reality Report 2020 found that nearly half of South Africans (49%) did not know what fees they were paying on their retirement savings funds, the most significant investment many of them would ever make. Over 40 years, every 1% increase in fees per annum can reduce your outcome by 30%. (R10,000 earning a nominal 10% per annum for 40 years will grow to R453,000, but only to R314,000 at 9% p.a.)
What to do: Ask your financial advisor or a consultant from your fund to break down the fees you’re paying. Ask for the EAC (equivalent annual cost), which is the industry standard and will mean that you see a total of all the fees. If you’re paying more than 1% all-in, start researching low-fee products where you’ll be able to save more.
Small fees make a big difference over time. Once you’re ready to scrutinise your monthly bills, become a more informed consumer and neutralise unnecessary hidden fees, you’ll find that you have some extra cash that could be put to work for you.