Communication through memes and emojis has become second nature to us and often capture humour and irony so perfectly that everyone can relate. So, this festive season, and during its aftermath, we are sure to be entertained by depictions of people taking financial strain. The reality is that these memes are so relatable because many people succumb to the pressure to spend their way through the holidays and back themselves into a debt corner.


Humour can’t disguise the seriousness of finding yourself in a position where you start the new year burdened with debt. January is usually the month when costs tend to increase and there is the additional pressure of the annual new-year outlay for schools and other activities.


This year, Marietta Du Preez, General Manager at Ecsponent Financial Services, says South Africans should take a look at the broader economy and make smart choices when it comes to spending their Christmas bonuses.


“The greater economy affects our earnings and savings directly and indirectly, and it is all too easy to reach January and wonder where your bonus went. It can take months just to recover from overspending during the festive season,” says Du Preez.


The answer is, firstly, to work out what expenses you will need to cover in January and draw up a budget to provide for them. Budgeting is an administrative task most people dislike, but overspending on your budget means taking on debt, which usually comes at steep interest rates.


The recovery period, during which monthly expenses come under pressure, frequently lasts much longer than the holiday period of revelry that caused the problem.


“It’s about finding balance. It doesn’t have to be a choice between today or tomorrow – with the right balance and a little creativity, we can enjoy both,” Du Preez says.


The holidays should not be a time for being worried about anything – least of all money. Du Preez advises all South Africans to get into the good habits of finding financial balance. A written budget should include school fees and extra expenses that usually arrive at the start of each new year.


“Don’t exceed your budget simply to keep up with the Joneses. We have a client who put their children in charge of expenses over the holiday season, most importantly the cost of eating out and buying takeaways, and they told us the family went a whole December without ordering in.”


Du Preez says families can get creative with their indoor and outdoor activities during the holidays to help save money. “Have a picnic in the lounge. Teach the young ones to cook or bake and play games at home. Avoid using your credit card to buy gifts if you are already feeling the pinch of a strained wallet. A formal budget that the whole family works towards can be your saving grace during this time.”


Catching up with friends and family over the festive season needn’t cost an arm and a leg and entertaining at home can be simpler and cheaper than eating out. Similarly, reducing the number of Christmas gifts to be exchanged can actually improve everyone’s appreciation of the gesture of gift giving.


“You might even consider a Secret Santa arrangement and set price limits for extended families to limit the number of gifts each person buys. Unfortunately, it is not business as usual in South Africa at the moment, and when we look back to time spent with family and friends over the festive season, the things we remember most fondly will most likely not be the most expensive gifts. Try to remember that this year may be ending, but there is next year to come. The guiding principle for this festive season should be: Don’t borrow from tomorrow,” says Du Preez.