When South Africa emerges from lockdown, consumers will face a very different economic reality to what they were used to just over a month ago.

The shutdown came soon after the country fell into a recession. Not long after that Moody’s downgraded South Africa to sub-investment status – the last of the major ratings agencies to do so. Benay Sager, Chief Operating Officer at DebtBusters, recons that while consumers can’t do anything about the broader economy, they can use some of the remaining time in lockdown to take control of their own finances.

Sager suggests the following to stretch your money further.

Count your cents and supplement your (reduced) income: Now is the time to look for any spare money that may be stashed away. Account for everything in all your bank accounts, cash you may have at home, prepaid phone accounts etc. This may not amount to much, but there is also relief in the form of the unemployment insurance fund or UIF. You can claim income from UIF if you or your company have been contributing. Your employer can also claim from the Temporary Employer/ Employee Relief Scheme if they are not an essential services provider and have lost revenue due to lockdown. There are limits on what can be claimed, but every little bit helps.

Stop the impulse buy(s): You may have seen others at the supermarket hoarding toilet paper or some other necessity. Instead of spending R50 on toilet paper, because others are buying it and you may not immediately need it, save the money or spend it on essential items you need now.

Look for the bargains: There are lots of bargains available as businesses are trying to protect market share or just get through the crisis. For example, some companies deliver food or essential items for free. Do your research and find these bargains.

Review your budget: By reviewing your monthly income and expenditure you’ll have a better idea of where you stand financially. It may also give you an early warning that you may be getting into trouble. If your income assumptions no longer hold true, but your debt obligations still need to be met you will need to make some hard, yet important decisions.

Get help if you need it: Many consumers are reluctant to seek help because they feel embarrassed or think they’ll be stigmatised if they undergo debt counselling. South Africa has a world-class, regulated debt counselling sector and it is working well. The number of debt-clearance certificates issued to DebtBusters’ clients grew by 69% per year between 2015 and 2019 – almost a tenfold increase in a four-year span.

If you’re not sure about your situation, this online survey will give you an indication whether you should seek helphttps://www.debtbusters.co.za/tools-and-advice/self-analysis-test/