Survey reveals financial stress impacts all aspects of life

South Africans feel high levels of financial stress is negatively impacting their health as well as their home and work lives, but despite this most try to deal with the problem themselves rather than seek professional help.

This is according to a new “Money-stress Tracker” survey of over 14 000 participants run by South Africa’s leading and largest debt counsellor. It is one of the largest surveys ever done in South Africa to determine how money-related stress impacts other aspects of life.

Seventy percent of respondents said they were experiencing financial stress. Of these 94% felt this was impacting their home life and 77% their work life. Seventy six percent believed it was affecting their health. 

Generally, women were more stressed about their finances, home and work life and health than men. In particular, women were 30% more likely than men to be stressed about their health as a result of financial stress, and 20% more worried about paying their debt each month, compared to men.

“This highlights the burden that comes with the critical role women play in South African society and is something to consider as we approach Women’s Day,” says Nosiphiwo Nxawe, manager of payments at DebtBusters.

Over half of participants (52%) indicated they feel stressed or anxious about running out of money before the end of the month. Other major financial stresses were: 

  • Struggling to pay off debt each month – 36%
  • Concerned about inflation – 27%
  • Worry about unexpected expenses – 23%
  • Battle to pay school fees – 15%
  • Worry about having enough to retire – 12%

Perhaps unsurprisingly, financial stress was most acute amongst the younger respondents and those with less income. However, 40% of all respondents were spending over half their take home pay to repay debt. 

“More alarmingly, 72% of all respondents need 30% or more of their take home pay to repay debt. If one considers that DebtBusters deems 30% of take-home pay to be the level at which debt repayments can be managed sustainably, one can conclude that 72% are in an unsustainable debt position.

“This is simply untenable so it’s not surprising that stress levels are so high,” says Nxawe.

One in six people believed that they had less debt than their peers, while five in six believed they had the same or more debt. Under 25s generally believed that others had more debt than they did. 

Reactions to dealing with financial stress ranged from cutting back on monthly expenditure to selling personal items, with most people (43%) opting to tighten their belts. Twenty six percent looked to increase their income by finding a better job. Unsurprisingly younger people were more likely to seek higher-paying jobs. However, one in six (14%) said they felt stuck and didn’t know what to do.

When asked why they hadn’t acted to alleviate financial stress 39% responded they ‘felt stuck’ and 23% said they needed more time to think.

Psychotherapist and transactional analyst Diane Salters says people seeking debt counselling are probably going to feel shame and fear, not be thinking clearly and ready for fight, flight or freeze. 

“Those in freeze mode will likely feel stuck. Many responded this way in the survey. Those who are in flight mode will say they don’t need debt counselling when the overall numbers saying they are experiencing the effects of financial stress on their lives indicate they do.  If they freeze, they will do nothing. Or they may be ready to flee or fight the debt collector, their partner or spouse or even their debt counsellor.” 

Nxawe says that comments from respondents who were currently under debt counselling reflected the informal feedback DebtBusters’ receives from clients.

“Once the decision is made (to proceed with debt counselling), most people feel an immense sense of relief. The fact that once in debt counselling, they aren’t constantly having to answer phone calls about outstanding payments also helps alleviate a lot of the stress.”

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