By Vanesha Palani
The past year has been challenging for most South Africans. It seems like the price of everything has been going up every month, from rising food prices to transport costs, electricity, and everything else.
There is some good news on the horizon for many South Africans, though, because December is not only holiday time, it’s also stokvel season – which means millions of people will be getting the money back that they have been saving in their stokvel all year.
However, it's important to remember that it’s not just stokvel members who are eagerly awaiting their annual savings payouts. Criminals also know that many people will have more money in the coming months, and they are always looking for ways to steal it.
If you are a stokvel leader or member, you need to be extra careful with your cash during this period.
Seven useful tips to help you keep your hard-earned stokvel savings safe and secure:
- Make electronic payments. If you are the leader of a stokvel, try to pay out as little money as possible in the form of cash. Rather arrange for your members to get their money by direct electronic funds transfer (ETF) into their bank accounts. This minimises the risk of having to withdraw big sums of cash from the bank and transport it to the place where members get paid. If you have members without bank accounts, now is a good time to advise them to open one so that they can receive their stokvel money safely.
- Be cautious at ATMs. If you are a stokvel member and you have to withdraw money from an ATM, try to avoid machines located in high-risk areas and don’t do your withdrawals at night. If possible, you should try to withdraw your money from an ATM located in a shopping centre or somewhere where there is security close by. Always scan your surroundings for any suspicious-looking individuals, have your card ready when you get to the ATM, and never let anyone distract you during your transaction.
- Don’t withdraw all your money at once. If you have to withdraw cash, do it in small amounts over a few days rather than withdrawing it all at once. That way, you don’t have to carry a lot of cash on you, and if you do have the misfortune of someone stealing your money, they won’t be able to take all of it – you’ll still have more in the bank.
- Be mindful of your belongings. Always keep an eye on your valuables and your handbag or backpack if you carry one,” and “Never leave them unattended or put them down where it is easy for someone to grab them while you are busy doing something else.
- Plan your shopping. If you intend to buy expensive items, it's a good idea to bring someone along with you for safety. Also, it’s a good idea not to do one big grocery shop. Rather do a number of smaller shops, so that you don’t have too many shopping bags to carry; that way, you can keep your hands free to look after your valuable items and your money.
- Keep your plans private. Nobody needs to know about your stokvel money or what you plan to do with it. Don’t tell people that you are receiving a payment, and don’t broadcast any plans on social media. Don’t let people know your spending plans as this makes you an easier target for criminals.
- Watch out for scams. Even if you keep your money in the bank, fraudsters may still try to take it from you. “Remember that your bank will never ask for personal or bank details over the phone So, if you get a phone call from someone who says they are from the bank and they ask you for these details, don’t tell them anything.” Some fraudsters will even tell you that someone is trying to take your money, and you need to give them your bank details so they can stop it. If that happens, hang up immediately and call your bank to determine if it was them.
While keeping your year-end stokvel payout safe and secure is very important, stokvel members need to also think about their long-term financial security. While it's tempting to use your stokvel payout for holiday festivities and immediate gratification, think about the potential this money presents for longer-term financial security, and rather than spending all your payout money in December, try to use at least some of these funds to start an emergency savings fund to help you meet future financial needs, by taking this approach, stokvel members can protect their finances from unexpected shocks in the future and use their stokvel money to build a foundation for financial well-being.
The end of the year should be a time of joy and financial relief for stokvels and their members around the country. By following these simple safety and financial security guidelines, you can ensure you don’t fall victim to criminals and fraudsters, and instead get to spend your stokvel payout on the things and people you want to or save it towards an even better future.
* Vanesha Palani is the financial management executive at Nedbank.