Spendthrift SA: We want better clothes not better education

shoppers in a mall

Shoppers in the hall way of one of Johannesburg's most popular malls.

THE South African dream is more about buying a car than owning a house. And we are spending less on education than on clothing and good TV seems to be just as important as preparing for retirement.
 
Drawing on data from Statistics SA’s income and expenditure survey, and other sources, such as company results, market analysis firm Eight20 yesterday revealed some telling spending priorities of South Africans.
 
One of the most important shifts, according to Eighty20 director Illana Melzer, is the shrinking share of home loans in household debt compared to vehicle finance and unsecured loans.
 
Though the Treasury and the Reserve Bank have since last year drawn attention to the alarming growth of unsecured loans, Melzer said fears about a lending bubble missed the point.
 
Most of the big banks and the biggest unsecured lender, African Bank, have in recent months reined in their unsecured lending, which typically incurs a higher interest rate and has been fuelling consumption expenditure.
 
Data from the Reserve Bank released last week show that the ratio of household debt to disposable income is 75.8%. Home loans now represent only 25% of credit granted, compared to 47% five years ago, said Melzer. Vehicle finance has overtaken bricks and mortar and now accounts for a third of credit.
 
Unsecured loans — despite the recent slowdown — make up almost a quarter of all debt.
 
“If you have a mortgage, you know you’d better not lose your job because then you’ll also lose your house,” Melzer said yesterday.
 
Though most South Africans have seen their income and living standards improve, few have accumulated assets.
 
The number of households spending over R30000 a month increased to 950000 from 607000 between 2006 and 2011.
 
The number of households spending between R10000 and R30000 a month has climbed to 2.3million from 1.9million in 2006.
 
Eighty20’s analysis also shows that hidden costs, such as rates and taxes, water and electricity, have risen so rapidly that housing and utilities hog as much as 18% of the average household’s expenditure, up from 16% in 2006.
 
Wealthier South Africans — those with more than R30000 a month to spend — pay even more. They spend 16% on mortgages and 12% on utilities and maintenance.
 
They are the most likely to buy a house. In contrast, the lowest expenditure group — those with less than R3500 a month — spend 5% on renting a home, and another 10% on utilities and maintenance. This group, however, qualifies for state-sponsored housing.
 
The 2011 census shows that 3.5million more households were living in formal dwellings than in 2001.
 
But those between the higher income groups and the poorest of the poor, 3.5million people, are falling through the cracks.
 
They earn “too much” for statesponsored housing but cannot afford the private sector’s entrylevel houses.
 
They are similarly in a bind with respect to education and healthcare. About 3.1million households would be willing to spend more on education, and 2.6million more on healthcare — judging by average spending patterns — but are not catered for by either the state or the private sector.
 
According to Melzer, people will spend where they can get easy credit.
 
Households with R3500 a month spend 8% of it on clothing and footwear, and 2% on education.
 
Those with between R3500 and R10000 a month spend 7% on clothing and footwear, and 3% on education.
 
Even the wealthiest — for whom private schools or the top fee-supported government schools are the norm — spend only about 4% of their income on education. This is less than half of what people with more than R30000 a month spent on health.
 
Other interesting numbers:
 
•Households with an income of less than R3500 a month are spending 8% of it on clothing and footwear — more than on education and health combined
 
•Those with less than R3500 a month spend twice as much on cellphones and airtime as on education
 
•When medical aid scheme costs are excluded, households spend four times more on alcohol and tobacco than on medical expenses
 
•Households spend roughly the same on DStv subscriptions as on retirement annuities