With research indicating that more than 75% of South Africans are dead broke by the end of the month and generally live from paycheque to paycheque, it’s easy to understand why the country has such a poor savings culture.

The World Bank has even called South Africans out for being the biggest borrowers in the world, with about 86% of consumers in debt.

Research also shows that a growing number of middle-class households – the most financially squeezed of the country’s population – are relying more heavily on revolving credit and payday loans to survive the month.

Despite the grim picture painted, Danelle van Heerde, Sanlam Personal Finance head of advice processes and tools, says its possible to break the hand-to-mouth cycle by adopting more disciplined daily habits.

READ MORE: Savings solutions for your child’s education

The strategies below require some sacrifice so if you’re not ready to reassess your lifestyle or willing to make adjustments, your savings dream will remain just that – a dream.

Make sure to pay yourself first

The first step to breaking the cycle is getting into the habit of making savings contributions a permanent feature of your monthly budget.

If it means setting up a debit order to reduce the temptation of using the money for unforeseen costs that crop up, then do so.

“If you’re first going to repay debt, try to increase the repayment amount,” Van Heerde says.

“If you’re ready to start saving, put a debit order in place. And if you’re struggling to put money away at the moment, the best time to start is when you get an increase.”

READ MORE: Saving strategies for a home loan deposit

Keep a spending diary

Knowing where your money is going is the only way you’ll be able to make the requisite changes in your life that will enable you to free up some cash for a rainy day.

“Split your debit orders into debt repayments, essential expenses and non-essentials such as eating out or coffee. You may be able to create room to save once you’ve taken a hard look at your non-essential expenses,” Van Heerde advises.

“You also need to be critical: clothes are essential but perhaps not those designer heels. And you don’t need to buy something just because it’s on sale.”

Reassess your debt   

Van Heerde says that getting to understand what your good versus bad debt is will help you to determine which debt you need to prioritise reducing.

Short-term debt and store cards usually incur the highest interest rates and should always be the debt you aim to get rid of first. Once you’ve accomplished that, you’ll need to get into the habit of using cash over credit. This will enable you to stick to your savings goals.

READ MORE: Cash-strapped consumers dipping into savings policies

Get a grip on your non-essential expenses

Most people have a general handle on what their essential expenses are, but many aren’t as clear on how much they spend on non-essential items such as take-aways, cigarettes, DStv and cellphone contracts.

These are expenses that aren’t typically factored into people’s monthly budgets, but when calculated, can add up to a considerable sum that can be directed to your savings fund.

“Decide which of the non-essentials are important to you and what you’re willing to give up,” Van Heerde says. “For example, you can bring your own lunch to work, review your cellphone plan, use Wi-Fi calling or other social network calling options.”