Personal finance editor Amanda Morrall opens the books and finds a financial horror story of her own making. Your advice for Amanda?

Personal finance editor Amanda Morrall opens the books and finds a financial horror story of her own making. Your advice for Amanda?

At the risk of a demotion (or possibly worse at work), I have a confession.

I hate budgeting and I’m no good at it. Actually, I’ve probably overstated the latter, I’m a Virgo, ergo highly skilled at beating myself up when things go wrong.

Like most people, I tend to keep a running budget in my head, I just sometimes get outpaced by those dollars.

I don’t know what’s worse the confession or that fact that I’ve deliberately made myself look a financial fool. In any case, the upside of public ridicule is that it can provoke change.

I knew moving to Auckland from Christchurch would be expensive, particularly as a single working mother with an ex whose aptitude for personal finances makes me look a CFO.

In anticipation of the move, I secured a flat-mate, an experience that  was short-lived when I gave the poor chap the boot to make room for a dear friend who needed a safe after-shock free refuge from Shaketown. Well, it’s been a few weeks now since her departure and the spare room sits empty as my bank account grows dim.

I tried to justify the expense as a home office but that experience was also short-lived when the boss suspected me of eating bons-bons and indulging in three-latte lunches with my invisible friends.

So, I’m back in the office five days at week, berating myself for being a negligent mother and now a full-fledged member of Auckland’s working poor.

But enough self-pity. I have boiled my options down to three:

1) suck it up and get a flat mate (one who doesn’t make god awful sounds in the shower and isn’t scared to push a broom); 2) get a second job; 3) re-partner.

Emotionally speaking, I don’t think economics should entirely dictate matters of the heart or home but rationally speaking what choice do I have? The budget calculator doesn’t lie. I’ve just been informed that my outgoings exceed my incomings by more than $7,000 a year. Life can be so cruel.

Having been spared the unpleasantness of living in a disaster zone, I have unwittingly put myself in the poor house in Auckland.

Okay, so I’m not living in the coldest, leakiest house on the block but nor am I living in a Ponsonby flash pad. My rent is average by Auckland standards, I seldom go out, I don’t eat meat, I’m not a big drinker and I buy most of my clothes and furniture second hand, I have one of the most fuel efficient cars on the market and ride my bike when possible. For kicks and sanity I do yoga and that's my single biggest indulgence.

Food and rent just eat up a hugely disproportionate amount of my income; a shocking 75% to be exact.

It’s fat by any calculation and I’m skinny.

So the search is on. TradeMe’s on notice, I’ve hung up my yoga teacher shingle, and I’m trying to keep an open mind and open heart about partnerships that constitute more than an economic convenience or a gap filler.

There’s a fourth option of course and that’s hitting the ejection button on NZ. The thought of kissing goodbye to green lip mussels, blue cod and Central Otago Pinot makes me sad so I’ll hope for financial redemption in another form.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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Genuinely curious - why is it that your boss requires you to work at the office 5 days a week?

I would have thought journalism/editorship would be a prime opportunity to tele-commute.

Failing that, I suggest changing jobs to move out of the expensive parts of Auckland. Perhaps start your own blog and work from a (cheaper) home, like BH no doubt did.

I think you have at least as much potential as BH did/does.

Cheers

Thanks for the vote of confidence Kanuck. Yes, journalism lends itself to working from home but requires a leap in faith I guess on the part of the employer. Plus there's that real life social networking aspect. When I propose to BH my future plans to bring a dog to work (another bad budgeting move that awaits) I reckon he'll budge...unless I choose a mute Chihauhau or a dying grandpa dog.

Cheers,

It's a real shame to have to be in the office 5 days a week with the kind of job you do. I agree that working from home lacks real life social contact and that's the one thing I miss but some flexibility, especially as you are a solo parent, probably wouldn't go amiss.

As for the "leap of faith" required by employers, well, maybe it's about time they started trusting the people they hired and treating them like adults instead of behaving like control freaks. My take on it anyway (thankfully some have moved with their time and use the tools available to give employees flexibility and cut their own overheads in the process).

Considering a second job may be an option but you can't have too much spare time with a full-time job + kids to raise alone. A reliable, financially stable, hunky new partner sounds like a better option to me :)

Thanks Elley:) One never knows what or who's around the corner. 

Kanuck

We love having Amanda around. Not so sure about the dog...specially not a chihuahua

On the blogging from home thing...I've always worked here at Interest.co.nz in Herne Bay. My wife is particularly thrilled about that...

cheers

Bernard

 

Amanda:

a) get a flat mate - not a "new" partner, rarely something better follows after a break

b) don't give up, hardships just make us stronger (saying from my granny)

c) see me for a  dinner once a week with a glass of good red wine for free, saves you a few 

d) I can do babysitting (experienced) once a week if there is need for a reliable "granny"

e) the sun will be shining soon, rely on the strength of your inner core

 f)  been there, done that

 

 

Take a room in old old folk's home ! ........... I did , and it was brilliant . I found that many retirees have a spare room or two , and many are widowed . They like having a younger person around for company .

........ I did all the house maintenance & gardening , lugged groceries , and such . And the lady did an evening meal , easier to cook for two than just one .

Saved alot of money that way .

GBH- is that where you met the folk with Act-like ideas?

Amanda - actually, the whole global society (of which you are one of the richest) is in increasing overdraft. You sound young enough that you'll well and truly see the end-game.

I'm talking of a physical budget, of course.....

 

What a riot! Not sure the oldies could put up with my boys nicking their lollies and cranking up their hearing aides as pranks. But I'm sure the intergenerational dynamic would be beneficial on some level...most of all my budget.

Maybe mangos for rent would balance the ledgers.

 

 

Thanks for the pep talk Gertrude. Core strength is good. Can do headstands and on my way to mastering handstands. That vino sounds good.

Cheers,

Ivan - you're right.  But she could do more - I reckon I could grow 50-70% of my food needs in the backyard of a 1/4 acre in Auckland, and with skype and broadband, there shouldn't be much need to live onsite.

She - to me - represents a generation that was peddled a load of shyte. They got 'economics' at school (my kids did too - I did their courses at home, couldn't believe that grown teachers could spout it) and it's had the prerequisite generation-span to become mainstream.

A pity - as the generation before ours had more all-round abilities/skills to address what she will encounter, than any other. They could build, fix, cook and preserve like no other.

And what is Amanda facing?

Here's a start to her homework:

http://greatchange.org/ov-simmons,club_of_rome_revisted.html

In anticipation of the move, I secured a flat-mate 

Would've been smarter to have secured a pay rise.

:-)

 

Thanks Hugh,

Another confession: I own a house in Calgary. I rent it for $1,750 a month. Interest on the mortgage is, wait for it, 1.5%!!! which is why I could never bring myself to buy here in NZ unless I came into money. Dare I say that $800 a month, in my hometown at least, would get you a crappy apartment or else a run down house in a not so hot neighborhood that would involve a very long commute through heavy traffic.

I'm no dummy, I know I'd be better off in Canada financially; salaries are way higher there, plus I have family, friends and free baby sitters. Problem is NZ has grown on me, plus I've been spoilt by Auckland weather. I perish the thought of shovelling snow four months a year and scraping ice of my car windows. But I do miss the skiing. It can't be beat.

Amanda

 

 

Sounds like you have already moved emotionally, as well as physically away from Canadia, so why not financially too?

I was born & raised in Calgary, and later lived in Vancouver.  My advice is sell before the bubble bursts up there and move your captial home to NZ while the exchange rate is decent.

My wife and I made that transition over 10 years ago and we have no regrets.

PS - I hope BH & the other Chicken Littles of this Echo Chamber he calls Interest.co.nz don't scare you off to somewhere worse.  And that's not something I say lightly after living happily in Vancouver for many years.

It's an option. Garrison Woods will be hard to say goodbye to though...and cutting the umbilical cord tough emotionally as well.

I'm curious about your ratio of groceries to bills.  I run a ratio of 1:0.75 between groceries and [power, water, council, phone, internet, cellphone] with 2 adults and 3 small children, but you seem to be at 3:1 with pretty lean groceries.

 

Are some of your utilities included in the rent, or do you huddle around a candle at night and shun cellular and internet modernity?

I'm on the little advertised home package with Telus so reasonably affordable landline/internet bill. Utilities could surge big time over winter but I'm sharpening my axe in hopes to getting through the winter on fire wood alone. Rent is the killer but I like where I live and don't fancy another move. Hence my earlier conclusion about getting a flatmate, repartnering or cultivating an alternative revenue stream.

But thanks for the great advice all.:)

Telus? Do they send over DVDs with your email and the day's web pages?

Amanda - plenty of ideas here:

http://www.interest.co.nz/ratesblog/index.php/2009/04/17/6-great-recession-tips-in-60-seconds-credit-card-mortgage-car-sky-holiday-coffee/#comment-21105 

Those were the days. As you can see the broccoli recipes have worked wonders for Bernard.

Cheers, Les.

 

After reading Interest.co.nz I'd assumed that NZ must be a horrible place to live where we were all doomed, however according to these rankings it's not actually that horrific...

http://www.prosperity.com/rankings.aspx

...in fact NZ is only 1 behind Australia, not the 67 behind that is usually inffered, and Canada is a few behind.

 

 

Yep - the downside is that most Kiwis are ignorant of their splendid lot in the world and are jealous of the phantom green grass in the neighbours yard.

The upside is that most Kiwis are innovative and will work to find solutions to their problems, and can adapt quickly to world & local events.

Unfortunately, this website attracts far too many pessimistic, miserable doomsayers who go on and on about leaving this beautiful country but never do! Shame really...

Education: Number 1 ,Bob? Really...

Having lived in both Canada and here I can safely assure you that you shouldn't rely on these charts.

Ask Bernard for a payrise ?

how about a dairy farm job around the waitaki valley?export industry,lots of mountains/sking,activities for the boys,onsite accommodation.lived in saskatoon for a year,did the t-bar at blackstrap and mitchels gourmet foods.i was in auckland 75-82 great then but now??

Have you not heard kjbxtc - there is a glass window in dairying for single mum's that only a  few are able to push through.

I don't budget either.    I know that I will never budget everything to the nth degree.  However, I do have controls in place to rein in my natural recklessness.   Well-timed direct debits, PAYE tax and payroll-based savings schemes spirit away my earnings into good, responsible places.    

I think there's value in the mindless frittering away of money.    When people say things like  "ah, but one less coffee a week can save you a staggering $225 a year",   this kind of thinking is so depressing, i can barely stand it.   That's 52 instances of mild enjoyment gone!   That's worth much more than 225 bucks.  

It's an interesting window on the mindsets of most of those who blog on interest.co.nz to read the suggestions here.

Almost all the suggestions are of ways to cut costs, find something cheaper, lower one's expectations, cut out the luxuries.

The miserablists are out in force.

Amanda, I suggest you shoot for the moon and look for ways to increase your wealth. You have obviously a few clues, owning an income-producing property, presumably successfully.

So, turn the TV, radio, DVD, cellphone, internet etc off. Make coffees or teas galore, smoke if it's your pleasure, sit alone in your favourite room and ...

think, think, think.

And do it again the next day. Until you have formulated your plan to increase your wealth and income.

Go for it and good luck.

 

Sound advice Mr. landlord. I've got my holster on and my eye fixed on the luminous night sky. Daily meditation already part of my discpline and practice. In the meantime, I'm interviewing a flatmate tonight, so fingers crossed she's a keeper.

 

@ Yourlandlord

Absolutely right, but I can imagine that Amanda's immediate focus is managing a $120 per week shortfall.

If she's clued up, she'll have her CV up to date and she'll be looking for better paying jobs than her current one, but she needs to do the following right now:

Cut her rental costs by getting a flatmate

Cut her food costs by

  • pricing EVERY MEAL to find out where the costdrivers are
  • unit-pricing EVERYTHING
  • using coupons, buying in bulk (with friends if necessary) and seasonal, cooking in batches and freezing for future meals
  • Bludging off friends - if they're true friends, they'll understand
  • Bartering whatever she can do extramurally for food

Anything else is tinkering

 

Hello, fellow Canadian. I finally got around to getting full NZ citizenship just a couple weeks ago. :) I've been here about 13 years now. I grew up in Ontario but also lived in Nova Scotia and Labrador. I am the only wandering sheep in my very close-knit, very extended family. I don't miss the snow one bit but I do miss the relatives. My colleagues tell me I now have to say "barhnahnahs" instead of bananas since I am now a full kiwi and can't get away with my accent anymore. I am slowly training them to stop putting R's in strange places and start putting them where they genuinely belong. ;)

Black Celebration said, "I don't budget either. I know that I will never budget everything to the nth degree.  However, I do have controls in place to rein in my natural recklessness. Well-timed direct debits, PAYE tax and payroll-based savings schemes spirit away my earnings into good, responsible places. "

I do the same. My pay cheque goes into one account, automatic re-org of the funds puts a portion of it directly into the account my fixed debits come out of. Savings also goes directly off the pay cheque into kiwisaver and a work place savings fund. (My one wish is I had been smart like you and started that saving when I was younger!) Just watch the bank fees, you want accounts that have none or barely any depending on how you bank.

If I were you I'd get that flatmate and I'd make it a priority. You need the instant savings. You can stand sharing when you're younger and if they are the kind of person you can become friends with it may even be mentally beneficial. I'd also be shopping my writing around. You're a good writer and unlike a lot of stuff I read, you come off as a "real" person and I always enjoy reading what you write.

Like you, I shop second hand. If you can, get to be friends with parents who have similar aged kids and trade kid's clothes. It's harder for you not being around relatives; mine were always swapping and sharing stuff when I was a kid. My rellies also always had a communal garden. Being an Ex Cannuck does undercut your support systems. If you're the sociable type (I'm not) you should try to fill that void with friends.

Find some temp work in your "off" hours, especially stuff you can do from home. Find an agency that will call you when it becomes available.  I had a writer friend who did that. She seemed to enjoy the variety and extra income and it eventually lead to full time employment.  More recently, I know an elderly lady who did the same thing as a regular part time job for a lawyer. She typed up legal stuff for her and ended up getting more and more hours and quit her other part time jobs she got offered so many hours. So there is demand out there.

You could stick a sign up on campuses offering to type papers and that kind of stuff too. I knew a guy in Halifax that made quite a decent living doing that kind of thing, typing and proof reading. These days most people do it themselves but it's worth a shot.

Aim higher with your writing too. I had another writer friend a few years back who wrote some really good articles for major Australian publications (he was originally from there).

Maybe you could write for some Canadian ones. I bet Canadians would find your take on living in NZ vs Canada quite interesting. I would! CBC might be interested. Can't hurt to write a sample piece and ask. I remember CBC radio once running a similar series many long years ago.

Other tips from a fellow frugal person:

1. Find free food. Auckland has a group of people who put free food sites on a google map. (google it, I didn't keep the link) Like places in parks or their own properties where you are welcome to gather free fruit. Might as well use it (long as it's convenient). Your kids will need a lot of fruit. Also, if your school has a breakfast program or fruit in schools program, use it. That's what they're for. The hubby and I collect mushrooms and puff balls on our dog walks but I wouldn't recommend that unless you know what you're doing. Keep your ears open for colleagues or friends who have extra fruit kicking around too. At my work someone is always bringing stuff in. We just put it on the counter and people help themselves. I'm swamped in fijoas at the moment. A friend brings us avocados and another one gives us a good price on meat in return for oranges and persimmons.

2. Don't drink juice. It's expensive and not all that good for your teeth being high in sugar. Kids do just as well on water and it won't rot their teeth.  Ask your school dental nurse and see! If you can't give it up, water it down. I'm a big believer in milk though. As an adult I've cut back on it due to cost but I'd never give it up entirely and I sure wouldn't suggest a parent with kids did.

3. Start a garden. Borrow the tools if you need tools like a rotary hoe. I made my garden entirely without power tools but it did take some time and muscle, hah. I just put it down as a good way to stay fit.  Most towns have tool banks, I'm sure Auckland would. You can look up Auckland's transition town website to find out where it is. It will be good for the kids to get out and grow something anyway. Sunflowers are fun for littler kids.

Gardening does take time but less than you'd think once everything is in the ground. If you can plant a few fruit trees (if the landlord says ok and if you plant to stay there longish term) then a four foot high apple tree can yield you a wheel barrow and a half of apples in a relatively short period of time and fruit trees are pretty much "plant and forget". It would be best to buy your own spade and a pick. (not a hoe, I rarely use mine, but the pick and spade get used all the time). Another good bet over time is asparagus- the stuff can live for up to 25 years and it's also plant and forget. But it's a long term investment since you can't harvest it in the first year or two. Another good yielder that's plant and forget is raspberries, especially if you get two varieties that fruit at different times.  If you get into any gardening, there are good tips for saving money while doing it. Community gardening is an option if you're the social type.

4. Don't buy processed food. It's bad for your health and costs more in the long run. Don't buy "snacks" at all. We eat fruit, nuts, raisins, yoghurt, watermelon as "snacks". Sometimes I make ginger bran muffins in bulk then freeze them.

5. Make copious use of old ice cream containers for storing leftovers, food you make, food or fruit you freeze. Ditto little plastic reusable containers that you can put portions of fruit and yoghurt in for the kids' lunches. Using plastic reuseable containers means not needing to buy plastic wrap. (hopefully you can find the fruit free, there's tonnes of the stuff around in NZ and buy yoghurt in bulk when it is on sale) You can use plastic containers for everything, including sandwiches.

6. Cook nutritious, relatively inexpensive food. Things like shepherds pie, your own bran muffins, spaghetti sauces, rice stir fries etc. We both work long hours so we find freezing food, or making stuff in bulk and refrigerating it to eat during the week a very time saving way to do it. Then you just re-heat. There was a list online somewhere recently of "the cheapest, most nutritious food". The hubby emailed me the link. We already eat everything on it except tofu. (ew) Explore other cultures' recipes, some of our favourites are Indian, Chinese, Thai. Very tasty and affordable.

7. Buy on special. The husband knows which days the supermarket has the markdowns on meat and goes shopping those mornings and aims to get there first. He picks up really good deals on chicken that way. He also never buys yoghurt over a set price, then when it drops, he buys a lot of it because we eat a lot of it especially when we're working because it makes a great quick snack. Same with the specials. He buys them in bulk and freezes them.

8. Never eat out; not even coffee. It's just as nice to make your own. Nicer actually. Those little stove top machines with the spout work amazingly well and don't cost much to buy- look around and you can probably pick one up second hand. We also grind our own beans. Tastes a lot nicer and works out cheaper. I must admit since we paid our car off we've been buying wood fired pizza once a week as a treat.

9. Don't buy newspapers or anything to do with T.V. There's enough news online and tv is a waste of time anyway. We do have a set we won but we rarely actually watch the thing and I certainly wouldn't pay for pay tv!

10. Check into a telephone/broadband connection instead of a landline/broadband connection. It should save you  twenty to thirty dollars a month being as how you are in Auckland and you get more phone services for it (mine is set up to email me any voice messages) plus the data is cheaper and you only pay for what you use. International calls are dirt cheap (ie. to Canada if the rellies don't skype) and local ones are free. See Worldexchange's web site. http://www.xnet.co.nz/ under "internet, fusion" and crunch the numbers. Also, don't pay for a cell phone. Hubby and I have "bestmates" and we do all our calls on our home phone or work phone and use the cell phone only to text or call each other which costs us six dollars a month.

11. We've also found buying cars at auction is much cheaper. Just research the cars first, find out comparable prices on lots, be the top bidder on at least two and negotiate your way from there. When you're ready to buy one, you'll figure it out. For bikes for the kids, try police auctions, trademe etc.

12. I read an article about a lady in Auckland who rents out bee hives and you get to keep half the honey and she does all the maintenance. There's a thought if you and the kids eat sugar. Might end up cheaper. There's also lots of backyard bee keepers if you want to DIY around but the initial cost is a damper.

13. All the other tips all over the net including on here.

14. Use public transport. Not so bad, bussing, once you get used to it. You can read/type while you commute.

15. Long term, make sure the next bloke you marry has some money and good long term stability but don't be in a rush to find him. :)

Don't get a dog unless you can train it to bite the boss's ankles. Pets cost a small fortune in upkeep and demand time.

It might seem like a lot of extra work but it pays off and becomes a lifestyle after a while. :P I do think you need to do things that not only save you money but that you also enjoy in some way; like I enjoy gardening and scavenging for mushrooms so it's no big hardship to me. And, actions always end up opening up opportunities.

 

Edit: PS, never pay anyone to do something you can do yourself and cabbage tree leaves really DO make excellent fire starters. I finally got around to trying and and have stopped buying fire lighters. :) They work really, really well!!

 

Thanks Canuck. I spent a winter living in Taylor's Mistake in Chch with only a logfire for heating. I too discovered the beauty of cabbage leaves as fire starters. But nothing beats the autumn leaves in Ontario to set spirits aglow. Particularly in the Gatineaus. Congrats on becoming a full-fledged Kiwi. It's on my to do list when the budget allows. Cheers,

I admire the skills of Journalism however you will know it is becoming harder and harder to make an income in the industry, consider being salaried at the Press vs those that are now freelance as an example....I'm sure you can relate to their case :-)

Thats the bad news...the good news is your skills set is very useful in other industries. I have acted for a couple of writers and one freelance journalist who we help into different careers after they finally faced financially their career was not going to work for them. They were all passionate about the industry. One into PR, one into an event planning company and third as personal writer for high net worth clients. Public relations is a fertile ground for you to consider in Auckland.

Certainly easier to compromise on the career than matters of the heart.

Speckles - journalism is (in theory) an attempt to ascertain the truth.

Two of your options would appear to be spin-generation, and the other a skype-killed dinosaur.

Any ideas on how society can recompense folk who delve into, then purvey, the truth?

Although I acknowledge that most of the contemporary media has missed the bus, re questioning endless growth.        :)     

(some of them still think of oil as a commodity - go figure!)

Hi Amanda

Good luck with your budgeting. :-)

We've got kids who are on fairly tight budgets and one thing they both have found to make a difference to their food bill is to set a menu for the week. That way they only buy the food required for those meals for the week.  They say it has made quite a difference to how much they spend on groceries and they don't have food going to waste like they used to. Now if only I can get the MOTH to do the same! ;-)

I have a recipe for 6 week bran muffins. You make up the mixture, and you can keep it, covered in the fridge for 6 weeks.  You then just bake them as needed.  I found it useful when our kids were at home and we were busy on the farm.  It was given to me by a Canadian friend. Email me if you would like it. :-)

No matter how tight your budget is, make sure you allow for some 'sanity money'. Raising two boys on your own, you will need it!

Cheers, I'll take it: amanda.morrall@interest.co.nz.

Many thanks.

 

I agree with sanity money. Keep your yoga classes for sure. Anyway,your health is important.

Hi,

I know this is perhaps late in the piece, but your article and comments have prompted me to write.

Obviously I hope a new flat-mate works out, this is the basis on which you planned to move into your place and is probably the only basis it will be economic to live where you do.

Planning your meals and buying accordingly really does save money.  We are big fans of Sophie Gray's Destitute Gormet - she has a website somewhere.

I see a lot of people have commented on your grocery bills, and have suggested shopping round for meat, which you say you don't eat.  You indicate that you have at least a couple of boys and given that you are at work and didn't have a big slice of pie listed for childcare I assume that they are at school.  School lunches can be a real source of expense, and while I could suggest that if you bake your own bread, make their lunches and do some baking to fill those lunch-boxes will save you money, I would have to say that this will all take time and energy that you may not have at each end of the day!  If they are old enough they could do it themselves.  It certainly isn't as cool as having 53 different shrink-wrapped processed food items in your lunch-box, but as you know - life is suffering.