Katrina Genefaas, from Rotorua, could teach people who say they’re struggling to get by on $100,000 a thing or two.
After she split with her long-time partner, the mental health nurse found herself alone with a mortgage, and a pressing need to get on top of her finances.
She knuckled down to a more frugal existence, and found ways to cut back and take $200 to $300 out of her weekly spend.
She’s the living example of what’s possible for the 23 per cent of people in households with incomes of $100,000 to $150,000 who told BNZ surveyors they were living “pay cheque to pay cheque”.
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Even worse, 14 per cent of people in households with incomes of more than $150,000 say they are living pay day to pay day as well.
The figures come from the BNZ Financial Futures survey, which the bank conducted in a bid to understand how financially resilient households were to cope with rising interest rates.
On the advice of her brother, Genefaas went to NZ Home Loans, a Kiwibank-owned company that specialises in helping people budget and manage their finances in a bid to cut years off their mortgage repayment time, saving themselves heaps of interest.
Genefaas says she feared going frugal would spoil her life and make her less happy.
The opposite happened. Budgeting, paying off short-term debt, restructuring her loan, and setting some financial goals resulted in day-to-day cutbacks that actually lifted her sense of well-being.
“It’s made me more goal-focused, and yes, happier because I’m working towards something,” she says.
And she’s making progress towards her aim of being mortgage earlier than most people dream of.
“If I can be mortgage-free by the time I’m 40, my life is going to be so much better,” she says.
“Most people over $70,000 income should be able to live within their means,” says Hannah McQueen from EnableMe, a financial fitness training company that helps higher income-earners make the most of their money.
But many don’t, and the BNZ figures don’t surprise her.
“Even if people are living within their means, they may not be progressing very rapidly because events have a habit of happening that knock them off course,” she says.
Unexpected calls on cash have a habit of turning up with such frequency that people should learn to expect them.
Such events tend happen at least once a year, McQueen says. “It’s the main reason why little progress is made overall.”
People have to operate their money lives to be able to cope with these events, without their long-term progress to wealth being knocked off course.
The most common “curveballs” EnableMe’s clients experience are: Car replacements, holidays, school fees, home improvements, helping adult children financially, interest rate increases, and sickness, or inability to work.
“It is not hard to live within your pay if you don’t have to factor in big ticket items, or speed bumps,” McQueen says. “If you are struggling to do this, then you are sinking and this needs to be addressed constructively.”
Budgeting helps, but some people have to face up to whether they are living lifestyles they can’t really afford.
“Some people have champagne tastes on a beer budget, others just have too much beer.”
For others it’s not their spending that makes it difficult to get ahead.
“Whether that is unstable home life, job stability, or financial incompatibility with your partner – there can be many and varied reasons for a lack of progress,” McQueen says.
One of the biggest “lifestyle” choices people face in the big cities is getting the children the schooling they believe they will need to survive. It leads some to buy into the “right” school zones at the cost of huge mortgages, and others to opt for private schooling if they can’t afford to buy in zone for the state schools they want.
“School zones is a problem that can put pressure on families, and the guilt of not giving your kids the best opportunity, and thinking that is linked entirely to school zone,” McQueen says.
“I think parents feel this way because they actually don’t feel a sense of progress for themselves, and feel the need to invest what they can in and for their kids. Almost like they believe their own situation is a lost cause but their kids could still be salvaged.”
One of the fondest hopes of many parents is to be able to help their children, including to get onto the property ladder.
The BNZ survey suggests many are not in a position to do so.
Half of people in households with incomes of $70,001 to $100,000 think they are in a position to do so, as do 56 per cent of people in households earning $100,001 to $150,000, and 73 per cent of those in households with incomes of $150,001 or more.
McQueen says: “The lack the progress made by parents will have a direct impact on the progress our kids can make as they will need us to be building wealth not eroding our equity to fund a lifestyle we can’t always afford.”
BNZ’s head of wealth Donna Nicolof thinks some people struggling to get by on $70,000 or more check whether some of their “needs” are in fact “wants”.
Seeing people struggling on six-figure incomes doesn’t make her feel judgmental, as she doesn’t know the individual’s circumstances.
Living on an income of $100,000 would be very different for someone who bought a home in Auckland 15 years ago, compared to someone who bought their home last year and has a much bigger mortgage, for example.
But she is horrified by the survey’s finding that there’s nearly one in five (18 per cent) who say they don’t know what their financial position really is.
“What’s that about? There’s no excuse for that,” Nicolof says.
But she’s encouraged by other findings.
The survey indicated 55 per cent of people have set themselves financial goals, and 62 per cent have a budget.