Four Spinoff writers share their New Year financial resolutions and some tips on how to actually make them happen this time.
Every January a fountain of hope spews forth a list of commitments to solve all the issues in our lives in the form of the annual New Year resolutions. But usually, the fountain runs dry by February and gym memberships sit idle, alcohol is consumed midweek in the afternoon summer sun, and you’re taking Ubers to work again instead of riding your bike.
And despite being one of the most common resolutions, one of the hardest of all to follow through on is fixing your finances. New Zealanders aren’t great about talking about money and here lies the problem.
“Generally most people do not feel comfortable to talk about money for fear they are not doing well with it, even if they are! Those who do well are not wanting to gloat and those who are not doing well often feel embarrassed about where they are so don’t want to talk either,” says Mark Lonergan, Kiwibank product manager.
So, in a bid to stay committed to our commitments, four of The Spinoff staff are going public with our 2019 financial resolutions. We are laying our aspirations for better money management out for all to see in the hope it helps us stay true to vows.
The next best way to stick to your resolutions is to enlist some help in executing them. So the Spinoff has sought the guidance of our expert friends at Kiwibank for some direction on how to improve our economic outlook in 2019.
We implore you our beloved readers to hold us accountable.
Toby Morris’s resolution is to not default on his brand new mortgage
We did it. We bought a bloody house.
This isn’t a feel-good, everything’s easy, one-simple-trick-to-a-perfect-life story though, I’m sorry to say. To be blunt, my wife’s dad passed away, and the money she inherited, combined with our years of savings, meant we finally had enough for an Auckland deposit.
It took a horrible thing happening, but now that we’re in this situation we have to make the most of it.
So here we are, and now I have to somehow pay for the rest of it. There are stakes now – I’m supporting a family of four. I can’t stuff it up.
A mortgage is complicated for me (and the bank) because I’m a freelancer – my income is changeable from month to month. After three and a half years of it I have a fairly clear idea of what it evens out to, but still it’s unpredictable. Sometimes I’m working on several longer contracts at once that won’t get paid for months, sometimes several big jobs finish up at once. I have regular clients and commitments that provide some security and stability, but I have to be realistic that any number of reasons completely outside of my control could quickly result in those contracts ending – a company folds, or a new boss comes in with a change of direction. Or I could break my hand or get sick and we’d be toast.
In this unpredictable adventure of life there are ways to prepare for the unexpected, and this is important when you’ve made big financial commitments, says Chris Greig, Kiwibank product manager.
“To protect you against anything adverse that comes up, it is worth having a backup plan with insurance. Your bank can help you go through the different insurance options available,” he says. “The good news is that whatever the situation, there are always plenty of options. It is best to speak with your bank first and go through what is going to work best.”
We’ve had to think hard about how we’ve set up our mortgage and our insurance and our savings. I’ve always been intimidated by big contracts and numbers and interest rates but I’ve had to face up to it now. I hate the term ‘adulting’ – I think you’re patronising yourself if you’re giving yourself a medal for not being a child – but this is one really of those situations where I’ve consciously had to step up. I have to get my head around this stuff.
“It is important to know what your lifestyle is and what your spending habits are, what you value that is non-negotiable and what you are prepared to forfeit in order to get into your home faster or pay down your loan quicker,” says Greig.
So my financial resolution is a daunting one, but it’ll be worth it: I need to be smart and disciplined about my money. And enjoy the new house.
Alex Casey’s resolution is to stay on top of her credit card
This is the year that I stop letting my credit card be the boss of me. I’m looking it dead in its plasticky little eyes, and I am telling it assertively, unapologetically, unequivocally that I am the captain now. For too long I let my small oblong overlord run rampant, thinking that ‘other’ me, ‘future’ me and ‘better’ me would be able to take care of it. Well, spoiler alert, now I’m ‘future me’ and I am in a tremendous amount of debt.
After having a cruise through this nifty guide, I now realise a few of my mistakes over the past few years. A major one was that I stopped keeping track of what the card was actually being used for. What began as my emergency Eurotrip card in 2017 eventually slinked its way into minor everyday purchases like my Uber account. You might not feel like you need to keep tabs on $10 rides to the city here and there, but I implore you to keep both eyes peeled.
I also naively thought that only paying off the teeniest amount every month would be enough to keep the interest at bay, but it turns out doing the bare minimum is only a cool thing to do when you are on a beach holiday. So that’s why 2019 is the year of sexy, scheduled, weekly payments. The year of monitoring my spending like an unblinking Hannibal Lecter. The year I also probably stop Ubering the five minute drive to work just because it’s raining a tiny bit.
I’ll buy a Blunt umbrella instead, but I won’t put it on my credit card.
Simon Day’s resolution is to improve his awareness (and control) of his finances
All too often I feel like my financial situation is freewheeling out of my control. So I chose ignorance and it feels like bliss when it comes to hiding from the details of my spending habits, my mortgage repayments and my credit card debt. What I don’t know can’t hurt me right…?
Apparently I’m wrong. According to Mark Lonergan, Kiwibank product manager, understanding the state of your personal finances is “very important. It gives confidence, clarity and security.”
So if knowledge is power, 2019 is going to be my year of personal financial literacy and taking control over my money.
The best place to start according to Lonergan is with a budget. I’m going to take the last three months of my actual transaction spends and get an accurate picture of where my money is going. He suggests grouping them into categories: rent/mortgage; bills; food; and discretionary, compare them with your income and see what’s left over.
Then set some goals for that surplus. Put money towards specific things like paying down some debt, creating a buffer for unexpected things (car breakdowns or illness), paying off my mortgage sooner, investing, or a holiday. But I need to think about what I might need that money for, and what it could bring me in the long term.
“If you have debt I would pay it down, if not and you might need it shortly I would probably use an on call account, if more medium term I would put it on notice to get a better rate, if longer term I would either invest or put in a term deposit,” says Lonergan.
What about a using debt for having fun? There’s a Cricket World Cup in the UK in June, and there’s no way I’ll have enough spare change to cover it. Is it a good idea to slap it on the credit card? Or should I remortgage my house for this highly essential purchase? Lonergan warns me against using a credit card.
“It’s generally not a good idea financially, but you need to calculate time to repay, additional interest costs and weigh up if the holiday is of equal or greater value (it may be depending on where you are going and who you are going with),” he says.
“To justify purchasing using debt it is important to ask, can I afford to pay this back and how long will it take? What impact might it have on other goals or lifestyle impact while paying it back. If the benefit is greater than the cost then it might be worth using debt.”
Well, after the 3 – 0 series win over Sri Lanka to start the year, and having made the final in 2015 the Black Caps are looking good. And with the opportunity to see New Zealand play Australia at Lords, the holiday sounds priceless (although my wife vehemently disagrees; perhaps that’s because she isn’t invited…).
Financial literacy doesn’t need to be intimidating, he says. In fact the first step to becoming smart with money is really really simple.
“Have a budget, know where you spend your money, be clear about where you want to be and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you don’t know (no one knows everything!).”
Kerryanne Nelson’s resolution is to spend less money on lunch
Lunch time. One of the best times of the day. But I worked out last year I was spending about $48 per week on lunches, which adds up to $2496 each year. And if I’m honest it’s probably more than that. This has got to drop.
In 2019 I’m going to start making much bigger dinner portions so I have leftovers to bring in the next day and I’ve enlisted the help of my cooking loving colleague (shout out to Simon!) to make lunches for us both. He’s much better in the kitchen than me and takes pride in making delicious things so I’ll pay him for ingredients each week and he’ll feed us both – at what he promises is a fraction of the price of the cafe beneath the office.
I’m hoping to have at least $1000 extra in 2019. And I’d really like to save it, rather than spend it on things that aren’t lunch, but are very similar, like fancy dinners.
Glen Saunders, Kiwibank investment product manager tells me that it’s often helpful to set up a different account for your savings once you’ve set some goals, so you’re less likely to be tempted to access it. The Kiwibank Notice Saver account is a great option if you have a deposit to start with. “As the name suggests, it’s a savings account that you need to give “notice” on before you can get some or all of your money out. The big benefits are that the money is not readily accessible meaning you’re less likely to spend it” he says. “Plus it earns a relatively good interest rate (up to 3.25% p.a.) and you can add more money at any time”.
If you have a smaller deposit, the Fast Forward Saver is another option. Your money can be accessed at any time but you’ll lose the bonus interest you get when you add at least $20 per month. The Back Up Saver is also a great general purpose savings account which pays a smaller amount of interest.
Saunders says that “all three can be used to pop aside your savings and if needed you can have a mix of accounts and if you want to split your savings up further. You can also choose to hide the accounts from your daily view – money out of sight is “maybe out of mind.”
Here’s to more savings, more interest, and fewer $22 salads from the posh vegan joint in 2019.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.