One Question Quiz
Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

SocietyApril 4, 2023

The cost of being: A family living off the grid in the Hokianga

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

In the first of a new series on how the cost of living is affecting New Zealanders, a mother of two in the Far North breaks down her budget.

Gender: Female

Age: 25

Ethnicity: NZ Pākehā

Role: Stay at home mother to two daughters, (six-month-old and two-year-old)

My living location: South Hokianga, rural

Rent/mortgage per week

We are paying off a “mortgage” which is made up of multiple personal loans. We are currently paying $100 + $134 = $234/ week.

Typical weekly food costs

Groceries: average $100/week. Two adults; six-month-old is exclusively breast-fed and our toddler eats very little. Grocery shop every three weeks. We are part of a food co-op so we buy dried goods in bulk if it works out cheaper than at supermarket.

Eating out: $0

Takeaways: $20/ month (fish and chips)

Workday lunches: $0 (leftovers from dinner and homemade bread)

Cafe coffees/snacks: $0

Other food costs: We live off homegrown kūmara and other homegrown veges during summer, but it’s hard to quantify costs spent.


If we have something to save for we budget. But we aren’t saving much at the moment. There’s always big expenses for developing our land – for example extending our car park so we can park more than two cars, and a bigger solar energy system so we can run a washing machine and freezer. But we won’t be able to afford either of these for a while.

‘We know our lifestyle is pretty out the gate.’ (Photo: Getty Images)

I worry about money…


Three words to describe my financial situation would be…




My biggest edible indulgence would be…

It has been plunger coffee but now that’s gotten too expensive so we just buy the cheapest option which isn’t always that nice to drink… Now it is probably a block of butter per week.

In a typical week my alcohol expenditure would be…

$0. However, our neighbour just gave us some old home-brewed plum wine which was pretty rugged but alcoholic nonetheless.

In a typical week my transport expenditure would be…

We have two cars. Our family car (Toyota Wish 2006) is probably filled once a month. Around $120 to fill. My husband’s work car is a Toyota Corolla and was filled once every two weeks at around $100. Two weeks ago, however, he totalled it when a ute was driving too fast on his side of the road. Neither car had insurance. He was offered to be paid off in weed but since it goes against our morals he didn’t accept! Now we’re buggered car-wise.

That car has not had a warrant or rego for about three months, because we can’t afford to take it to the mechanic which means doing the work ourselves, but it’s hard to find time and just ordering parts is another trip to town. We also haven’t had any spare money to pay for the warrant or rego so will have to save a bit for that! Luckily, living in the Hokianga means you can drive an illegal car without getting pulled up by the cops. One cousin of my husband’s who lives up here is 40 and still doesn’t have his licence but he’s been driving illegally for about 25 years anyway. None of his cars are younger than him.

I estimate in the past year the ballpark amount I spent on my personal clothing (including sleepwear and underwear) was…

Maybe $20. I only buy opshop clothes except for underwear. I recently bought three new pairs of knickers. My children get hand-me-downs from cousins.

My most expensive clothing in the past year was…

Two breastfeeding bras from Kmart which were about $10 each. They were my only brand new purchases, only because it’s hard to find good secondhand bras.

My last pair of shoes cost…

$80 – Red Band gumboots, bought 2019. I’ll need a new pair soon as these ones are getting holes. I have been given a few pairs of hand-me-down shoes over the years.

My grooming/beauty expenditure includes…

I don’t wear makeup, I cut my own hair, I don’t get my nails done. I wash my hair about once every two weeks so I probably go through one bottle of shampoo and one conditioner every year. Our friend makes rongoa and healing balms which she gives us as gifts.

And the annual cost would be about: $20

‘I hand wash everything in concrete tubs with a wringer.’ (Photo: Getty Images)

My exercise expenditure in a year is about: $0. I scrub-wash laundry almost every day so that’s a good arm workout.

My last Friday night cost…

My sister-in-law and cousin came around for dinner. We had fried kūmara and curry, and talked all evening.

Most regrettable purchase in the last 12 months was…

This old kitchen cabinet we saw on Facebook Marketplace for $80. We thought it would be decent wood but it turned out to be in quite bad condition and mostly mushboard.

Most indulgent purchase (that I don’t regret) in the last 12 months was…

A 1977 Bernina 830 sewing machine. I paid $120 which apparently was a good deal. No regrets. I’m hoping I might be able to make money making things with it.

One area where I’m a bit of a tightwad…

Everything. Supermarket, clothing, general lifestyle.

Five words to describe my financial personality would be…





“Make do without”

I grew up in a house where money…

Was taboo to talk about. We never couldn’t afford things. But we were not spoilt either. We had to earn money by doing chores or getting a job. My parents both worked, they owned their house, could buy new cars, and there was always plenty of food around. We were taken on holidays and road trips around NZ and a little bit in Australia.

The last time my Eftpos card was declined was… 

Six months ago. I’m always aware of how much I have in my account and if I can afford to buy something.

In five years, in financial terms, I see myself…

Hopefully closer to being freehold on our property. My husband would go out to paid mahi less. We would have more time to do the things we want like working towards being self-sufficient and raising our family. We will probably have two more children.

I would love to have more money for…

A more powerful solar energy system so we could run a washing machine and freezer. Not having these things makes washing a huge daily chore as I use cloth nappies for my six-month-old. It makes cooking difficult not having a freezer and we don’t eat meat as we have no way to store it.

Describe your financial low…

A few weeks ago. We had to very carefully budget as we had a flurry of bills that needed to be paid at once. Both our accounts went to $0. We just lived off what we already had in the cupboards and only made necessary trips out to save petrol.

I give money away to…

No one at this stage. We hope to be more generous when we are in a better financial situation, potentially invite people to live on our land with us in the form of hospitality.

We know our lifestyle is pretty out the gate. My husband does three days a week property maintenance and the other days we work on a manuka nursery that we have just established as a way to make money from home to help pay off our loans. We have owned our land for just over a year now. This ownership has meant we have really had to order our priorities. It is land with no services – we had to pay for a road, buy a water tank.

We are making do living in our tiny house on wheels for now (2.4m x 7.8m). We have a very simple solar power setup (enough for lights, charging devices etc). We make do without a fridge/freezer and I hand wash everything in concrete tubs with a wringer. We can’t afford to upgrade our solar system for another couple of years so these are sacrifices that we make. Our parenting style is such that we don’t buy special gizmos for our kids; instead we just get given hand-me-downs and make do with what we have.

We feel very privileged that we can own land to raise our family on, but it’s only thanks to wealthy family members who could help us out. The banks wouldn’t even look at us as mortgage candidates, especially not during Covid times. We were lucky to know people in the area and through word-of-mouth were told about this property being available for private sale. We had a lot on our side and now our lifestyle choices reflect that as we try to be as frugal as we can.

I have gotten used to the way we live but sometimes I have to pinch myself because I realise that not many people live this way. Many of the families in our immediate community have similar lifestyles so it makes it easier for us to justify living like this. But it does feel pretty extreme some days, especially because I was not brought up like this.

We try to live by the idea: live simply so others can simply live.

Keep going!