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SocietyJune 6, 2023

The cost of being: A solo mother in small-town Taranaki


As part of our series exploring how New Zealanders live and our relationship with money, a photographer tells us how she supports herself and three children on a freelance income.

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Gender: Female

Age: 42

Ethnicity: NZ Pākehā

Role: I am solo parent to three beautiful, energy-filled babes, two boys and a girl. I am a self-employed recipe developer, stylist and photographer. I also do brand and portrait photography. I have clients in Auckland and also here in Taranaki.

Living location: Small town.

Rent/mortgage: I was paying $1600 per month on my mortgage, and on track to pay it off by the time I turned 50, in eight years’ time. But back in January I reluctantly reduced my monthly payments to $1000 as the cost was becoming untenable. I had to borrow $1600 from Mum over the summer holidays as I couldn’t scrap together my December payment.

That month I also decided to start putting our family home on AirBnb every second weekend when my kids go to their dad’s house as a way to earn some extra cash. When I first put our house on AirBnb I had a partner. Sadly we have since separated so now I have to find somewhere to go when the house is booked. It’s a bit of a drag and I’m not sure how much longer I’ll do it, but right now it really does mean the difference between being able to pay the mortgage or not.

Student loan or other debt payments per week: I am so lucky not to have any additional debt!

Typical monthly food costs: Groceries for one adult and three children: Ceres co-op, $150; New World, $300; milk, $45; veges from stalls etc, $150.

‘It feels amazing to buy locally grown, spray-free food.’ (Photo: Getty Images)

We belong to a food co-op and what veges we don’t grow I buy from local stalls. It feels amazing to buy locally grown, spray-free food. I have a friend who rears lambs so every year I buy a lamb from him. He will only charge me for the cost of killing and butchering the lamb which this year amounted to the princely sum of $150! He turned up with four big bags of beautiful meat to go into the deep freeze. Eating this way I feel so much more connected to our food and grateful for it. I think we waste less too as you have this reverence for what is on your plate and the work that has gone into getting it there.

We buy organic milk from a farm; I go once every three weeks and fill our bottles. We get about 12 litres of milk each time which costs us $33.60. It’s $2.80 a litre which I think is amazing for organic A1 milk. I love that we don’t have to buy our milk in plastic bottles from the supermarket.

I make our own cleaning products (laundry powder, dishwashing powder, scouring powder) from basic ingredients from Bin Inn and I buy handwash/dishwashing liquid from a local who refills our big plastic container every time it runs out. My skincare comes in glass jars from another talented local woman who also takes back the empties and refills them. I love it. We have bees too so we do swaps with our honey for things, whether they be someone’s time helping us out or something homemade or homegrown.

Eating out: We rarely eat out any more. I took the kids out for dinner to our favourite food alley in New Plymouth a few weeks back and that felt like such a treat.

Takeaways: No.

Cafe coffees/snacks: I might treat myself to a coffee every two weeks, or trade one for feijoas! Though the last time I ordered a vienna at one of our local cafés it was $6! I couldn’t believe it. Not that I don’t think it is worth it – the cafe owner said that every time he puts in an order, prices for coffee supplies have always gone up, and he struggles with the idea of passing these cost increases on to his customers.

Other food costs: I try and raise seeds for veges but at the end of summer I spent about $30 to buy brassica, onion, pea and broadbean seedlings for the garden. A bargain when you think about the abundance that will come from all those plants.

We live on two thirds of an acre with lots of fruit trees and a vege garden. At this time of year our 19 feijoas trees produce a volume of feijoas that requires daily discipline to keep under control!. I’m writing this at a lovely local café, looking out at our snow-dusted maunga and drinking my coffee which I bartered for a 2kg of feijoas. My kids and have been packing up bags of them this season, 2kg in each bag. We normally give away what we don’t eat or preserve, but this year we thought we would give selling them a go. Things are really tight right now in a way that we haven’t experienced before. I now know what it feels like to live hand to mouth, week to week. It’s a humbling, eye-opening experience.

Our garden has been a saviour, both financially and spiritually. It gives forth in abundance, year-round, and also nourishes and connects us. We also have seedlings popping up EVERYWHERE we look! I am a keen gardener and I have a passion for plants and I currently have over 300 plants potted up. I want to start selling them so am just getting my head around the best way to do this.

‘We normally give away the feijoas we don’t eat or preserve, but this year we gave selling them a go.’ (Photo: Wyoming Paul)

Savings: I did have savings and some shares but I’ve sold these over the last year. I needed to buy a new computer for my business and the rest went on cost of living. It feels like a vulnerable position to be in and it is the first time in my life I am in this position. I need to figure a way out though. Living like this without financial stability takes up a lot of mental energy!

I worry about money: Often.

Three words to describe my financial situation would be: Tiring, worrying and frustrating – for now, at least.

In a typical week my alcohol expenditure would be… I don’t drink a lot so very seldom would I spend money on alcohol.

In a typical week my transport expenditure would be… I spend about $120 on diesel every 10-14 days. This goes through my business.

The ballpark amount I spent on my personal clothing in the last year was… I buy my clothes from the op-shop, and over the last year I think I might have spent $400 on buying op shop clothes for myself. Facebook Buy/Sell is also a great place to find things. I just found some amazing sage-green overalls for $20 – thank you feijoas! – and I’ve been to clothes swaps here in Taranaki too. They are great as you get to cull all the things you don’t want and go home with some beautiful pieces. It’s win-win!

My most expensive clothing in the past year was: A beautiful dress from the very clever woman behind Little Bird Threads. She has a website where you pick the style of dress you are after and the type of fabric you’d like it to be made in (she uses Liberty fabrics). You then enter your measurements and, hey presto, several weeks later the most gorgeous dress, handmade just for you, arrives on your doorstep! It cost $375 which I think is bloody good for a well crafted, handmade item.

My last pair of shoes cost: A couple of Christmases ago I bought a pair of gold Birkenstock sandals. I needed something sparkly for Christmas! They were on special and cost around $150.

My grooming/beauty expenditure includes: I buy eye liner, mascara and blusher. I use deodorant and face cream made by my clever friend here in Taranaki. I buy Ethique shampoo and conditioner bars  as well as their body moisturising sticks when they are on special – I love a good sale purchase! I get a haircut about once a year – which needs to change! I’m pretty low maintenance, so it all comes to around $400.

My exercise expenditure in a year is about: I score running leggings and t-shirts from the op-shop and buy a pair of running shoes once every couple of years which cost $220. I run and do at-home strength training using my own body weight so these things are free. A run in the countryside is a wonderful thing!

My last Friday night cost: $20 or $30. I had a group of friends around for a potluck dinner. The food was amazing and the company even better. I’m going to make it a regular thing.

Most indulgent purchase (that I don’t regret) in the last 12 months was: A beautiful ceramic pendant light from a lighting shop here in Taranaki. I used my savings to buy it. That possibly wasn’t the smartest idea given the current scenario. It hangs over our dining table and cast a beautiful soft light and I love it.

One area where I’m a bit of a tightwad is… I hate spending money on food that isn’t real food. Processed stuff containing loads of numbers and things your grandma wouldn’t recognise.

Describe your financial situation growing up: My dad was a teacher and my mum a pharmacist. They were good at what they did, worked hard and earned a decent amount of money. They were great with money, my mum in particular, and I feel grateful that I have absorbed some of that financial wisdom from her.

The last time my Eftpos card was declined was… a month ago. I panicked internally but tried to remain calm externally and proceeded to transfer some money from my business account to my personal account to sort the problem. Phew!

In five years, in financial terms, I see myself… three years away from paying off my mortgage. I have hope and a determined sense that things will take a financial turn for me and my kids. I can’t wait to be in that place where I no longer have to stop and think about where the money will come from when the petrol runs out and I’m halfway through mowing the lawns!

I would love to have more money for… I’d love to take my kids away on holiday somewhere without having to worry about ANY financial aspect of the trip. I’d love to rent a campervan and drive around the South Island. Or go to some balmy tropical island and have someone else take care of all the cooking! But just mostly it would be more money to be able to do all the basis. Grocery shop, pay the bills, take the kids to the movies, buy petrol for the lawnmower, go on a camping holiday and put aside a decent sum of money every week into savings.

Describe your financial low: I think it might be now! The photography business is a lucrative one if the work is flowing consistently, but it isn’t at the moment. I’ve thought about going and finding a part-time job but when they pay $25 per hour which would then be taxed I just don’t see how it stacks up. So right now, financially, I feel stuck. Stuck but hopeful. There is always a way out.

I give money away to… I put $5 per week into Simplicity investment accounts that we set up for our kids when they were born. I raised $2700 last year for Parafed Taranaki by running 1 ½ marathons every week for six weeks. That felt good to give back to an incredible cause. I would like to do more of that.

Want to contribute? Send us an email briefly describing your situation at

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