One Question Quiz
a blister pack of pills, reading glasses, a red for rent sign and green dollar signs with the words the cost of being
Image: Archi Banal

SocietyJuly 25, 2023

The cost of being: A working professional in a small city

a blister pack of pills, reading glasses, a red for rent sign and green dollar signs with the words the cost of being
Image: Archi Banal

As part of our series exploring how New Zealanders live and our relationship with money, a 30-something small-city professional unpacks their relationship with money.

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

Gender: F

Age: 32

Ethnicity: Pākehā

Role: Employed full-time in a professional career

My living location is: Small city

Rent/Mortgage per week: $530 rent. We have had a couple of abortive attempts at buying a home and not once have we been even close to being able to afford one. Currently I live with my partner (unable to work for medical reasons and not able to get a benefit due to my income), a close friend (trying to find work), and three cats (unemployed). 

The place we’re renting is honestly too expensive for us, but it’s been overtaken since we moved in and last time we looked the rental market was hell. I don’t expect we’ll find anywhere cheaper, or anywhere at all if we try and move now.

Student loan or other debt payments per week: $261 – like most people my generation that I know, I don’t even really think about student loan. It’s going to be something I’ll die with, I expect.

Other necessary costs: $25 every three months for medical expenses. There was a time not too long ago where I could just about afford non-subsidised meds made by a compounding pharmacy, but we had to drop that a while ago. I’m on five different medications, at least two of which I will be on for the rest of my life – or until we follow America’s footsteps and try to make it illegal, at which point the only remaining expense on my budget will be a casket.

Typical weekly food costs

Groceries: $170 (I get paid fortnightly, so $340 per pay).

Eating out/takeaways/workday lunches/café coffees/snacks: I guess $25 a week on average? We like to have takeaways on a Friday, and we usually aim for a maximum of $50 for that (between three of us), but even that’s a bit steep so we’ve done one week takeaways, one week homemade extra nice food for a while now. Lunches are basically always leftovers with the occasional variation (today’s is two minute noodles!). I wish my workplace had fewer celebration morning teas. Last time I brought a bag of chips that was on sale at the supermarket because we couldn’t afford anything and I didn’t have the time to make anything.

Other food costs: None. One of us volunteers at a local food co-op so she’ll sometimes bring home some food from that for free.


Lol. My partner and I each have a KiwiSaver, but they’re both too small to help with buying a house. Just an inaccessible lump of money that would really help us now but, like our student loans, will probably sit there until we die.

Our biggest account has a few hundred in it, but that’s the bills account and we deliberately budget so that it builds up in summer when we use less power and goes back down in winter when we use more.

I worry about money: Constantly. Just absolutely non-stop. 

Three words to describe my financial situation would be: Barely scraping by.

My biggest edible indulgence would be: Not one specific thing? In terms of spending money, when I have a decent amount of spending money I actually find it pretty easy to not spend, but when we’re strapped (like now) I am constantly fighting the urge to buy snacks to make myself feel better. Chips, chocolate, drinks, whatever I’m feeling like in the moment.

In terms of our budgeted food money, we save a lot by making things from scratch. It would probably be one of the depressingly obvious things like cheese, or those “3 for $20” meat deals at Countdown. 

In a typical week my alcohol expenditure would be: We don’t buy alcohol regularly enough to break this down. We are fans of whiskey and budget ginger beer, but it entirely depends on the week as to whether we can afford to restock. It usually takes us about two weekends to get through a $40 bottle. Sometimes we’ll get a bottle every other week, sometimes we’ll go a couple of months without.

In a typical week my transport expenditure would be: $15. Each pay we split off $30 to for petrol and that basically has to last us until the next one. If we need more then we need to reshuffle our other budgets to make it work. When rego or insurance comes along we scrabble together what we can. We also have a moped which has been sitting in the garage for going on six months because we can’t afford the costs of running two vehicles and the car is better for doing groceries and the occasional out-of-city travel.

I estimate in the past year the ballpark amount I spent on my personal clothing (including sleepwear and underwear) was: Tough to say, but probably pretty high. I transitioned over the last couple of years, so I’ve had to rebuild my entire wardrobe from scratch. I’d say it probably comfortably reaches a few hundred dollars, but that’s dropped significantly lately.

My most expensive clothing in the past year was: This feels like a cop-out answer, but probably my glasses. They wiped out the last savings we had.

My last pair of shoes cost: $15. Knock-off converse from the Warehouse, to replace the last pair that finally gave up. I genuinely agonised over this for a few months because I did already have a pair of those shoes that I could wear (even if they were filthy and so full of holes I might as well have not bothered).

My grooming/beauty expenditure includes: I don’t use enough makeup for this to be a regular expense, mostly just eyeliner, BB cream, tinted lip balm and setting spray. New razor heads when we can afford them, sensitive shaving foam for sensitive areas, on-sale hair conditioner everywhere else. Deodorant for perfume, etc. 

And the annual cost would be about: Maybe $200? Most of that being the shaving and shower stuff, the makeup probably accounts for about $50.

My exercise expenditure in a year is about: $0. I don’t really get much exercise, my time is mostly spent at work, recovering from work, or preparing for work.

My last Friday night cost: $48 for fish and chips from the store on the corner.

Most regrettable purchase in the last 12 months was: I always kind of regret spending money on snacks. I get stressed and emotionally low and I want snacks to make me feel better and then I eat the snacks and then I wish I’d saved my money for something that lasts more than 5 minutes. I spent $30 on Biltong online because I was seduced by a sale and it hasn’t even arrived yet but I already regret it.

Most indulgent purchase (that I don’t regret) in the last 12 months was: I spent about $30 buying 3 metres of fabric that my partner then turned into an amazing wrap skirt. It dresses up, it dresses down, it has a pocket, and I adore it.

One area where I’m a bit of a tightwad: Digital entertainment. Despite spending most of my life on my computer (which is now about a decade old), I really work hard to avoid spending money on entertainment. Stuff I can watch or read online for free is always my go-to.

Five words to describe my financial personality would be: Stressed. Stingy by necessity. Depressed. 

More and more lately I’m consumed by the feeling that things don’t get better. The way I expected life to go was you live at home, then you become a student and you’re poor for a while, then you get qualified and you get a job and your situation improves and you’re comfortable. The reality has been that at every stage of life I feel less secure than the last, and a part of me has come to expect that every change is for the worse. But hey, at least the obscenely rich are still getting richer, I know that I would really worry if that wasn’t true.

I grew up in a house where money: Was more stressed over than it needed to be. My parents were comfortably middle class but lived like they were poor most of the time. It’s absurd how privileged this is, but I just recently realised that even now, despite never once even getting close to the standard of living achieved by my parents, in my head this was always a blip. Just a temporary setback, a minor inconvenience, and pretty soon I’d probably be middle class too. I’ve been working on accepting that that’s just not going to happen. I am working poor and, in all likelihood, that’s where I’ll stay.

The last time my Eftpos card was declined was: Last weekend, buying $7 of snacks from the supermarket. I got declined from my spending money so that had to be paid out of the food budget because my spending money account was empty because petrol costs were slightly higher than anticipated so I’d had to buy petrol out of my spending money and top that up from the car account, and the money hadn’t transferred across yet. It feels like being a dog on a walk and every time you’re suddenly excited by something your owner yanks on the leash to remind you that you’re not in control.

In five years, in financial terms, I see myself: Hopefully comfortably able to afford rent and petrol and groceries. Realistically, probably no different than I am now.

I would love to have more money for: Everything. I would love to not be one missed paycheck away from not being able to pay rent. I would love to own my home, to live somewhere I can’t be evicted from, somewhere I can put up picture frames, fix the dodgy shower, take the carpet out of the room where the litterboxes are. 

I’d love to be able to afford nice food or even just takeaways every Friday instead of every other Friday. 

I’d love to be able to replace the couch we got from the Warehouse and that broke almost immediately but that buying and organising shipping for was so stressful we didn’t have the energy to replace. 

I’d love to be able to go to Wellington on weekends, to know that any sudden expenses with the car will be fine. 

I’d love to be able to buy more than one pair of glasses, and to know I can afford hormones or, god forbid, surgery. 

I’d love to know we can reliably feed our cats, take them to the vet, refill their litter, replace the filters on their water fountain, without having to borrow money from other accounts (to be clear, we’ve never missed feeding the cats. It’s just often a stretch).

Describe your financial low: It’s hard to pick. There have been plenty, and not always from my current situation. As students we once spent three days eating plain rice. Buying glasses and realising we had no savings left. Making an offer on a house and having it accepted and then suddenly realising just how far below that our ceiling actually was. Doing the petrol-spending-spending-food-food-spending-petrol dance – not necessarily the specific instance last weekend, but every other time we’ve had to do it over the last little while.

I give money away to: Currently nobody. All three of us have donated to various things in the past, but we definitely don’t have room for that right now.

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

Read the previous Cost of Beings here.

Keep going!