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A dental exam, some fish and a bottle of Export Citrus beer with the words THE COST OF BEING
Image: Archi Banal

SocietyMay 30, 2023

The cost of being: A retired Auckland barber

A dental exam, some fish and a bottle of Export Citrus beer 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, an 83-year-old barber explains how the advice he got while cutting retirees’ hair changed his financial outlook.

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Age: 83

Ethnicity: Pākehā 

Work situation: Retired. I started work as a barber at 16 in 1955, and called it a day when I turned 81. I started on a wage of about $5 a week. A haircut was 25c at the time. 19c for a boy’s haircut, so long as he didn’t come on Friday – that was our big day. Most people wanted to look sharp for the weekend. I say retired, but I still cut the hair of some hardcore regulars on my porch. 

My living location is: Auckland city. I came into the city from the Eastern Suburbs in 1961. They told me I’d go broke, because I was paying $40 a week for a chair. And a 10-minute haircut was 35c. What nearly killed our trade was that you couldn’t even charge more if you wanted to – it was under price controls. When they took price controls off, I went to specialist half hour bookings, and my rate went up from 50c to $1.50 by 1968.

Rent/Mortgage per week: None. I paid off the mortgage when I was about 65, when I picked up the pension. I bought my first house in Herne Bay for $12,800 in 1964. I bought my current house in Freemans Bay, 1984, for $142,000. The vendor loaned me money to buy it at 18% interest rates – the bank wanted 21%. Inflation was around 20% at the time.

Student loan or other debt payments per week: I tend to save up and buy things. Otherwise I don’t buy them. My boat man says I’m one of the few guys who pays with a cheque. Everyone else pays with finance.

Any major upcoming costs: No. We’ve had our annual holiday. We’ve pre-booked the next one. We only have a couple of weeks now, instead of three. It’s just got too expensive – it used to be $15,000 for the two of us, now it’s $25,000.

Typical weekly food costs

Groceries: $350. Wifey’s a New World lady. She says their greens are superior. 

Eating out / takeaways: None. We eat pretty well – a lot of chicken and fish. A treat for us would be a steak, about once every 10 days. When the fishing’s good, we have fish 2-3 times a week. Lately the weather’s been rubbish, so less fish.

Workday lunches: None. If I’m out, I pack my own lunch. On the boat, I’ve modified it so I can cook bacon, eggs and fish on board.

Cafe coffees/snacks: None. I can make great coffee at home. I run the top of the line capsule one. Still going strong after 15 years.

Savings / investments

I worry about money: Never. From a very early age I scraped and saved. Through my client base in the city I gradually built up a shareholding in several companies. I have a system where I say I’m asking for an opinion, not advice, from my clients. They’ve given me good advice on which shares to buy. I’m a Heartland man. A Meridian man. A Skellerup man. And some Fisher Funds, which pay quarterly dividends.

Three words to describe my financial situation would be: More than happy. I recently had a meeting with my accountant and he shook my hand and congratulated me on joining the 33c in the dollar tax club. I told him it was his job to keep me out of it!

My biggest edible indulgence would be: Prawns. My wife has found some beautiful prawns at New World. They’re about $80 a kilo. You don’t have to do anything but eat them. They’re really nice. That’s the special treat, once a week.

In a typical week my alcohol expenditure would be: $2. I virtually don’t drink. There’s a new beer out, Export Citrus 2%. It’s rather nice and it doesn’t knock me around. They’re about $22 a dozen, which lasts me about three months.

In a typical week my transport expenditure would be: $60 for a day on the boat. I’d get out once a week in the boat. I don’t drive much – about 2,000km a year in my truck, and my wife does about 1,500km in her car. And because we do less than 5000km we get a better deal on the insurance.

I estimate in the past year the ballpark amount I spent on my personal clothing (including sleepwear and underwear) was: I haven’t spent any money on clothes in years and years.

My most expensive clothing in the past year was: None

My last pair of shoes cost: Nothing. We used to have homestay boys. The last one left behind his shoes. The sole had come off, so I re-soled them. Beautiful $350 shoes and he abandoned them.

My grooming/beauty expenditure includes: I have an old barber mate, and we swap haircuts, so there’s no money there. I’ve got a natural grey colour [laughs]. My biggest cost would be the dentist. She wants to pull my teeth out. She wants to remove three of my teeth. I didn’t ask her how much, but the consultation was $108.

My exercise expenditure in a year is about: $0

My last Friday night cost: $0 

Most regrettable purchase in the last 12 months was: No regrets. I do my research before I buy.

Most indulgent purchase (that I don’t regret) in the last 12 months was: More fishing gear. Also chainsaw gear and log splitting gear.

One area where I’m a bit of a tightwad is: Dining out. I’m a bit spoiled. My wife is an excellent cook. We’d rather spend the money on good quality stuff and eat it at home.

Five words to describe my financial personality would be: I am more than happy 

I grew up in a house where money was: In my homestead, no disrespect to my mum and dad, but they were hand to mouth. There was no spare money. I was in secondhand clothes right through school. A good hard-working Labour man, was Dad. I had my life changed by the retirees whose hair I started cutting in Mission Bay. They turned me from a Labour to a National man. It was OK to save, OK to invest. 

The last time my Eftpos card was declined was: I don’t have an Eftpos card. Many years ago I had a GST audit. And the man said “what do you do with your drawings?”. I said, “I don’t do any drawings – I’m a hairdresser, not a bloody artist.” But the point was that I just get money out of my pocket. Otherwise I use my ASB platinum card to get dollar points. You get a dollar back for every $100 you spend.

Financially, the last five years have been: Up and down. In round figures I’m probably $100,000 down on where I was, in the sharemarket. But I’m still up on what I put in. 

My pension’s at 10.5%. Between my wife and I we get $763 per week. If you don’t owe anything and you have no major outgoings, that’s virtually doable. From a purely freehold pensioner point of view, the pension is very generous. And we can still work. With the winter energy top up – that’s an extra $33 a week. It’s very generous. Compare that to my wife’s girlfriend in Melbourne. She’s just retired, but works three jobs – so she has too much money to get the pension.

In five years, in financial terms, I see myself: Hopefully still alive. At 83, my plan is not to shuffle off until I’m 97.

I would love to have more money for: Nothing. I’m more than happy. I’m pretty spoiled. I can hop on a Link bus for free. Our supermarkets are handy. What would I do with a bigger, flasher house? If I were to somehow come into moonbeams I would probably help out some poor bastard that needed it. 

My financial low: To do with sharemarkets. I’m down about $200,000 on what I had at the peak. But they’re still paying dividends. I dumped anything that doesn’t pay a dividend. 

I give money away to: Mostly to my wife.

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