‘It’s no easier to survive on the pension in New Zealand’

Mar 20, 2019
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Before her pension even arrives, Robyn has it accounted for in a strict budget. Source: Shutterstock

Boy, oh boy! How on God’s earth are we supposed to live a reasonable life on the amount of pension we are given? It seems ironic that the pension is rarely, if ever, increased (even for inflation) and it has to stretch for a fortnight. Bloody Nora! I have such a strict budget that even a $10 splurge can ruin things.

I have always been frugal and counted my pennies but nowadays I have to be vigilant to the point of obsession. My rent, my doctor and my power accounts are all paid directly from the Ministry so what comes into my account is mine to do with as I please. If I didn’t eat I’d be fine – it’s the food bill that gets me going. I have to be on a fairly special diet due to Type 2 diabetes and need to eat lots of vegetables and the odd piece of meat. ‘Odd’ being once or twice in the fortnight. No roasts for this lady!

Let me break it down. First there is the internet, phone line and my mobile — these cost $50 (phone and internet) and $65 for the mobile. I got conned with the mobile by a very personable young man at the Vodafone store here in Ponsonby, New Zealand, who told me the phone I had was far too old and slow and this new shiny one would suit be much better. He didn’t tell me the moment he opened the box the phone became mine and my other phone redundant (it was a prepay model). I ended up with a two year contract for the new phone. I must admit it does everything I would ever need and much more. Even after two years I still haven’t mastered all that it does. Verbal commands, thumb prints etc. the list is endless. Now these amounts are also fortnightly as well, not once a month.

Then there is dog grooming, $140 a month (toy poodles don’t do well in the heat and need to be constantly groomed), their annual dog registration fee and any vet bills that might loom – this amount varies depending on where I need to go and how often.

I am about to go for an X-ray on my femur. This outing will be $70+ as it’s right across town from where I live. The X-ray is free though. I also have a Transport Mobility Card that makes taxis and the ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ half price. Just think if I had to pay the full retail, the mind boggles.

Now, food is the most contentious item. I need to spend one shop for the entire fortnight (I cannot seem to bring it back to weekly) so it always ending up a long list around $250/$300 – which breaks down to only $125/$50 a week, but it is still crippling amounts. I don’t drink, but I do smoke (good God I have a vice), but its two packets a fortnight. New Zealand is going smoke free so the cigarettes are just under $30 a packet now as they have been going up 10 per cent each year for the past eight or so years towards our goal of 2020/25 and no smoking at all. Being penalised for having a habit — I’ve smoked for 55 years — not giving it up either. I do have an e-cigarette to suck on when I don’t have proper cigarettes. These also cost about $25 a month.

Lawn mowing, garden maintenance, general work around the house (some of which is done by my landlord), dog food and insurance — these also have to be paid so that has to be taken into account in my budget. It’s a real struggle. Doctor’s visits and going out for a coffee (once a month) need to be paid as well. When the pension comes it is already spoken for totally. No wriggle room left.

I gave my car to my Tongan godson so no insurance or petrol or maintenance required there anymore. Don’t know how I used to fit that in… It’s a mystery.

I had to get a food grant this week as I ran out of milk, bread and cheese, which was a bummer. (I am entitled to $250 annually from Work and Income — the government body who administers the pension.) They gave me $100 on their card, which was a great help and assisted me in stocking up the pantry a little.

Things like having my hair and nails done are luxuries; the money just doesn’t go far enough. My anxiety does play up when I have bills to pay and no money to pay them. I get there eventually but its not a nice process. Cutting your cloth is hard — if I got more would I spend more? Would it be frittered away on clothing, gambling or something else like wine. Heaven help me, I don’t know. I don’t go hungry or without power and the phone and the internet, so I suppose I’m better off than a lot of struggling people, but it is depressing and sometimes just a little hard to enjoy my life.

What gets me is I pay $120 per fortnight in tax on my pension, which I cannot even claim back as I don’t earn enough in 12 months to fill out a form for Inland Revenue.

How do you cope living on a pension? Do you have to pull in the purse strings like this writer?

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