Author Katrina Shanks, CEO Financial Advice NZ. Article originally published in

OPINION: Just this week there was a story of a Northland woman (as reported by Stuff) whose mortgage repayments had jumped by (not to) $1550 a month after they refixed.

That was in addition to increases in the cost of power, rates, and insurance.

So, what was her family, which has a combined income of $120,000, forced to do? Along with cutting luxuries like Sky, Netflix and Spotify, food has been the main cut.

This family is far from alone.

One budget advisory service says they’re seeing more and more people “who you would think would be ‘middle income’. They’re starting to struggle.”

There is undoubtedly a fair way to go in all this before things improve.

However, there is a ray of hope for the future, even if it is just a sliver: financial literacy among young New Zealanders is on the rise.

That’s the latest findings from Massey University’s NZ Fin-Ed Centre, which is studying the financial capability of young New Zealanders.

In 2012, it started following a group of 18 to 22-year-olds to see how their financial knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours evolved as they got older.

Now aged 28-32, the study shows they are demonstrating an overall improvement in financial literacy.

Women, in particular, have demonstrated progress in this area, experiencing a 17 per cent increase in their average scores compared to 6 per cent for men. However, a gender gap in financial literacy remains, with just 29 per cent of females reporting their financial literacy as ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ compared to 44 per cent of males.

One of the standout findings is how the participants are being more proactive to improve their financial knowledge, with 67 per cent feeling good about their money management abilities and 73 per cent saying they have spent time thinking about financial goals, credit cards and spending habits.

Financial resilience of young New Zealanders is also very evident, with half of the respondents saying they could easily raise $3000 for an emergency in one week, while 40 per cent said they could live off their savings for six months or longer. 

The study also reveals how young New Zealanders are starting to prioritise the importance of saving, with 73 per cent saying they think about their financial goals, compared to just 51 per cent in 2012. A third said they were also considering long-term financial planning beyond five years.

In addition, 95 per cent said they had some form of insurance, and 92 per cent were actively participating in KiwiSaver.

These are very encouraging trends and reflect the positive impact of financial education and personal experiences on young New Zealanders’ financial capability.

Perhaps they were listening after all!

So, what exactly are some of the better behaviours they are exhibiting and which we all could do better at, especially in times of financial hardship but even better – before hardship strikes.

I have identified five but you may find more:

Manage your money

This is all about budgeting and not living beyond your means – managing what comes in and what goes out.

Like the woman in Northland and countless others right now, this may mean being extra frugal, doing away with the nice-to-have’s (hopefully for not too long) and sticking to need-to-have’s. It’s also about being aware that your decisions today can have a big effect on what happens in the future. If you must use credit, use it sparingly and wisely (pay it off as early as you can).

Part of your budget, if possible, should include putting money into a savings account (every little bit helps), building an emergency fund, and a plan to pay off your mortgage earlier (using windfall lump-sum payments).

Protect what you have

Make sure your insurances are up to date and that they meet your needs and goals to protect you and at the same time are affordable. There are many options, such as stand-down periods and levels of cover that can all be adjusted if needed.

Do your research

Before you make a big investment or withdrawal, talk to family, friends, and even seek professional advice. Second opinions are invaluable and will help guide you on what you’re doing, where you’re putting your money to best effect, and how to manage it. Or do your own research either by reading what commentators are saying or on the internet. There is an endless array of information available for free. And remember, you can never have too much knowledge.

Plan and set goals

This is a good behaviour that will pay dividends. Plans and goals can be short-term or long-term but whichever they should be both realistic and achievable. Don’t base them on income you think you might get – base it on the here and now and adjust it later as your circumstances change.

The key is, once it’s set, to stick to it. If you are realistic to begin with and can stick to it religiously, then you can achieve anything you want to.

Follow through

A bit like sticking to your plans and goals, you should make sure you follow through on all these behaviours. Make a check list so you can keep an eye on how things are going. Usually, people who follow through like this have their eye firmly on the future, which is where you want to be if you are to be prepared for future shocks.

Doing all these things are the traits of good financial behaviour.

But remember, that doing all these things will not result in greater financial well-being and a secure future if you don’t stick to them. Financial security and making things easier for yourself in tough times is all about determination and sticking to your plans.

If I had a magic wand, I would go back to my 20’s and 30’s and make sounder financial decisions and improve my financial behaviour. There is no doubt I would be more financially secure today.

As my financial adviser says – it is never too late to start changing your financial behaviour, regardless of your age and stage in life. The earlier you start, the greater the rewards will be throughout your whole life!

All this is possible, so will this be you?

– ENDS –