Even with two earners, Donna and Terry Victory struggle on below-average wages to feed themselves and their 14-year-old daughter.
Mrs Victory, 34, earns $15.94 an hour after almost nine years as a teacher aide for 27.5 hours a week at a school for disabled children in South Auckland.
Mr Victory, 37, also earns below the average wage of $25 an hour after 7 years as a fulltime quality assurance technician in the printing industry.
Their combined incomes of just $933 a week after tax, averaged over the year and excluding overtime, gives them just $33 a week for food, petrol and other living costs after meeting their automatic payments of $1800 a fortnight for the mortgage, rates, insurance, a car loan and hire purchases on a fridge and washing machine.
"We rely on Terry's overtime to be able to make ends meet," Mrs Victory said.
This year that overtime has dried up with the recession, forcing the family to borrow twice from Mrs Victory's parents.
They are getting by now only because the overtime has picked up again since the recession bottomed out in mid-year.
But they are still better off than many. Mrs Victory will join a school support staff march up Queen St tomorrow in support of colleagues who start on just $12.94 an hour and are forced to work two jobs, often moonlighting as caregivers for the disabled or the elderly.
"They leave school at 2.45pm and go to work starting at 3pm at another job and work until 9 or 10pm. Some of them do sleepovers and come to work the next morning, and they have husbands who work as well. That's how hard it is to survive."
The Victorys' story illustrates how the struggle to make ends meet on low incomes can easily spiral into worsening debt.
Until 2006 they were renting, but the house was damp and Mrs Victory and her daughter Shontelle were constantly sick. When the landlord raised the rent, they applied for a state house.
"They asked, 'Are you on a benefit?' 'No, we both work,"' she said. "'Well, you don't qualify' they said.
"So then we thought about trying to buy our own house and were lucky enough to get a mortgage broker who secured it against my parents' house. We had no deposit. We had huge loans from our wedding. We consolidated the loans into the mortgage."
They bought a modest house in Papatoetoe for $279,000, paying off the mortgage at $1200 a fortnight. The interest rate dropped this year. But they used the difference to take a new loan for a car.
"We had to get a new car because the car we had was costing us $500 for repairs every second warrant ..."
Also, the fridge she owned since her daughter was a baby broke down, and the washing machine gave up.
"We had to get new ones on hire purchase because we didn't have the cash," she said.
For a while, Labour's Working for Families payments helped to keep food on the table. But Mr Victory's overtime killed it.
"Because he did overtime it got to the point where they were ringing us saying your income is more than you said, and we ended up with a $2500 bill at the end of the financial year," Mrs Victory said.
"Then we were eligible for $9 a week, and ended up with another bill at the end of that financial year. So I said, 'Just don't pay us anything until the end of the financial year'.
"We don't earn low enough to get Government help, and we don't earn high enough to get by," she said. "We are stuck in the middle."