Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Family learns to live on a shoestring

When Marty Lawrence lost his job twice, his young family had to live frugally

The family includes (from left) Hayly Schutt, Tabitha Williams, Angela Lawrence and Charlee Lawrence, 4. Photo / Steven McNicholl
The family includes (from left) Hayly Schutt, Tabitha Williams, Angela Lawrence and Charlee Lawrence, 4. Photo / Steven McNicholl

Angela and Marty Lawrence have learned the hard way to avoid getting into debt.

Mr Lawrence, a Whangarei purchasing officer and breadwinner for his wife and four daughters, has lost two jobs in the past five years - first a week after he and his wife married in March 2008, and then just over a year later when they had a new baby.

They had taken out a $16,000 bank loan to pay for their wedding and to buy a portable cabin which they needed to add to their rented house for Mrs Lawrence's eldest daughter Hayly, now 17.

They had also bought a laptop and a new TV on credit.

"We both had stuff when we got together but a lot of it was old," said Mrs Lawrence, 41.

"We thought, hubby's got a good job, let's splash out and have a nice TV, so we did.

"We went away for a week's honeymoon, and we came home to one of our children being in an accident at school and needing surgery on her finger, and while we were there Marty got a phone call from work saying 'we need to talk to you'.

They laid him off."

He found a new job within a month. But the second time, when he lost his job because of a traffic incident, it was harder. By then it was mid-2009 and the world was in crisis.

"We had a new baby and we had a lot going on with something stressful in the family," Mrs Lawrence said.

He was on the dole for two months and could only find a job as a courier driver earning $10 an hour less than his old job. At one stage the family had only $70 a week for groceries.

Their church, the Salvation Army, referred them to Christians Against Poverty, a charity that helps families to budget and sets up an account to pay their debts and other bills, leaving them only a weekly living allowance.

"We gave them everything - all our bills, our income, everything," Mrs Lawrence said. "They would leave so much to us each week for us to buy gas and groceries."

By strict control of their budget and renegotiating debts, the charity increased the money for groceries to $200 a week.

"I was just absolutely over the moon because I hadn't had that much for so long," Mrs Lawrence said. "I don't know how they did it."

Mr Lawrence explained: "It's funny, we cut down on the stuff that just gets frittered away whether you know it or not. At the same time we wound up with more money to spend on food because it was budgeted for."

But their debts were so big that the charity eventually advised the family to enter a "no asset procedure", a simplified form of bankruptcy for people owing less than $40,000. All their remaining debts were wiped, but they had to sell their only asset, Hayly's cabin, they were banned from borrowing, and their main bank, ASB, froze their accounts.

"All of a sudden I went to the supermarket and I couldn't pay (by eftpos). We couldn't do anything except go in and do over-the-counter transactions," Mrs Lawrence said.

"It was Friday afternoon and I couldn't get into town to get money out. I was beside myself. Finally the lady I spoke to said, 'I'm giving you half an hour, go down to your money machine and get some money out, then I'm closing it."'

"On the Monday I closed all our accounts and we went to Kiwibank. We've been with them ever since and we've had no problems."

Two years ago Mr Lawrence found a new job in an engineering company where his pay is finally "about back where I was" five years ago.

Mrs Lawrence earns some extra money from craft work and a junk mail round.

The one-year no asset procedure ended on the couple's fourth wedding anniversary in March this year and Christians Against Poverty closed their account a month ago, giving them full control of their money again.

Now they have no debt of any kind - and they don't want to ever have any debt again.

"If you want to buy it, you save for it," Mr Lawrence said.

"The biggest thing I have learned out of it is, don't borrow money. You might be earning this good hourly rate but there's nothing to say you're going to be earning it tomorrow."


On the web: www.capnz.org

- NZ Herald

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