Your Money and careers writer for the NZ Herald

Diana Clement: Sensible savings choices pay off big time

There is still light at the end of the tunnel for smart young couples

Careful planning will enable you to track the progress to your goals. Photo / Getty Images
Careful planning will enable you to track the progress to your goals. Photo / Getty Images

Life is expensive and some decades are more costly than others. One of the most expensive is from age 25 to 35.

A survey by AXA Wealth Management in the UK found that 34 was the most expensive age thanks to outgoings associated with housing, renovations, marriages, honeymoons, children and so on.

Costs vary, of course. Not everyone goes through tertiary education. If they do, the average loan held by the Inland Revenue in 2013 was $19,076. It's a bit of a financial cloud to start your working life under - even though the median repayment time is around seven years.

It doesn't stop with student loans. Finding "the one" is going to cost you a small fortune in dates, looking good and probably travelling together. Most - although not all - people spend at least $10,000 on the wedding. Then there's the honeymoon.

Your first home down payment of 20 per cent on the median house will be $88,000 plus a few thousand dollars to pay for lawyers' fees, LIMs and so on.

As salaries rise - some faster than others - the repayments do become easier.

In the early days of home ownership you'll need to buy furniture and other household possessions and probably upgrade your transport at some point to accommodate a family or just to show off your success in life. Then there will be house renovations because you've probably not bought the home of your dreams first time around.

The median age for a woman giving birth to her first child in New Zealand is 28, according to Statistics New Zealand. Having children can be very expensive.

Daycare, nannies, school fees, after-school activities, holidays and more cost big time. In 2009 the Inland Revenue Department came up with a rough figure of $268 a week average for a single child. That doesn't include parental loss of income - and that's just the cost of one nipper, not two, three or more.

Plenty of debt-laden feckless 25-year-olds get their act together and come out the other end with a spouse, property and maybe other investments under their belts. Handled well, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Aucklanders Mark and Jennie are living proof of that. At 25 Jennie got her first job, earning $24,000 as a graduate. It would have been easy to spend the lot.

Instead the young accountant chose to portion money to investing, reducing debt and spending. She invested a small amount each month into a unit trust before she assigned money to spending. Whenever Jennie received extra money - such as fuel reimbursements from her employer for out of town travel - it was paid off her car loan to reduce the balance more quickly.

Jennie's plan was to save for her first home. Small decisions each day made a difference. For example, it would have been easy to be like her friends who wanted the largest room in the flat. Instead she would choose the smallest.

Mark was equally sensible with his money - paying into his work superannuation scheme, which also attracted employer contributions. By 29 Mark had bought a modest three-bedroom home. Instead of living in the property Mark renovated it then went flatting because it made financial sense. The rental income covered the mortgage. After a few years Mark sold his first house for a reasonable capital gain and bought a larger four-bedroom home in a nicer area and again rented it out.

After Mark and Jennie married they decided to move into the rental property and make it their own home.

Using the equity in the property, as well as their combined income, they borrowed to buy another property. They rented out the three-bedroom house on the front of the property and built another dwelling on the back section. Today the combined rent from the minor dwelling and the main house covers the full cost of the mortgage as well as rates and insurance.

Mark and Jennie are now considering adding a one-bedroom minor dwelling on the back of the property they live at. This would bring in enough income to cover their mortgage and pay for further renovations on the house they are living in and maybe the occasional overseas holiday.

The couple's financial adviser, Michael Cave, of Cave Financial Consulting, notes that neither earns huge amounts of money. But they made the most of what they earn by making sensible financial decisions. Small amounts of money saved here and there added up.

Although many people don't want to believe it, there is disposable income in this decade that is often frittered away. "Their expenses expand to fill it [the income] up," says Cave. He recommends living as if you had a mortgage and children before it happens.

Jennie says: "Part of our lifestyle is focused on reducing our expenditure. Some of the things that save us money include a veggie patch in the backyard, home baking, avoiding takeaways and making most of our meals at home, and doing a lot of things ourselves instead of paying someone to do it.

"We negotiate with businesses [such as power companies] to get cheaper deals. We also avoid buying things on HP. We prefer to save up and pay cash. Unless it can't be avoided we always wait and look for a good deal instead of paying full price. Holidays away are presently restricted to travel within New Zealand."

Cave says it was important that the couple had a plan and they stuck to it, right through the financial meltdown when others were panicking.

For many, savings and investments take a back seat when they shouldn't. Even having a KiwiSaver account ticking over and perhaps a rental property in the background is going to have a huge impact on retirement compared to those people who don't even start thinking about retirement until they're in their 40s or beyond.

Another couple who are clients of Cave, Stuart and Margot Shutt, rented a downstairs flat when they first married, then bought a unit in Ellerslie. They made the choice to spend weekends and evenings doing up their property, which paid off financially.

The key to the Shutts' success, says Cave, was that they worked hard, looked for opportunities and were creative.

Steve Morris, financial adviser at SW Morris Associates, has a list of clients who have got their heads above water in their late 20s and early 30s by being frugal and sensible.

One such client arrived in New Zealand to play rugby with little money to his name. The club helped organise work for the 25-year-old, which was fortunate because he was injured almost immediately, ending his professional playing career.

The former rugby player soon wooed a Kiwi woman and they tied the knot. The pair took financial advice early and were careful with their money from day one. No flash cars on tick. The husband, who was naturally conservative with his money, saved hard - even when his earnings were relatively low in the early years.

The pair bought a modest house in central Auckland.

They worked hard to pay down the debt on the home much faster than the bank required, which Morris describes as forced savings. As a result they will cut up to 10 years off the mortgage, saving a considerable amount of interest.

Over the decade the husband's salary almost trebled - something young people sometimes fail to factor into their plans when their financial future appears bleak at age 25.

The other thing the family chose to do was to invest more than the minimum in KiwiSaver. This doesn't suit everyone - especially those with debt to pay off, but it has helped diversify the couple's savings away from property.

Although the couple has come out of the most expensive decade with a marriage, children and considerable financial resources, it wasn't easy. They had to manage their money carefully.

"They are not into a flashy lifestyle," says Morris. They're more likely to be found roughing it at a conservation project than showing off at Omaha.

- NZ Herald

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Your Money and careers writer for the NZ Herald

Diana Clement is a freelance journalist who writes about personal finance and careers. She has worked as a journalist for more than 25 years in both New Zealand and the UK. Diana has contributed to a large number of local and international publications. Her pet topic is the secrets of saving money.

Read more by Diana Clement

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