Christmas spending and the soaring cost of rent is forcing more Bay families into debt.
Budget advisers are urging people to trim back their holiday spending to help ease the problem, suggesting picnics, "chore vouchers" and limiting gift-giving, as ways to avoid a debt blowout in January.
Latest Statistics New Zealand figures show that New Zealanders are spending $3 billion more each year than they earn. This reverses a trend from 2009 to 2014, when Kiwis were net savers, rather than spenders.
The trend towards greater household debt was reflected in visits to Bay budget and family help services.
Tauranga Budget Advisory Service manager Diane Bruin said the number of people seeking help had jumped from 130 a month to 150 a month in recent weeks.
"Many families haven't planned for Christmas during the year, and the increasing cost of rent has challenged them," she said.
"A lot of people are wanting food grants so they can buy presents."
Mrs Bruin said people were losing control of their finances by borrowing money to pay off earlier debts. She had also seen an increase in bankruptcies, and urged people with financial problems to seek help as soon as possible.
Merivale Community Centre general manager Tauha Te Kani said this summer was "definitely worse" than last year's in terms of the numbers of people seeking financial help.
"We've been dealing with a huge homeless issue here since early this year," he said.
"High rentals are part of that. Grandparents are saying, 'Hey, I can't get anything for my grandkids'."
The centre was providing budgeting services on Wednesdays, he said.
The Tauranga Community Foodbank had been supplying increasing numbers of food parcels since June, when high rents started to bite.
Manager Nicki Goodwin said another problem over summer was that many casual workers did not get paid, because their workplaces shut down for the holidays.
Spokeswomen for Tauranga and national budget advisory services agreed there were ways to ease the pressure at Christmas, despite advertising encouraging people to spend.
Families struggling to make ends meet should focus on spending time together, they said, rather than spending cash.
Federation of Family Budgeting Services chief executive Raewyn Fox said her best advice for Christmas was to put aside money earlier in the year, but it was too late for that now.
"Families are under a lot of pressure, and especially if they've had a hard year and haven't done much for the kids," she said.
"This is a time to think about things you can do that don't cost much - have a picnic, go to the beach, or go to a park."
Ms Fox said there were plenty of ways to ease Christmas spending.
Children could give their parents "vouchers" promising to do chores, such as drying the dishes for a week. Christmas dinners could be of the "bring a plate" variety to reduce pressure on the host.
Families could agree to restrict gifts to a certain value and use a "Secret Santa" method of drawing a name out of a hat so each person only had to buy one present.
The Ministry of Social Development urged people who thought they might struggle with housing over the holidays to contact their local office as soon as possible.
Deputy chief executive for housing Scott Gallacher said the ministry could provide budget advice, help pay rent and bond, and assist with moving costs.
The ministry had offices in Tauranga, Mt Maunganui, Te Puke, Katikati, Greerton and Whakatane.
Affordable Christmas Ideas
One person, one present ("Secret Santa")
"Bring a plate" Christmas dinners
Breakfast in bed
Kids give "vouchers" promising to do chores
Do activities, like picnics or a day at the beach
Keep some holiday pay for January bills
Avoid "panic buying" - stick to shopping lists
Groceries are cheaper than takeaways
Recognise "needs" and "wants"
Start saving for next Christmas
Don't borrow to pay off debt