New Zealanders collectively owe about $3.6 billion on credit cards, and financial experts warn that people need to start getting smart with their money.

"Credit cards can be used to buy anything and everything and people do, it's so handy. But years ago we used to have cheque books and a running total - you knew what was in the bank, but these days with eftpos and credit cards, it's very, very easy to lose track of how much money you have in the bank," said Margaret Elsworth, president of the Federation of Family Budgeting Services.

"People need to make sure there's money for food and rent and power before they start buying unnecessary items."

Reserve Bank figures from May this year showed New Zealanders owed about $3.6 billion in interest-bearing credit card balances. At an average rate of 17.7 per cent, about $639 million is paid each year in interest.


Ms Elsworth said we lived in a "want now" society - many people feel like they needed to have the latest products instead of waiting and saving.

New Zealanders aren't getting worse at managing their money, but Ms Elsworth said there was always room for improvement.

"It's good that people are coming to Budget Services, I just wish that they would come to us before they buy things," Ms Elsworth said.

Retirement Commissioner Diana Crossan said taking charge of your financial situation was "empowering" and could have positive effects on other aspects of life apart from your wallet.

"Worries about money can put major strain on relationships, within families and even affect the workplace.

"The key to getting on top of your finances is to take control and make sound decisions," Ms Crossan said.

Today is the start of the country's first Money Week - a push to educate Kiwis about their finances and "everyday money".

Throughout the week, put together by the Commission for Financial Literacy and Retirement Income, free financial education activities are offered.

Ms Crossan said a lot of New Zealanders don't like talking about money but this week everyone should be thinking about it.

"We hope that spring cleaning your finances in the first week of September will become as normal as making New Year's resolutions in January."

* Make a money plan to ensure you can live within your means.
* Use surplus cash to pay debt faster.
* If you're debt-free except for a mortgage, increase your repayments.
* Check if your insurances suit your needs and are up to date.
* Consider KiwiSaver or another form of retirement savings.