Surviving on super is a tall order. It's often hardest for those who earned a decent salary in their working lives, but for whatever reason have no savings. The weekly rate for a single person living alone is $374.53 and it is $576.20 for a married couple where both partners qualify.

Making the move from being a working person to living, at best, in reduced circumstances, and at worst on NZ Super alone, is difficult, says Kilian de Lacy of Grey Power.

Even the best-planned retirement comes with financial surprises. Often it's medical costs. You planned to keep working, but you or your partner suffers illness and needs you to be the carer. Or you find it impossible to access the public hospital system for life-changing, but non-acute surgery and want to pay privately.

Surviving the financial realities of retirement requires resourcefulness.

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Pushpa Wood, director of Massey University's financial education and research centre, has watched her own 95-year-old mother-in-law do just that.

The retiree planned ahead and made sure her house was mortgage-free and all major works had been done when she retired. "She has a very small vegetable garden which produces enough greens for her needs so she rarely buys salad stuff or any green vegetables."

Wood's mother-in-law buys her meat in bulk and puts meal-size portions in the freezer. And when it comes to gifts for the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, she uses her sculpting, cooking, preserving, pottery and cake-making skills to produce home-made presents.

De Lacy is a volunteer budget adviser at Agape Budgeting and says the No 1 thing that the newly retired need to learn is that they can no longer make impulse buys.

One thing that worries de Lacy is the people who take their KiwiSaver or super payouts and use them up on overseas trips. They may come back with nothing left and have a lot of years to live on NZ Super.

Another group that spends savings too quickly is retirees whose families still depend on them financially. There are a lot of those. "Maybe the children have lost their job or had lots of kids. We get lots of grandparents looking after grandchildren seeking advice," she says.

De Lacy's top financial survival tips for the newly retired include:

• Cut your coat to suit your cloth. "In other words, don't go swanning around overseas if you have not saved the money to do so."

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• Set up accounts for special purposes such as annual insurance bills, rates, power, phone, etc and pay small regular amounts into them. "Do not raid these accounts for anything else," says de Lacy.

• Make sure you receive all your entitlements from Work & Income. There are grants and loans available for older people. For example, says de Lacy, Work & Income has a deal with Fisher & Paykel Appliances to supply competitively priced washing machines, fridge-freezers and other items to needy people. These can be paid off over time. There are other benefits such as Temporary Additional Support for retirees (and others) who can't make ends meet. The Commission for Financial Capability's Your Money in Retirement booklet also points out that older people may qualify for a Disability Allowance of up to $60.39 a week.

• Live in an area where there is a primary health organisation (PHO). The difference in price for GP visits between de Lacy's suburb and the neighbouring one is $17.

• Don't be too proud to ask for help from the Government, family, budget advisers and other agencies.

• Be realistic about what you can afford. It's hard for new retirees to curb their impulse buying, says de Lacy. Retirees who start spending their savings lavishly just haven't cottoned on to the fact that their income has halved.

• Don't be embarrassed to apply for a Community Services Card. Likewise older people qualify for the SuperGold card

There are many other things retirees can do to make ends meet. De Lacy was lucky that a prison chaplain job fell into her lap and she worked in that role for three years in retirement until her knees gave out and she could no longer do it. Others are forced to keep working whether they want to or not.

Typically younger retirees are earning more than older ones - mostly because of continuing paid work. Statistics New Zealand data doesn't break down the over-65 age group. But as a group, the average weekly income is $575, according to the NZ Income Survey for the June 2014 quarter. Of that, $319 comes from NZ Super, $77 from investments, $22 from "other" sources and $157 from work.

Some older people can't see how they'll ever retire. De Lacy cites the example of one older woman who came to Grey Power for advice about how to cope with her $77,000 mortgage. The reality was, says de Lacy, that she either had to sell or keep working. "If you have a mortgage you can't retire," she says.

Work & Income offers an accommodation supplement that some home owners qualify for.

Diane Bruin, manager of the Tauranga Budget Advisory service, recommends applying for a rates rebate, which is determined by annual total income.

There are a variety of ways to earn. De Lacy, for example, is paid for meetings of the Health & Disability Commission's Consumer Advisory Group and also writes for the NZ Catholic newspaper.

Another way to make a small income is to open your home to a homestay student. Giovana Reay, who owns Host Families NZ, says the standard fee is $210 a week. For that the host provides a furnished bedroom, meals and meets utility costs. Reay says many of her best hosts are retired people who enjoy having a student live with them.

Older people who live alone could also rent spare bedrooms to family, friends, boarders or flatmates. Some complain that their privacy is too precious, says de Lacy. "It depends on whether you want to live on the bones of your bottom or you choose to have a little bit of help with the expenses. Sometimes we need to think a bit outside the square to survive."

Or they can sell and move in with family. Older people entering into living arrangements with family need independent legal advice because it can turn to custard.

Lu Clark, budget adviser at the Citizens Advice Bureau, gives an example of outside-the-square thinking. Her siblings each contribute a small monthly amount to their mother's bank account to give her some extras.

Another option, but with warnings, is a reverse-equity mortgage that advances a cash sum to the borrower against his or her house. The loan accrues interest, but nothing is paid back until the house is sold. The trouble with this type of loan is that the interest eats into the capital rather fast.

An extreme option for older people in debt is to go into insolvency, whether through bankruptcy or the No Asset Procedure. Some do, according to Insolvency and Trustee Service data, but the number forced to take this step tails off as people age.

Joining organisations such as Grey Power can pay off with discounts. Bruin recommends using lower cost tradespeople recommended by Age Concern and Grey Power. It's also worth checking your power usage to ensure that you're on the best tariff.

Not everyone has to scrimp and save in retirement - and hopefully those 20-somethings who are paying into KiwiSaver and not taking payment holidays will never have the worries of many of today's superannuitants.