Knowing the difference between wants and needs among nuggets of advice

What's the best money tip you've gleaned? That is the question I put to a few of the country's financial brains this week.

The money men and women of New Zealand answered. They talked of concepts that every Kiwi should know and follow, but sadly does not.

Their nuggets of advice range from the source of many Kiwis' financial problems -- and it's not "the government" -- to what we can learn from spendthrift children.

Money mentor and author Anton Nadilo has one gem that he has shared with many initially disbelieving clients. "Money is not the problem and more money will not fix your money problems," Nadilo says.


Often, says Nadilo, he meets people who think their next bonus will pay off the credit card or the next pay rise or new job will kill the debt.

It never does.

"I always say, 'You don't have a money problem, you have an inefficient or failing money management system or you have behavioural or emotional issues attached to money'."

Nadilo can't quite remember where he first heard this powerful statement, but says if he was a betting man he would put money on it being from TV psychologist Dr Phil's show.

It's surprising how often he meets people who fail the Dr Phil test and blow thousands at the mall even though they know their credit cards are maxed out. "You have to get to the bottom of that," he says.

People who go through life without lurching from one money crisis to the next often live by simple rules. Andrew King, executive officer at the NZ Property Investors Federation, is such a person.

His best financial rule has stayed with him since his first job.

"I put aside 20 per cent of my pay into a separate bank account and forgot about it," he says. "The key is to put it in a separate account and keep it away from money that you spend on living costs," says King. "If it is mixed in it is too easy to spend it."


Initially he consumed the accumulated savings from his 20 per cent pot on motorbikes. He then wised up and turned to saving for a deposit on a flat, which eventually led to a career in property investment.

The mistaking of wants for needs leads many to financial disaster. Fortunately for Janine Scott, the financial planning director at Massey University's school of economics and finance, this concept was taught in her first year at Texas Tech university where she was studying.

It's basic. A need is something necessary for survival and wants are things you would like. Clothing starts out as a need, but fashion, or more than one or two changes of clothes, are wants.

I put aside 20 per cent of my pay into a separate bank account and forgot about it.

Even adults fail to grasp the difference, says Scott. "Whether I am teaching 5-year-olds, 20-year-olds or 50-year-olds, I explain how to assess needs versus wants," she says.

The concept can elicit some interesting discussions. Her students in Texas, for example, argued that a car was a need in Houston, where public transport was verging on non-existent, but a want in New York, where there's an efficient subway.

For some people, grasping the difference between needs and wants is an epiphany, which if they embrace it, will be of long-term financial benefit to them. "We are always going to want more and more in the world we are living in," says Scott. "So we need to know what our values are."


Medical Assurance Society (MAS) general manager of sales David Chote transferred lessons from his journey to becoming an All White to his personal finances.

In the late 1980s, many of the national football team, including Chote, were employed by sponsor and financial services company National Mutual. During his basic training, it dawned on Chote that he could apply the lessons he'd learned from football to his personal finances.

At age 16, for example, when he dreamed of becoming an All White, Chote would meet his mentor once a week over and above training to discuss his goals and what actions he had taken to reach them. At that point it was to improve fitness and skills to get into his club reserves team, first team and finally the All Whites.

Reaching the top in sport involved an ongoing cycle of planning, goal-setting and reviewing, says Chote.

I wish I had taken two hours out a month to think long term.

The same discipline and planning can be applied to personal financial success, he says. Football also taught Chote to outdo himself.

"If other people trained three times a week, I would train four."


At work he was told that he should aim to be debt-free by the age of 40. "So I decided to be debt-free at 30."

Sport also taught him the value of being mentored and coached. In order to attain his financial goals in the way he reached his footballing milestones, he decided he needed a professional to provide financial advice to turn his thoughts into action.

Life doesn't always go smoothly and sometimes events come along to try even the best money managers.

Retirement commissioner Diane Maxwell has learned that when life is chaotic through divorce, moving house, changing jobs, or family dramas it's easy to use up all your energy dealing with day-to-day issues. "I wish I had taken two hours out a month to think long term," says Maxwell. "[It's] not much, about the same time as it takes to watch a movie, but it would have made a difference."

Having a family costs money, but it can also be a source of financial learning. When the youngest daughter of Jonathan Lee, chief operating officer at Coop Money, first started receiving pocket money, she would be champing at the bit each week to spend it as soon as possible.

The girl's horrified parents thought they'd produced a child who would have long-term money problems. "We were worried it was a personality trait she was going to carry with her," says Lee.


The way it has turned out, however, is that her desire to shop coupled with a strictly limited budget has taught her to save.

Although still in primary school, she has also learned by watching her older sister who "wouldn't breathe if she had to pay for it", says Lee.

"It taught me that it's okay for them to spend their money when they are really young and you don't need to beat them up to save," says Lee.

"In spending they are learning, 'I have $5 pocket money and that teddy bear is $15'."

The girl has also learned she can make decisions not to buy, as she showed recently on a visit to the supermarket. She had saved up to buy a large soft toy and, after carrying the object of her desire around the store, she decided at the checkout not to buy it after all because she didn't need it. Lee puts that down to several years of living on a budget and not being allowed credit. "It made her evaluate her decision-making."

Thanks to the family discussions about spending, Lee has learned to be more transparent about his own spending decisions so that the children can learn. "They need to understand the reasons for purchase decisions."