When money is tight, it's not always easy to find spending to cut back on. And what's essential for some isn't for others.

As staff at the Pakuranga & Howick Budgeting Centre (PHBC) point out, some people may not have the financial education to be able to manage their money.

Or they are in the habit of living above their means, a pattern that takes a lot of determination to change.

I might make a change and ride my bike for short trips or turn off the underfloor heating, but someone else might be truly using the bare minimum of petrol and power.

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PHBC clients range from beneficiaries to high earners, but almost all have one thing in common. They are saddled with too much consumer debt and the food budget is the first to go.

Most people think they couldn't spend less in the supermarket. But the answer isn't necessarily cutting out quantity. It's about substitution and understanding that items such as meat, alcohol, fizzy drinks and fancy packaged foods are nice to have but not essential.

Clearly, heating is one of the things that go first when Kiwis want to cut back. Canstar Blue found almost half of people surveyed used extra clothes and blankets instead of heating.

The survey found 36 per cent of Kiwis worry about their power bill. I feel a bit sheepish when I open mine knowing I could spend a whole lot less on power without catching pneumonia.

The survey found 63 per cent of us think it costs less to have a heat pump than to plug in individual heaters.

It can be tempting to have the heat pump on all the time because "it's cheap". Yet logically, it's more expensive than no heating.

I call this the Pak'nSave factor.

When I go to Pak'nSave my brain is conditioned to think it's cheap, therefore I splash out on extras and end up spending more than I might in a list-led visit to New World.

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Sometimes you have to spend to save, such as buying a heat pump or DIY window insulation kits. But not everyone has the readies to do that.

If you're trying to cut spending, you can make considerable savings on clothing and entertainment. In a short-term financial crisis these can be cut almost completely. Eat at home and don't go near the mall.

When I go to Pak'nSave my brain is conditioned to think it's cheap, therefore I splash out on extras.

However be warned. If it's a long-term change - such as downsizing from two incomes to one when you have children, or going to no salary if you're retiring - cutting clothing and entertainment for too long becomes very difficult.

Fuel and transport are also where consumers look to save money, says Jose George, general manager of Canstar Blue. One of its surveys found 16 per cent of Aucklanders were using public transport more than they did a year ago.

Having a Hop card makes public transport cheaper and I've discovered the train/380 bus combination to the airport at $4.85 an adult and $2.78 a child from Britomart compares well to $18/$6 on the SkyBus.

Another approach is to switch one of the family cars to a motorbike or scooter, as long as you can afford to buy the beast in the first place.

You should also think seriously about your mortgage and rent. Home buyers and tenants regularly chew off more bathrooms, media rooms, and spare rooms than they can afford, which makes a portion of the mortgage/rent spending frivolous.

Or make it work for you. I know a family that upsized its rental home to save money. That might sound odd, but they rent the extra room out so the maths makes sense. And a home-owning family I know moved their young children into one large room decked out with two sets of bunks so they could fill the other bedrooms with international students. They raked in about $750 a week.

Budget advisers I spoke to felt strongly that individuals aren't the only ones who need to change.

They advocate more regulation of the consumer finance industry, its lending practices and the interest rates charged.