Imagine having just $8 to feed your family for a week after all the bills are paid - for one single mother that's the reality of being on a benefit after she was made redundant three years ago.

The Hawke's Bay woman, who only wished to be known as "Kelly", struggled to provide the best for her two teenage children on a tight budget, which covered bills and other necessary expenses, but not a lot else.

Each week she received $350 from Winz and $175 in family assistance, as well as working 14 hours a week to stay afloat.

"I lost my job in November, right before Christmas and I couldn't get a benefit for six weeks because of a stand-down period, I didn't get redundancy, just holiday pay so there wasn't a lot to live on.


"I get $350 from WINZ, $250 goes on my mortgage, $40 for the power bill then I have automatic payments for school fees, the mechanic in case something goes wrong with my car, insurances, paying back a loan to my mother, that all comes out of the $175 - it's just $5 here, $10 there."

Kelly found it easier to pay things off in small amounts rather than coping with a lump sum. The rest of her money went toward putting petrol in the car and food on her table.

"That's everything pretty much gone, there's nothing left - I don't drink, I don't smoke or take drugs, all that I have goes purely on looking after my children, there are no luxuries and I don't go spend any of it at KFC or Carl's Jr."

Fortunately, her creative cooking skills allowed for the weeks when there was not a lot left - but no matter how low the coffers, meals had to be healthy.

"I am skilled enough that I can make something as long as I have the basics - eggs, flour, I can whip something up. I keep it healthy, all the money I have is spent on veges, meat and good food, the sad thing is that's really expensive.

"Sometimes we don't have groceries, it's worse in the school holidays, I'm lucky enough to have a part-time job for 14 hours a week, but when holidays come it's solely down to that $350, you can only get so many food parcels a year through Winz so I try not to resort to that."

Learning where to shop meant she could get the most out of her money.

"I go to the local produce store, not the supermarket, I buy my milk there too because it's a lot cheaper - you learn to be smart about it."


Trips to town from her beachside home were limited to once a week to save on petrol, but unexpected costs were difficult.

"My septic tank blew up a couple of weeks ago so I am just paying that off, the hardest part is say if you have to go to the doctor, fortunately that's another one I can pay off."

Every cent counted as she worked up a stringent budget for the next seven days, leaving no room for frivolous spending.

"I can't take my kids on holiday and a lot of the time I have to say no to taking them to town, although sometimes I will put myself into overdraft by $10 so they can have that.

"It's not a choice for me, I have been single pretty much since the children were born, we have been through a lot of tragedy in that time. I have worked 50-hour weeks when they were little, I just had to keep going for them so that they can be clothed, fed and healthy."

Kelly joined the workforce at 15 and established her own business at 20, which meant she was well qualified and did not shy away from applying for jobs.

"The problem is that there are thousands of people applying for the same job, it's not just three, it's thousands."

It was a difficult decision to go on the benefit and she does not intend for it to be a long-term solution.

"I come from a hard-working family, my parents worked really hard to get where they are, unfortunately I landed here, there are people who try to rip off the system but I'm not one of them.

"I get punished with secondary income tax and my benefit is cut because I have part-time employment, I want to work but I would be better off if I didn't.

Living in poverty was not an isolated issue. Last week a Wairarapa woman was caught "dumpster diving" in a supermarket skip to feed her children.

Tukituki MP Craig Foss said situations such as Kelly's were extremely difficult, but there were plenty of organisations offering services to lessen the blow.

"It's pretty challenging, but there are a raft of assistant options, and Government agencies ... all of those are about helping people during those tough periods and getting them up out of those circumstances."