Kiwis are risking being thrown into debt by taking a "she'll be right attitude" towards preparing financially for when things go wrong.

The warning comes from Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell as she kicks off Money Week, an annual campaign designed to get Kiwis to think about their money.

Maxwell said New Zealand had one of the lowest spends on insurance in the OECD, ranking 35 out of 45 countries with a spend of just 2.5 per cent of GDP.

Research by the Commission for Financial Capability - the Government's money education arm which Maxwell heads up - has shown only half of Kiwis say they could count on insurance to cover damage to their home or car.

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Just 15 per cent of people said they had income protection insurance despite 42 per cent saying their income varied.

"We don't advocate everyone having every form of insurance - some costs you can absorb and your needs change over time - but insurance is there to make sure you don't incur a big, unexpected bill you can't pay. The risk is people are thrown into debt," Maxwell said. Maxwell said New Zealanders' relaxed attitude could be to blame for their lax approach to insurance, adding that cultural expectations that extended family or the community would help out could also be a barrier for Māori and Pacific people.

As part of Money Week, Maxwell is encouraging people to think about taking out insurance and having emergency savings available to help them deal with unexpected financial events.

Even those who had insurance were advised to review it.

Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell says Kiwis are risking getting into debt by not being prepared for unexpected financial hits. Photo / Supplied
Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell says Kiwis are risking getting into debt by not being prepared for unexpected financial hits. Photo / Supplied

Maxwell also said many New Zealanders tended to under-insure their homes - meaning an insurance pay-out would not be enough to rebuild the home fully if there was a major event.

A 2016 Treasury report estimated 85 per cent of homes were under-insured by an average of 28 per cent equating to under-insurance of $185 billion.

"To be really resilient as a population we need to know that we can weather the big financial hits of an unexpected event," Maxwell said.

"When something bad happens you want to be looking after your people and your wellbeing, not stressing about how much money you're going to need to repair the damage.

"Let the insurers do the heavy lifting financially while you look after the rest."

Maxwell says there are few ways to prepare for the unexpected:

• Have a buffer savings account - save a little each week to create an emergency savings account for unexpected bills.

• Take out insurance - consider what kind of loss would hurt you financially, what you could absorb and what would be better covered by an insurance company.

• Make a will - half of New Zealanders do not have one, yet leaving your family without a will can create all sorts of unforeseen problems, including financial issues for your loved ones.

Got a money question? Send me an email and we will get money expert Tom Hartmann to answer it as part of a live question and answer session on the Herald's website on Friday at 12noon.